A farmer’s query about cuts in PDS rice allotment has led to a harsh, insensitive response from a minister in Karnataka. Umesh Katti, the state’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister, lashed out when a farmer quizzed him about the staples being offered to the poor by the government, citing Covid-induced lockdowns and poor income. The audio conversation is being widely circulated in the state.
“Sir now you made it 2 kg rice (in PDS). How will it be sufficient for us?” the farmer had asked. When the minister replied that the government is also giving 3 kilos of raagi, the farmer argued it was not available in north Karnataka. Mr Katti said in North Karnataka, the government is distributing made jowar and Rice.
This was how the conversation went then:
Farmer: Sir, will that be sufficient? Lockdown now and we don’t earn our livelihood. Will that be sufficient, Sir?
Minister: Every month, the Central Government is giving 5 kg (wheat or rice) during lockdown. In the month of May and June…
Farmer: When are you giving?
Minister: Next month.
Farmer: Till then, should we starve or die?
Minister: It is better to die. Actually, that is the reason we have stopped giving. Please don’t call me.
The minister’s response shocked many, who suggested that Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa immediately drop him from his ministry.
Congress’s DK Shivakumar tweeted: “BJP Minister Umesh Katti has abused a citizen & asked him to ‘go die’ just because he asked him why Karnataka Govt has cut Rice under PDS to just 2 kgs! CM @BSYBJP must immediately throw him out of the cabinet for this most insensitive statement. Does this Govt have any shame?”
BJP Minister Umesh Katti has abused a citizen & asked him to ‘go die’ just because he asked him why Karnataka Govt has cut Rice under PDS to just 2 kgs!
CM @BSYBJP must immediately throw him out of the cabinet for this most insensitive statement.
Does this Govt have any shame?
— DK Shivakumar (@DKShivakumar) April 28, 2021
Mr Katti, however, defended his statement.
“If he is asking whether he should die, what should I tell him? When you are asking properly, I can respond to you in a proper manner. The way you are asking me now, I can answer you in the same manner and tone. When he said that he wanted to die, what should I reply to him?” the minister told reporters.
When reporters suggested that he should have said, “You shouldn’t die. The government is there to help you,” Mr Katti replied, “I don’t have that big a heart, mine is a small heart”.
The last time Mr Katti made headlines for controversial decisions was in February, when he declared that families with televisions and two-wheelers should surrender their Below Poverty Line cards or face action. He had given a March 31 deadline.
Even his party colleagues had criticised the decision,
“It is normal for every household these days to have a TV and refrigerator. Some may buy two-wheelers for the convenience of commute. He [Minister Katti] may have spoken about the merits for eligibility orally. This matter requires widespread consultation,” Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers D.V. Sadananda Gowda had said.
After widespread criticism, Mr Katti issued a statement that read: “No orders have been issued after the BJP government came to power. I have not issued any order after taking over as Minister either”.