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Govt red-faced over minister's lack of information

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, May 12 (UNI) The Government today faced an embarrassing situation in the Rajya Sabha as the minister of state for food was found lacking adequate information on wheat imports, provoking the BJP to stage a walkout in protest.

The Chair's effort to salvage the situation by ''postponing'' the question did not help the matter as the Samajwadi Party and Left parties of the UPA benches stretched the matters further with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watching the scene helplessly.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi intervened to promise the Chair that the Government was not running away from responsibility and was ready to face the debate in the current session itself.

Answering a question of Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, the Minister of State for Food and Consumer Affairs Akhilesh Prasad Singh contended that the cost of supplying wheat from traditional wheat-growing states of Punjab and Haryana to far away southern states would have proved costlier than the imported wheat. The opposition immediately demanded to know the difference. The Minister said it would have cost Rs 10.30 a kg.

When the minister disputed Dr Joshi's claim that the quality of imported wheat was contaminated 50 times more than the permissible pesticide limits, Dr Singh said that the reports from the Mysore- based Central Food and Technological Research Institute had cleared the quality.

Ms Sushma Swaraj and Yashwant Sinha joined the issue asking why the contaminated food was supplied to the southern states. The farmers are committing suicides because of lack of returns and the government was playing with the lives of the citizens by importing contaminated foodgrains from foreign shores, they alleged.

The Minister tried to wriggle out of the situation by stating that the cost of transportation would be according to distance. But the statement did no good to soothe ruffled feelings. ''Please give us statewise transportation costs,'' they demanded.

The government, they alleged, was willing to pay Rs 950 a tonne for foreign wheat whereas the Minimum Support Price (MSP) offered to farmers was Rs 650 a tonne. The Minister conceded that the procurement target of 165 lakh tonnes of wheat could not be achieved this year because the market price was much above the MSP and the result was that it was able to procure only about 100 lakh tonnes.

Dissatisfied with the reply, the BJP MPs staged a walkout but that did not end the matters there. The SP and CPI-M MPs joined the issue with the Chairman saying that he would allow the notice to be deliberated in the House. ''They don't take notice of our notices", remarked a member provoking Mr Dasmunsi to protest saying that the government had never ignored the notices.

''All queries will be answered in the current session itself and I say it with all responsibility,'' the Minister said.

UNI MCN MSJ ND1333

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