Senior minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday faced opposition ire when he got up to rebut their criticism of the government for allowing duty free import of wheat at the time of bumper crop.

Angry exchanges were witnessed during the Zero Hour after the Urban Development Minister termed as "unfair" the opposition criticism of the government for not fulfilling the promise of paying a minimum price equivalent to one-and-a -half-times the cost to farmers for their crop.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad asked why should the minister "unnecessarily intervene" in the Zero Hour which as per rules is members' time to raise issues pertaining to public interest.

Moreover, it was not his job to intervene as he was neither the Agriculture minister, nor the Parliamentary Affairs minister who responds in absence of the concerned minister, he said and shot back at Naidu: "You are habitual of intervening."

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said ministers have a right to respond but criticising and attacking the government on policy issues is a right of the members. "Members can do that."

Raising the issue after his rule 267 adjournment motion was converted into a Zero Hour mention, Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said farmers were being forced to do distress sale of wheat and pulses as zero-duty import had been allowed in a year of bumper harvest.

While the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat has been fixed at Rs.1,625 per qunital, the going rate in the market is Rs.1,550, he said. Similarly, against a MSP ranging between Rs.4,527 to Rs.4,850 per quintal for different pulses, the going rate is Rs.3,400-3,500 per qunital.

He was supported by members across opposition parties with Tapan Sen (CPI-M) demanding revoking the order for zero duty imports of wheat.

Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said the BJP came to the power on the promise of paying one-and-a-half times the cost as MSP but the farmers were being forced to sell their produce at less than MSP.