K’taka CM alleges Centre’s ‘dirty politics’ by denying rice

New Delhi: Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Tuesday accused the central government of indulging in “dirty politics” by “denying” the supply of rice to the state for the implementation of a poll-promise of free distribution of the cereal to the poor.

Siddaramaiah, who has just completed one month as chief minister in his second tenure, said the Karnataka government plans to begin the supply of free rice to the poor from July 1 and has approached several states to buy grains to meet the requirement of Anna Bhagya scheme.

“The Centre is engaged in dirty politics in rice matter. We have decided to start the process of distributing rice from July 1,” the chief minister told reporters after paying a courtesy visit to President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan here.

Siddaramaiah said he will meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday night and discuss the rice matter with him. He also said Union Food Minister Piyush Goyal is not in town to discuss the issue.

Karnataka does not have enough rice and therefore has already approached paddy-growing states like Telangana, Punjab and Chattisgarh for the procurement of foodgrains to meet the requirement under the Anna Bhagya scheme, he said.

Chhattisgarh has informed that it can supply 1 lakh tonnes of rice a month and Telangana has said it can give only paddy, not rice. Andhra Pradesh is quoting Rs 42-43 per kg for the rice. Punjab is yet to respond on this issue, he said.

Siddaramaiah further said that if the state government has to buy from the open market, it has to invite bids and the process would take two months time. This can delay the implementation, he said.

However, state food and civil supplies minister KH Muniyappa said they are making arrangements to procure rice so that the poll promise can be implements as planned.

”We have invited quotation from the central government agencies. They will share the quotation tomorrow and based on that we will take a call,” the chief minister said.

The state government requires 2.28 lakh tonnes of rice for the scheme, he added.

Muniyappa said, ”We want to provide rice at the earliest. We don’t want to delay even a month. If we find foodgrains for even first month, we will start the distribution…. there is some delay but we are making efforts.” He said state government has invited three central agencies Kendriya Bhandar, NAFED and NCCF to procure rice for the state scheme.

”We will try to procure quality rice at lesser rate. Some states are ready to supply but the cost is more. Therefore, we are trying to procure through these agencies. We will float tenders soon,” he said He said that the Centre has refused to supply rice but Goyal should have at least met them and heard them out.

On June 13, the central government discontinued the sale of rice under the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) to all state governments in view of the inflationary pressure.

This decision has hit badly some states including Karnataka and Tamil Nadu that operate their free rice schemes for the poor. They now have to procure the grains at a higher price from the open market or other states.

What has upset the Karnataka government is that the Centre discontinued the sale of rice ”suddenly”, a day after it gave permission to the state government to procure the grain from the central pool for the Anna Bhagya scheme.

On JD(S) leader and former CM H D Kumaraswamy’s statement that he and the Deputy CM will be at loggerheads, Siddaramaiah said, ”I have become CM through a democratic process. Ours is not a coalition government. MLAs have chosen me.” Karnataka’s Housing Minister B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan, Social Welfare Minister H C Mahadevappa and Environment Minister Eshwara Khandre are also in Delhi.