New Delhi: Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa shifted to the Centre the onus of defusing a snowballing political crisis over the fertilizer shortage, as he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union fertilizer minister Ram Vilas Paswan Wednesday to seek extra supplies. The meeting was held as the shortage spread to more states, including Maharashtra, ahead of the planting of the kharif, or summer crop.
Concern over the shortage was also expressed by Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra, in a meeting with the prime minister earlier in the day.
Snowballing crisis: Angry farmers throw stones at a police wagon during a protest on Tuesday against the authorities in Karnataka, demanding fertilizers and seeds.
According to a Maharashtra government official, who did not wish to be identified, the state’s concern stemmed from a supply dislocation because of the ongoing Gujjar agitation that has severed some rail links.
Yeddyurappa, along with his nine ministers, met the prime minister and handed over a letter in which he cited the expected shortfall in Karnataka at 300,000 tonnes of complex fertilizer and 50,000 tonnes of DAP, or Diammonium Phosphate.
While the delegation said Singh promised a quick response from the Centre, the prime minister’s office did not divulge details of the meeting.
Even as the Congress party blamed the newly-installed BJP government in Karnataka for mishandling the violent agitations over fertilizer shortage across the state, M. Veerappa Moily, chairman of the Congress party’s media cell, admitted that there was an urgent need to speed up supply. “Since the monsoon has advanced, the supply needs to be stepped up, not only in Karnataka but also Maharashtra and especially southern states like Andhra Pradesh,” said Moily, “I am sure this is just a transitory phase and the Government of India will do the needful at the earliest.”
Mint reported on 11 June that shortage of fertilizer had led to violent clashes in at least two states.
A senior official in the department of fertilizers (DoF), who did not wish to be identified, said there was no shortage of any fertilizer in Karnataka. “In May 2008, the required amount of DAP was 62,000 tonnes, while the availability and sale were 70,650 tonnes and 59,160 tonnes, respectively,” he said, “The availability in this month is 132,000 tonnes, including the opening balance, against the required 110,000 tonnes. Similarly, there is no shortage of complex fertilizers either.”
Along with Karnataka, though, another Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state, Gujarat, urged the Centre to step up fertilizer supply.
Gujarat requested the government to supply 50% of the state’s requirement of fertilizer, which is met by the Centre every year, before the beginning of the sowing season. The state requires 925,000 tonnes of urea, 335,000 tonnes of DAP and 90,000 tonnes of potash this year.
Earlier in the day, Venkaiah Naidu, a senior BJP leader, blamed the Centre for the crisis. “In Karnataka, during the Governor’s rule, enough care was not taken to pursue the issue of fertilizer requirement with government of India. It did not make timely availability of fertilizers,” said Naidu.
“According to the industry,” Naidu added, “The government’s failure to announce the pricing and freight policy is mainly responsible for the present situation. The shortage in fertilizer supply is due to uncertainties in the union government subsidy policies.”
Experts said that despite delays in subsidy payments and rising input costs, fertilizer manufacturers had not cut production.
“Production has, in fact, been increasing,” said a senior official at a public sector manufacturing unit who did not wish to be identified, “There is always a fertilizer shortage because demand exceeds production capacity. But this is supplemented by imports. The situation in Karnataka is a result of panic created by the early monsoon.”
K. Raghu from Bangalore and PTI also contributed to this story.