Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Tuesday asserted that there is no shortage of food grains for the poor and asked Rahul Gandhi to shun his "negative mindset" after the Congress leader attacked the Centre over its decision to use surplus rice for making ethanol.
The ethanol can be used to produce alcohol-based hand sanitisers and also for blending with petrol, the government has said.
After Gandhi accused the government of diverting the rice meant for the poor to manufacture sanitizers to wash hands of the rich, Paswan hit back at him and questioned if he does not want the economically weaker sections to use sanitizers and masks.
"Does he (Gandhi) want only the rich to use sanitizers and masks while India battles the coronavirus? Should the poor be left to die? It is our long-term planning to have so much sanitizers that the poor can also afford it. He should shun this negative mindset which is dangerous for the country," Paswan told reporters.
Sources in the ruling BJP-led NDA said it was decided to field Paswan to take on Gandhi as the matter is related to his ministry, and he is also seen as a credible voice on the matter.
The Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution minister said the Modi government is committed to the poor and it has over 18 months stock of grains to supply over 81 crore beneficiaries of the public distribution system (PDS).
"One priority is that nobody goes hungry. I believe it is wrong to say that things like sanitizers or masks are for the use of the rich. We want that even poor can use them," Paswan said.
While the central government has made adequate provision of grains, it is the responsibility of states to ensure that they are supplied to intended beneficiaries in time, he added.
Gandhi should rather find out if poor people in some places are still hungry and bring it to the notice of the state concerned or the Centre, the Lok Janshakti Party leader said.
He noted that the government had already announced free ration for three months to PDS beneficiaries and asked states to give them three month of rations on credit.
Gandhi had alleged that while the poor are dying of hunger, the government is allowing rice to be used for making sanitisers.
"After all, when will India's poor wake up? You are dying of hunger and they are busy cleaning the hands of the rich by making sanitizers from your portion of rice," he said in a tweet in Hindi.