UNPA, Left leaders court arrest over price rise

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New Delhi, Apr.19 : Leaders of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) and Left on Saturday courted arrest over the price rise issue while walking towards Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office.

Earlier, both outfits had announced the launching of a week-long nationwide protest against soaring food prices, warning the government of an "explosive" situation.

"An explosive situation will emerge if (food) prices are not controlled," CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat warned.

The UNPA includes the Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

Both are scheduled to hold a conference here today to discuss their strategy to corner the Congress-led UPA government over inflation.

The conference will be chaired by UNPA Chairman Mulayam Singh Yadav and Communist Party of India (CPI) senior leader A B Bardhan. Party presidents of the constituents of the UNPA and well-known economists are also expected to participate in the conference.

On Friday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) placed the responsibility of the price rise of essential commodities solely on the UPA Government, saying that instead of taking all parties and concerned sections of society into confidence on ways to resolve the matter, the government has irresponsibly blamed State Governments for not doing enough to control inflation.

In a statement released after a meeting of BJP General Secretaries here, party spokesman Prakash Javadekar, demanding a White Paper on the causes behind the inflation, said that one had only to make a comparison between the prices of key commodities during the rule of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA - 1998-2004) and what they were being sold at under the UPA regime.

Taking steel as one example, he said that during the NDA regime, its cost was Rs.20, 000 per tonne, and now under the UPA regime, the same product was being offered for Rs.48, 000 per tonne.

He said cement under the NDA regime cost Rs.90 a bag, and was now being offered at Rs.260 a bag. Similarly, the cost of petrol was pegged at Rs.30 per litre during the NDA rule, and was now being sold in some parts of the country for Rs.52 per litre, whereas the cost of diesel has gone up from Rs.20 per litre to Rs.38 per litre, he added.

Wheat had gone up from Rs.8 to Rs.16 per kilogram, whereas rice had gone up from Rs.8 to Rs.18 per kilogram, Javadekar said. The cost of cooking oil too had gone up from Rs.35 per litre to Rs.70 per litre, he added.

He further claimed that market forces were now controlling food security, which is the responsibility of the government. "During the NDA regime, the godowns were full with food grains, but under the UPA Government, they all are empty,"Javadekar said, adding that the procurement of food grains by multinationals "has become a big problem".

To substantiate this view, he said that under the Prime Ministership of Atal Behair Vajpayee, the government used to procure 230 lakh tonnes of food grains from farmers, whereas under the UPA, the government is procuring only 100 lakh tonnes of food grain.

Commenting on the Public Distribution System (PDS), the BJP and Javadekar demanded that the system must be used to provide enough wheat, rice, sugar, edible oils and pulses to the people.

"Steel and cement companies are deliberately raising prices. The government must control them. Forward trading in essential food commodities must be banned, and the government must come out with a White Paper on inflation," said Javadekar.

The BJP reiterated that the UPA Government must either rein in inflation, or quit.

Earlier, the Prime Minister had written to state governments asking them to take strong measures against hoarding, believed to be one of the main reasons for short supply and rising prices. He also asked the state governments to ensure that there is adequate supply of foodgrains.

Protests have started mounting across the country over the price rise, said to be the highest in more than three years. Inflation rate accelerated to 7.41 per cent last week, but tapering off to 7.14 per cent a couple of days ago.

The inflation rate has nearly doubled since December 2007, but the Central Government said that it could bring it down to five per cent within the next two months.

ANI

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