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We are looking at several consumer-friendly initiatives: Ram Vilas Paswan

Archis Mohan & Sanjeeb Mukherjee/New Delhi 12 May 17 | 05:29 AM

Ram Vilas Paswan, dalit leader and Union minister for food, public distribution and consumer affairs, talks to Archis Mohan and Sanjeeb Mukherjee on the Saharanpur violence and some matters pertaining to his own charge. Edited excerpts:

Your assessment of the recent anti-Dalit violence in UP's Saharanpur?

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I have asked my Dalit Sena (an outfit he commands) activists to visit and prepare a report. It is a serious incident and my party (Lok Janshakti, part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led ruling coalition) will act once we get the report. We feel the local administration should have been more alert on the events that led to the incident and acted accordingly. Once we get a full report on the cause and its fallout, we will send it to state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

In the context of Saharanpur, this government has claimed to have taken several steps for Dalits. Has this message reached the community?

If that wasn't so, Dalits wouldn't have voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party in such large numbers in Uttar Pradesh in the recent assembly polls. Only two governments have worked with honest intent for Dalits - the VP Singh government of 1990 (of which he was a minister) and the current Narendra Modi government. Both in terms of symbolism by conserving five sites associated with BR Ambedkar's life and announcing schemes to help Dalits, this government has taken several steps in the past three years (since it came to power). In the central government, there has been no discrimination between Dalits and non-Dalits. But, state governments need to address with the required seriousness the incidents taking place.

Consumer-related issues have been at the forefront in the three years at your ministry. But, several issues still need to be addressed.

We are looking at several consumer-friendly initiatives. We want the practice of serving of food and snacks wrapped in paper to be stopped, as it's hazardous to health. The department of consumer affairs is preparing guidelines for this. Second, we plan strict action against companies that use misleading labels to sell their products. For example, companies advertise all kinds of milk or other dairy products as made of cow's milk. In the new consumer protection law, misleading claims will be punishable with fines and imprisonment.

How can a common consumer ascertain whether the milk is of cow's or not?

I have asked the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) chief to develop low-cost lactometers which consumers can use to test milk and also for edible oils. Consumers can buy these meters, which will be extremely cheap, conduct the test on the product and lodge a complaint if they find discrepancies. Also, companies should be able to back their claims of providing 'farm fresh' milk; else, the government will take punitive action.

Will this year's wheat procurement target of 33 million tonnes be met?

As on date last year, 22.3 mt was procured by the government. This year, as of today, we have already reached 27.1 mt. Therefore, we have enough in our stocks. Production this year is expected to be 96.6 mt as against 92.3 mt last year. Against our target of 33 mt, we are sure to procure around 30 mt, a significant increase from 2016-17.

After the recent Supreme Court order on (Rashtriya Janata Dal chief) Lalu Prasad, BJP leaders like Sushil Modi have asked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to dump RJD and return to the (BJP-led) National Democratic Alliance.

Why would we want him to come back? Nitish Kumar wants to project himself as 'sushasan babu' (icon of good governance) but Lalu Prasad and 'sushasan' are contradictions in terms. Let Nitish Kumar first take a decision on whether he wants to return to the NDA. Why should we ask him to join? It is up to him to remain with Lalu Prasad or leave him.

On the (coming) Presidential elections, there are suggestions that there should be a Dalit face.

That is for the government to decide. We, being part of it, will raise the issue in the proper forum. When we had to fight for a Dalit president, we did our bit by getting K R Narayanan elected to the post in 1997.

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