Amidst a war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party over the implementation of the free rice scheme and the alleged refusal of the central government to provide rice to Karnataka, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) unit in Karnataka has stated that Punjab is ready to assist in resolving the rice shortage issue, people familiar with the matter said.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Prithvi Reddy, the state president of the AAP, announced that the AAP-led Punjab government is prepared to extend complete support in overcoming the problem of rice scarcity in Karnataka.
“The Congress party in the state has come to power without any prior preparation, merely copying the programs of the Aam Aadmi Party and hastily announcing numerous guarantees for vote bank politics. We will not engage in political hypocrisy while the poor people of the state suffer due to these ill-conceived promises,” stated Prithvi Reddy.
He further added, “The poor people of the state are currently facing difficulties, and our party’s objective is to alleviate their suffering. In my conversation with Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann yesterday, he expressed his readiness to provide full assistance in principle. We are prepared to offer all the technical support required for the chief minister of Karnataka to hold discussions with the Punjab chief minister immediately.”
Responding to the offer, chief minister Siddaramaiah said that chief secretary will get in touch with the Punjab government.
In response to the rice shortage issue, the Congress party in Karnataka has planned demonstrations on Tuesday at all district headquarters to protest against the BJP-led central government for allegedly withholding rice intended for the state’s ‘Anna Bhagya’ scheme, which provides 10 kg of rice to each member of families living below the poverty line.
The recent decision by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to discontinue the sale of rice and wheat from the central pool under the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) to state governments has further aggravated the situation.
According to an order issued by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), “The sale of wheat and rice under the OMSS (domestic) for state governments is discontinued”. However, the sale of rice under the OMSS will be continued for northeastern states, hilly states and states facing law and order situations, natural calamities at an existing rate of ₹3,400 per quintal, it said.
The move comes amid the slow progress of the monsoon and rising prices of rice and wheat. Rice prices have increased by up to 10% in the last one year at the mandi level and by 8% in the last one month, as per official data.
Deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar, who is also the state president of the Congress party in the state, criticised the Centre for “troubling the state government by denying to provide rice” and announced the planned demonstrations. “The Centre has decided to trouble us so that we cannot give rice to the poor people. We are not asking them to give us rice free of cost. There has been a system from the beginning. If there was rice in the central warehouses, it was given to those demanding it,” Shivakumar told reporters here.
“We will stage a demonstration across all the district headquarters in the state tomorrow. We have asked our leaders to participate. I will also participate in the agitation in Bengaluru,” he said.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah also expressed disappointment, stating that the state needs 228,000 metric tonnes of rice to fulfill its guarantee of providing 10 kg of rice under the Anna Bhagya scheme. “Only Chhattisgarh has offered us 150,000 metric tonnes. Nowhere else rice in such a huge quantity is available, including Punjab,” Siddaramaiah told reporters.
He reiterated that on June 9 the state government had written to FCI about the state’s requirement of rice. On June 12, the FCI responded favourably saying it had adequate rice to meet Karnataka’s demand.
However, two days later, the FCI turned down Karnataka’s request, Siddaramaiah alleged. “What should we call this? Isn’t it politics? They are indulging in politics using rice meant for the poor. This is a big conspiracy by the Centre to deny rice to the poor because it will come in favour of Congress,” he charged.
Five kilograms of (additional) rice to each member of the BPL families costs ₹840 crore a month to the state government whereas annually it comes to ₹10,092 crore, Siddaramaiah said.
“We are ready to bear the cost and give rice to the people. The Centre is not giving us rice despite having it,” the chief minister said.
According to him, the state does not have adequate stock of ragi or maize to supply five kg of them to each member of BPL families. He added that at most the state can supply only two kg of ragi and maize to the beneficiaries a month for six months only.
Karnataka has approached the National Consumer Cooperative Federation, National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation, and Central Warehousing Corporation to procure rice, Siddaramaiah said.
The chief minister said the state government will implement the ‘Anna Bhagya’ scheme despite the “politics” played by the Centre.”
Meanwhile, MLA and BJP state vice-president BY Vijayendra criticised the Congress government for trying to procure rice from other states. He ridiculed that the Congress government had more love for other states and hence was trying to procure from them.
Pointing out that the Centre was helping the state to get 5 kg of rice under the PDS, he demanded: “Congress government that has promised to provide 10 kg of rice should ensure that its promise is over and above that of 5 kg of rice being given by the Centre. This would mean that the Congress would have to give 15 kg of rice a month to keep up its word,” he said.
This article has been republished from The Hindustan Times