Worried about the adverse impact that price rise could cause to Congress' prospects in Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi unveiled quick fix policy prescriptions for 12 party-ruled states including reform in PDS and giving farmers a wider choice to sell vegetables and fruits.
Talking to reporters after the day-long interaction with Chief Ministers and top ministers for which Gandhi had set the agenda for the discussion by his opening remarks on corruption and inflation as core issues, AICC Communication Department Chief Ajay Maken listed four measures that Congress Chief Ministers agreed to implement.
"All Congress-ruled states will by January 15 delist the fruits and vegetables from their respective Agricultural Produce Markets Committee (APMC) Acts so that the farmers have a choice of where to sell their produce and consumers will get the benefit of lower prices," Maken said, as Gandhi sought to work out a strategy to woo voters.
These amendments to include or exclude items from the list needs an executive order and the governments will not have to go the state legislators, the party sources said.
All Congress-ruled states have also been directed to invoke Essential Commodities Act 1955 to deal sternly with hoarding, blackmarketing and profiteering. "Chronic offenders may also be detained under the Prevention of Blackmarketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980, " he added.
A decision was also taken that all these states will immediately take steps to open fair price shops, either government-owned or run women's self-help groups that will sell fruits, vegetables and eggs are fair and reasonable prices.
"All Congress-ruled states will immediately implement the reforms of the Public Distribution System (PDS) that are stipulated in the National Food Security Act, 2013 so as to eliminate leakages and to ensure that foodgrains reach the intended beneficiaries," he said.
Immediately after the results of the Assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were out, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had listed price rise as an issue that could have led to the rout of the party in these states.
Addressing a FICCI conference, Rahul Gandhi had also flagged concerns over price rise and noted that tackling inflation was the top priority.
The first major poll exercise after the party's drubbing in recent Assembly elections saw the party leaders from the states seeking urgent steps to check price rise saying people are angry over it.
At the meeting, all Chief Ministers expressed their unhappiness over implementation of Aadhar-linked subsidy on LPG cylinders, saying large number of consumbers will not be able to avail of it.
They felt that the complicated process of subsidising the cylinders is not giving any benefit to the government while at the same tiem it is also being antagonised.
Sources said that among the Chief Ministers, who raised the issue, Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy was most vocal.
Almost all Chief Ministers said increasing prices of essential commodities and petroleum products will hurt Congress' prospects.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Food Minister K B Thomas made a strong pitch for amendments in the APMC act.
Sources said that a model bill on APMC has already been circulated among the states but the two amendments suggested in today's meeting can be brought before the new Act is in place.
Talking to reporters, Maken said that it was felt that the existing APMC Act was restrictive in nature.
Chidambaram also chose the occasion to say that taming inflation was also one of the ways to bring down prices. There was also a talk about widening the tax net as cutting down on public welfare measures to bring down inflation could boomerang in an election year.
Both Thomas and Chidambaram told the meeting that delinking fruits and vegetables from the APMC list will help both farmers and consumers.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda suggested that a farmer's group should be given the powers to sell their produce.
The day-long exercise saw full attendance of Congress Chief Ministers along with senior leaders A K Antony, Sushilkumar Shinde, P Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, Jairam Ramesh, Digvijay Singh, Janardan Dwivedi and Kapil Sibal.