Bengaluru: In a major controversy for the B. S. Yediyurappa-led Karnataka government, an audio clip of Food and Civil Supplies Minister Umesh Katti has gone viral on social media, in which he tells a farmer activist that it is a “good time for farmers to die”. After the audio clip which was in Kannada went viral on social media, opposition parties and farmers leaders demanded Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa sack Katti.Also Read - Karnataka Logs All-time High of 39,047 Covid Cases in Past 24 Hours; Bengaluru Sees 22,596 Infections
The activist rings up Katti to enquire why his department has chosen to reduce the quantity of 5 kg free rice announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently prior to surge of Covid cases in the country. To which, Katti responds that the state government had not reduced the quantity, but will instead provide two kg rice and three kg ‘ragi’ (finger millet) in the southern region of Karnataka and ‘jowar’ (sorghum) will be given in north Karnataka, reported IANS.
As the caller asserted that the reduction will kill poor and farmers, the minister seeks to clarify that there was no reduction of quantity but it is only based on the demands of respective regions that Karnataka will supply food grains.
Apparently unhappy over this response, the caller charges that the state government intends to kill poor by pushing them to starvation.
At this, Katti, losing his temper, retorts that if a farmer or a poor person wants to die, “this is the good time to die”, before cutting the call.
As soon as this conversation went viral, Katti, on his part, tendered an apology.
In a hurriedly called press conference in Belagavi, Katti, dropping enough hints that Yediyurappa has insisted he seek an apology, said that Yediyurappa is their party leader and CM, and “if he has asked me to do something, I will do it without thinking of any consequences”.
“I regret making such a comment if it has hurt the sentiments of any poor or farmer,” he said.
However, prior to regretting his remarks, the minister said that he was forced to say some unwanted words as he was provoked by the caller.
The maverick Katti, a sugar baron from Belgavi district, is not new to stoking controversies as he is known for losing his temper on minor issues. He is the one who had demanded the separate statehood for north Karnataka and when media sought his reaction on this couple of years ago, he had coolly said that he would become CM of present Karnataka and some day, his son would be CM of North Karnataka.
On Wednesday, Katti told reporters that the farmer had forced him to speak in such a manner and refused to tender any apology or his regret over his remarks.
“A person claiming to be a farmers’ leader called me on Wednesday and asked why the government was reducing the allotment of rice to poor families. I told him that we had reduced the quantity of rice to two kg from five kg, but had provided ragi instead. He asked what was being given in north Karnataka where people do not eat rice, and I said jowar will be given in the coming months. But he kept pestering me. He said ‘should we die’ and I said it would be a better option. I had to say it as the caller pushed me to it,” Katti said.
The minister, however, asserted that none should die of starvation and he will make sure that nobody suffers from hunger or dies due to non-availability of food.
“But why should he speak like that with me? We will make sure that does not happen. I appeal to the people not to die. Chief Minister Yediyurappa has given me a sacred responsibility and I will handle it,” he said.
“I believe we are giving more rice than is necessary. I am concerned about the sale of rice by some of the beneficiaries in the market, as they don’t use it. We want to curb such practices. That is why we are providing local food grains to the people in different regions,” he said.
Katti asserted that there was no reduction in the April allotment.
“We have given a total of five kg of food grains for the month of April. The Centre is providing food grains under the Garib Kalyan Yojana, free of cost, for the next two months. We will make sure they reach the deserving beneficiaries,” he claimed.
However, as this audio clip went viral, state Congress President D.K. Shivakumar demanded Yediyurappa sack Katti from the cabinet for showing insensitivity to the people who have been facing problems owing to the pandemic and lockdown.
“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 kg! CM@BSYBJP must immediately throw him out of the Cabinet for this most insensitive statement. Does this Govt have any shame?” he said in a tweet.
(With IANS inputs)