M A I N   N E W S

Alagiri backtracks on subsidy proposal
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, February 18
The Union Cabinet today witnessed an unusual spectacle when the decision to remove subsidies on fertilisers was opposed by the very minister who moved the proposal.

Fertilisers Minister MK Alagiri whose ministry placed this item before the Cabinet for its final approval subsequently disowned his proposal, saying that it should not be taken up in a hurry as it would hurt the interests of farmers. He wanted the Cabinet to postpone its decision on his own item.

Since English language is still a problem for the DMK minister, Textiles Minister and party colleague Dayanidhi Maran helped him out by reading the Cabinet note that proposed a 10 per cent increase in the price of urea and also suggested that the industry be given the freedom to fix the prices of other fertilisers.

Alagiri, who was present at the meeting, then asked Maran to read a second note in which he opposed this major policy shift on the plea that the poor farmers would be burdened as the prices of fertilisers would increase following removal of subsidises. Maran and Alagiri left for Chennai after the Cabinet meeting.

The other UPA allies - Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee - are learnt to have pointed to the adverse political fall-out of such a major policy shift, saying that efforts must be made to protect the interests of farmers. Sports Minister MS Gill also spoke out in favour of the farmers but at the same time agreed that the massive subsidy Bill needed to be pruned.

Given the sensitive nature of this decision, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allowed a full-fledged debate on the proposal, as a result of which the Cabinet meeting went on for over two hours. Although several ministers expressed their reservations on this proposal, UPA sources said it became necessary to take an early decision as several Assembly elections were due next year and sowing for the next crop was to begin shortly.

Denying any differences on this issue, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said the Cabinet witnessed a detailed and exhaustive discussion in which several ministers put forth their viewpoints.

“The Prime Minister took the views of several ministers. It was discussed elaborately and the decision was unanimous,” Soni said, adding that the Cabinet was assured that prices of fertilisers would not be raised for the coming kharif season. She also said the government would intervene when required to protect the interests of the farmers.



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