M A I N   N E W S

Govt wakes up on food front
Chief Secys meet today
Faraz Ahmad and Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 7
Realising the gravity of food situation in the country, Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar has summoned the state Chief Secretaries tomorrow, even as Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar assured Parliament here today that the government had sufficient buffer stock of rice and wheat for the next 13 months.

Pawar also told the Lok Sabha that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might meet the Chief Ministers on August 17 to address the problem of hoarding and profiteering. Acknowledging that the food situation in the country was grim and delayed rains had contributed to this crisis, the minister assured members that the government was taking both long and short-term measures to meet the situation.

Replying to a two-day debate on price rise, the Agriculture Minister said amidst repeated interruptions from RJD chief Lalu Prasad and SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav, “I am not saying prices of essential commodities are satisfying. I also admit that there is a crisis on the pulses front. We might have to correct this either through import or some subsidy.”

Giving reasons for shortfall in pulses, the minister said production had stagnated while the demand has gone up, resulting in a gap of 3.5-4 million tonnes. He also revealed that the greatest scarcity was for tur, moong and urad, but assured the House that 9.30 lakh tonne pulses had already been imported by public sector entities and private enterprises to met the shortfall.

Pawar denied reports that pulses consignments were lying in the open outside Kolkata port and said the STC, NAFED, MMTC and PEC, Ministry of Shipping and Pulses Importer Association have written to him denying these reports. He added that a 6,000-tonne consignment of pulses belonging to NAFED was released by the custom authorities recently.

Pawar said the government had paid highest MSP for wheat and rice. He also assured that there was buffer stock of 252 lakh tonnes of wheat and 356 lakh tonnes of rice in government godowns.

But a day earlier Pawar also conceded that “retail price of sugar is ranging between Rs 25-30 per kg” and said lower production of sugarcane this season had put pressure on the open market prices of levy sugar. “The steep rise in retail price of sugar has prompted the government to extend duty free import of sugar for another eight months,” he said.

Pawar told the Rajya Sabha earlier this week that sugarcane acreage across the country had declined from 5,055 hectares in 2007-08 to 4,395 hectares in 2008-09. Official figures put Punjab’s sugarcane acreage at 81 acres hectares down from 110 hectares in 2007-08 and in Haryana the fall it has come down from 140 hectares to only 81 hectares.



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