BJP digs up dirt on wheat import, sees big scam
NEW DELHI: The BJP has taken the Right to Information (RTI) route to lay bare what it sees as the ‘wheat import scam’. The party sniffs huge irregularities in the deal and has even claimed that its stand has been vindicated.
Armed with the details secured through the RTI, the party on Thursday reiterated its demand for the dismissal of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and wanted a CBI inquiry into the entire episode, which, it alleged, had caused a big loss to the exchequer.
With the monsoon session of Parliament commencing on Friday, the party has made up its mind to haul up the ruling combine over the alleged bungling. “The prime minister must come clean on the subject,” BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said here on Thursday afternoon.
The BJP, Mr Javadekar said, had sought information on the reasons for the cancellation of the first round of bids invited at the rate of $263 per million tonne (MT) in May this year. The food and consumer affairs ministry cited six factors that led to the termination of the tenders at the said rate.
“Tenders were floated by the STC on behalf of the government in May. After negotiations with the foreign suppliers, the STC recommended purchase of 3.06 lakh tonnes of wheat at $263/MT. However, none of the bids were accepted by the government as the STC had said there were possibilities of a softening of prices for arrival beyond August 2007 compared to the June-August prices received in the tender,” the information made available through the RTI read.
There were other factors, too, including reports that the Australian crop to be harvested during November-December, 2007 was described as “good” by the International Grain Council, talk of declining price curve of wheat in the international market by all the three related agencies, namely the IGC, Reuters and the Chicago Board of Trade, the government’s decision to take advantage of future market conditions, fears that acceptance of imported wheat at prices higher than procurement price in the domestic market would induce discontentment among the farmers and apprehensions that the traders would resort to hoarding wheat stocks in the hope of a future price rise.
“This was the government’s assessment on June 1 this year,” Mr Javadekar said, adding, “It suddenly changed its stance around June 10 and decided to re-tender for the import of 50 lakh MT of wheat immediately.”
Tenders were floated for 5.11 million tonnes of wheat, which were subsequently awarded to three firms at a weighted average price of $325/MT. “This is a clear admission of not only a flip-flop or an error of judgement, but foul play,” the BJP spokesman said. The government’s decision to import wheat, notwithstanding its own assessment, proves that something happened behind the scenes during the first week of June and some vested interests had played their part, he added.