Why the Government is Insensitive to Rising Prices of Essential Commodities?

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Mere Austerity Measures Will Not Fill The Belly of The Common Man – More Should Be Done to Control Prices

It is good Pranab Mukherjee called on two high profile ministers to come out of their luxury stay in five star hotels. He also called on all Babus to travel by economy class while exempting the white elephant MPs. Not too many of the MPs and ministers were willing to give up their privileges of travelling by business class. A few here and there came before the press to declare their intent to travel by economy class. Pranab was the one who showed the way by travelling economy class on Spice jet.

Today’s reports reveal 75% of Government expenses come from the travel expenses of the MPs and Ministers. Too much unhindered travel and waste of tax payer’s money on privileges granted to MPs and Ministers costs the exchequer more than the salaries to Babus. They have to do more to save wasteful expenditures in the days to come to fight drought conditions in the country.

As if it is not enough, people like Mayawathi spent around 2000 cr on statues, while Maharashtra’s Chavan Govt. is willing to dole out Rs.350 cr on a statue of Maharaja Shivaji. These are the austerity measures of the respective Governments in times of drought. These moneys are just enough to alleviate the suffering of the farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, where farmers are selling everything dear to them to meet both the ends of life as drought conditions worsen in these states. This is a pathetic side of democracy. It is worse than kingship or feudalism so insensitive to the problems of the farmers.

Another worrying aspect of life is rising prices. Government is totally insensitive to the problem of rising prices. They are clueless, unable to come out with a definite programme to intervene to curb the rise. They do not know what they can do to prevent price rise of vegetables, pulses, edible oil, sugar, rice and wheat. They just let market forces decide on their own. Ironically, people are queuing up to buy these costly day to day requirements without a murmur. There are no public protests or food riots and no consumer resistance at all. They were all things of the past, when soaring onion prices brought down the Vajpayee Government and scarcity of rice in Tamilnadu brought down Baktavasalm Government in 1967.

The Tamilnadu Government at least, has done what it could do in the given situation by selling pulses, sugar, wheat, rice and spices through fair price shops. This is something to be appreciated, though it has no impact on the general prices of commodities sold in the open market in Tamilnadu. At least, it ensured that the ration card holders whether rich or poor are given a certain amount of relief from the soaring prices as the commodities sold in these fair price shops are far below the market price of rice, wheat, oil, Dal, and spices. To that extent, people in Tamilnadu are happy. How many other state Governments have taken market intervention steps to bring down the prices? I believe very few.

Government, whether state or central should not be satisfied with just increasing the salaries of the Government servants. There are others also who are not so fortunate to get a hefty hike in their salaries or income. That is the common man. He has to be saved from the ill effect of rising prices. Go to market and you will find the prices of veggies are the same, selling potatoes at Rs.28/kg, Tomato at Rs.16/kg, Onion at Rs.18/kg, not to say of Beans, Cabbage, Capsicum, Mutter etc., priced equally high.

What can a poor man do in this situation? Simultaneous increase in the prices of food makes life more difficult. Those who have money have no problems. What about the poor?

Rising prices of essential commodities is a serious problem. The government is sitting on an active volcano. It may erupt at any time. Eventually, people will no longer take it sitting down. India is fast moving towards Czar period of Russia where a pair of shoes were bought with a bag full of currency. Government should do more. Import pulses and oil, crackdown on hoarders and speculators. Stop commodity trading from the stock market. Bring all the commodities over ground.

These are some of the stringent actions that would pave the way to bring down soaring prices of essential commodities. It is not that India does not have sufficient stock of many of the essential commodities but for the hoarding and stock trading by speculators. Once a whip is cracked on these big business magnates, the market would be flooded with commodities. A stung political will is needed to deal with the hoarders and speculators.

In the meantime, market intervention by Government agencies and efforts to sell all essential commodities through fair price shops as a stop gap arrangement is essential to save the poor from starvation. It would go a long way in alleviating the suffering of the common man. Though it may have little impact on the market, yet a large scale effort at market intervention by the Government agencies would halt rising prices. A nationwide crackdown on the important businesses and against hoarders would also help in bringing down the price of essential commodities.

I hope the government will listen to the grievances and do everything possible to fight the menace of rising prices. A mere austerity measure of the kind of a few ministers travelling by economy class will not solve the problem. Jai Hind.

A.M. Jamsheed Basha is a Chennai-based columnist, political commentator, who writes on matters of importance, political, social and self-improvement.