Perhaps adding insult to injury, union agriculture and food supply minister Sharad Pawar announced today that milk prices are going to go up soon - exacerbating the spiralling food inflation that is putting most Indians on a forced diet.
"A major problem we are facing is the insufficient availability of milk, particularly in northern India," Pawar told reporters in New Delhi. He said the government was finding it hard to keep the price of milk under control, and may have to increase prices.
The prices of all essential food commodities have seen a massive rise over the last year, including foodgrains and cooking oils. Sugar, a vital indicator, has soared to Rs50 a kg or more in the retail market.
Last week, Pawar had announced that sugar prices would come down in 15 days. A little earlier he had said, "I am no astrologer to predict sugar prices." Such vague statements have been criticised as being unexpected from the food supply minister, whose Nationalist Congress Party is widely known to control most of the sugar co-operatives in Maharashtra.
Pawar's statement drew criticism from the Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation, the largest supplier of milk in the country. The federation said it had alerted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and Pawar about the looming crisis in a memorandum submitted in August last year, but no action was taken.
Because of the inaction, cattle feed and fodder prices were going up and becoming scarce, thereby affecting the production of milk and its prices, the federation, which sells its products under the 'Amul' brand, said today.