In a second attempt to consult the public on the sensitive issue of food price increases, Polish authorities published three sets of price rise options today and invited citizens to phone or write in their reactions.
Increases in the cost of food are a potentially explosive issue in Poland, where past attempts to raise prices have led to riots that have toppled Communist Party leaders. Mindful of the political repercussions, Polish officials preceded increases last year by floating several options weeks ahead of time.
The increases that subsequently took effect were somewhat less than initially projected, and no unrest resulted.
Viewing last year's approach as a successful model, the ministry responsible for price policy again has proposed three variants for public discussion. State-controlled newspapers carried detailed charts and descriptions of the plans today, showing what each option would mean for individual items.
Essentially, Poles are being asked to weigh the burden of higher prices against the prospect of an end to the rationing of some key foods. The first plan, the minimum option, would mean that rationing would continue but that the cost of living would increase by only 3.1 percent.
If people are willing to pay substantially more for their butter, sugar and flour, as outlined in options two and three, then the rationing of these foods could end, according to the proposals. Only meat and chocolate would remain subject to rationing.
Although the difference between the least expensive plan -- which would raise the overall cost of living 3.1 percent -- and the most expensive one -- which would increase it 4.2 percent -- appears small, the low figures are somewhat deceptive.
Each option conceals large increases for certain foods, even in the first plan, under which the price of flour would go up 24 percent and that of sugar 25 percent. To dispense with rationing coupons, flour would have to rise in price 41 percent, sugar 73 percent and butter 29 percent.
Justifying the increases, the government cited higher official procurement prices being paid to farmers and higher food processing and distribution costs.
Many Poles have accepted the principle that prices must be allowed to rise periodically if the country's broken down, centrally planned economy is to revive and operate more along the free-market lines the government gradually is trying to achieve. But so far, the only sign that reform is taking effect has been higher prices for hard-pressed Poles.
The government's economic plan for 1985 calls for retail prices to rise 9 percent. It also speaks of a 3 to 4 percent "spillover effect" from price decisions last year. Together, this means a projected price rise of 12 to 13 percent this year. Food price increases are forecast to make up about one-third of this total.
The jump in food prices is due to take effect in March.
In the meantime, Poles were advised in today's announcement to submit their comments on the proposed options to the ministry responsible for prices or to local government or newspaper offices.
The labor minister also invited discussions on the matter with national leaders of the official trade union movement that has replaced the banned Solidarity union.