Pawar letter to PM against 2 ministers on export policies stirs up hornets nest

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 14 2012, 08:42am hrs
Agriculture minister and NCP minister Sharad Pawars letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, directly complaining against two of his Cabinet colleagues on export policies pursued by them, has stirred up the government. Pawars timing and the issues he has raised have given birth to questions in the government. The sugar export policy that Pawar talks of as unfair is the same one which was being followed in 2010 when he was food minister, said a source in the food ministry.

The current system depends on control of sugar, and selling of it by farmers through a release order on a quota basis. Some states where farmers are far away from ports and other transport hubs, the farmers trade in their ROs with other farmers living close to ports. So, in a way an equitable distribution of price for sugar meant for export takes place. To replace that with a first- come first-serve basis system for quotas would be to introduce monopoly into the system, added the official from the food ministry.

While the food ministry has been fairly steadfast in its refusal of Pawars suggestions on sugar, when it comes to cotton, the government and even the Congress party is on less sure ground, as a lift of the ban on export of cotton has been demanded by Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and Congress MPs from Gujarat.

Both food minister KV Thomas and commerce and textile minister Anand Sharma have maintained a silence so far on cotton exports. Pawars letter is to the Prime Minister, and he will be the one to respond to that, said Thomas to FE.

Senior leaders in the Congress are also worrying about the timing and leak of the letter. There is a political motive behind the letter, as the policies on sugar and milk had been followed even when Pawar was food minister, while the ban on cotton exports is a bipartisan issue and there was no cause to write such an accusatory letter, said a senior leader in the Congress. While not outrightly saying so, Pawars letter has set off disquiet in its wake.