Rice Saga: Indian MPs Stage Walkout

The sale of non-basmati rice to some African countries, including Ghana, by relaxing a ban on such exports is fast turning into a political embarrassment for the Indian Congress. The India times reported that even though the India government has ordered an inquiry into the affair, some members of Parliament, who described the deal as a scam, on Thursday, staged a walkout. BJP, BJD, JD(U), CPM and Samajwadi Party MPs turned the heat on the government over the alleged role of private companies which siphoned off rice meant for export to African countries on humanitarian grounds. They said the private exporters in question colluded with the importing African countries who allegedly insisted that exports be routed through the Indian cartel. The loop was completed by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade under the commerce ministry which, in breach of guidelines, readily went along with the unusual request. Significantly, the MPs attacking the government appeared pretty well informed about the facts of the case and posed a series of sharp questions to the government. JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav said Amira Foods and Shivnath Rai Harinarain India had been named as two of the private firms who had benefited from violation of DGFT guidelines. The MPs said the export of rice on "humanitarian" grounds had been manipulated and was nothing less than a scam, fearing that it could well spell some discomfort for the government of India. The MPs indicated that they, and a senior minister, have been summoned by Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations, probing the issue, to cooperate with the probe. Admitting that some irregularities had been uncovered in the working of state companies, the commerce minister of India Anand Sharma said, "Responsibility will be fixed. Nobody will be spared if any infringement of rules is established. In some cases PSUs have infringed conditions issued by the DGFT. The government is eager to get to the bottom of the issue." Sharma said though the guidelines for exports - allowed on diplomatic grounds after a request was received from 21 African countries - had been violated, the scale of the "scam" was much lower than what had been alleged in media reports. Opposition MPs like Sharad Yadav contested the claim in terms of the value of exports saying the government was going by the procurement price not the likely illegal profits skimmed off by private parties who made off with the rice as it had not even reached its intended destinations. BJP's Gopinath Munde said the decision had been taken even as general elections were at hand and SP's Shailendra Kumar asked why three firms were allowed to directly deal with exports to Ghana. BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab said the minister should explain whether some countries had specifically named private companies as their preferred business routes and explain how this had been allowed. BJD leader Arjun Charan Sethi said the exports had been permitted at a time when food prices were high, particularly affecting the BPL segment. Sharma argued that as the exports were through sale and not grants and were allotted from outside the PDS system, there had been no impact on the domestic market. Exports had been frozen after food prices began to rise both globally and in the domestic markets. The exceptions were made to countries with whom India had long-standing diplomatic ties and where populations were in distress.