Criticising the move to slash import duty on wheat to zero, the Opposition in Rajya Sabha on Friday called it an attempt to “benefit” multinational firms and alleged that the Centre took this “anti-national” decision since it apprehends a “food riot” due to the prevailing cash crunch across the country.
Members from the Congress, BSP, SP, JD(U) and Left parties alleged that the move to cut import duty from 10 per cent to zero, at a time when the country has enough buffer stock, will hit the farmer.
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Countering the attack, Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan insisted that there is no shortage of wheat in the country, and that the decision was taken to cool down domestic prices, which have been going up in recent weeks.
CPI(M) member Sitaram Yechury said prices have gone up due to demonetisation. “Since the farmer is not getting cash, he can neither buy seeds nor sell foodgrain on the minimum support price. The government’s step (import duty slash) is against the nation, against the farmers,” Yechury said. He claimed that the decision has been taken because the government is “afraid that there may be food riots due to demonetisation. In order to prevent that, they are allowing zero-import duty on wheat.” His remarks drew angry protests from the treasury benches, which accused the Opposition of resorting to disruptive tactics.
Jairam Ramesh of the Congress said, “The farmer has no cash for pesticides, the farmer has no cash for fertiliser, and you are telling that farmer that you are going to import wheat. This is videshi jagaran; this is videshi utthan (uplift of foreign countries).”
BSP chief Mayawati said the decision will benefit the rich and is against farmers. Sharad Yadav of JD(U) questioned the need to allow imports when there were enough stocks available within the country. Sukhendu Shekhar Roy (TMC), meanwhile, asked the Chair to take a sense of the House if an obituary reference should be made for 111 people he claimed had as a direct result of the demonetisation decision.