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Siddaramaiah’s free rice scheme flops

Karnataka CM unable to implement his irrational promise to give free rice is accusing everyone of sabotage (Pic. Courtesy ANI)

Having made an irrational and impractical promise of supplying “10 kilos of rice per person per month, free of cost” and being unable to implement it after coming to power, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah is ranting invectives and accusing everyone of “sabotaging” his favourite scheme to help the poor.

As he is finding it difficult to source 2.5 lakh tonnes of rice per month required to implement the “Anna Bhagya” scheme, people are beginning to question whether any rational calculation had been made regarding consumption of rice in the state. “Only about 60% of around 7.5 crore people eat rice while the rest of the population in north Karnataka prefer ragi or jowar. Normally, a family of five would, at the most, consume 3 to 4 kilos of rice a month. That being the case, why is Siddaramaiah keen on giving 10 kilos per head? What would a family do with so much of excess rice?” are the questions being asked.

Initially, Siddaramaiah blamed the Food Corporation of India (FCI) of having promised to supply 2.28 lakh tonnes of rice at Rs 36.60 per kilo and later backtracking on it, as “Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to put a spoke in our scheme.” He said the commitment made on June 8 by the local head office of FCI was withdrawn on June 13 “at the behest of the Central government.”

Siddaramaiah’s lies exposed

But BJP MP from South Bengaluru, Tejasvi Surya, exposed Siddaramaiah’s “lies” by releasing a series of documents which showed that an inter-ministerial committee on agricultural commodities at the Centre had initiated a discussion on May 2 regarding discontinuation of the sale of rice and wheat to the states under Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) to keep enough stocks to maintain stability of prices across the country, and accordingly a decision was taken on June 8. “So, it is evident that a discussion on reviewing OMSS had begun much before the Karnataka elections and it is not that the decision was taken to ensure that the Congress scheme flopped. Neither Prime Minister Modi nor the BJP had “dreamt” at that point in time that the Congress would come to power in Karnataka and that they needed to sabotage their scheme,” Surya quipped.

Pointing out that the Centre was already supplying 5 kg of rice every month free of cost without “tom-tomming about it”, BJP general secretary CT Ravi said the Congress government in Karnataka, “as per its election manifesto, should supply 10 kg of rice per head per family, or put an equivalent amount of money in their accounts.” Former BJP minister R Ashok challenged the government to buy rice in the open market and supply it to the people “to show your commitment to the poor.”

Scouting for procurement

Having tied himself in knots in trying to implement his “pet scheme,” Siddaramaiah has begun scouting for procurement of rice from Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh,Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Food and Civil Supplies minister KH Muniyappa told the media that the state had been negotiating with the Chhattisgarh government which was ready to supply rice. “The cost of rice and the transportation cost are very high. We have asked the chief secretary to negotiate the price with the Chhattisgarh government,” he said. Chhattisgarh, incidentally, has a Congress-led government, and the state is poised to go to the polls later this year.

As the frustration within the government over its inability to implement the scheme grew, deputy chief minister and KPCC president DK Shivakumar announced that the Congress party would organise demonstrations all over the state on June 20 to protest against BJP’s “hate politics” denying rice to the state though there were sufficient stocks with the Centre.

Siddaramaiah also maintained that “the Anna Bhagya scheme would be implemented from July 1 ‘at any cost’ and we will continue to educate the people about the anti-poor stance of the BJP government at the Centre.”