PM talks theory, theory, and theory!

The Prime Minister had called a meeting of the full Planning Commisssion. What is the urgency? Obviously, the government is worried over the agri sector’s continuing growth decline. Farm growth decelerated since 1997 from 2.5 per cent to currently to a shameful 0.1 per cent!

There is a decline per capita consumption of major agri raw materials, cereals, pulses, edible oils, sugar, milk, fruits and vegetables since the beginning of the 9th Plan and also a slowdown in export demand. These are serious developments and there is a new urgency and even emergency solutions are called for. Now, one can take any view or use any language depending who the person is. Now, we are an agri magazine, perhaps the only magazine of its kind in India. So, what stand we should take on the PM’s deliberations? We are a responsible media company and so we have to be restraint and very much like to take a sympathetic, even pro-government stand, if we can help improve the situation.

But unfortunately, we seem to be shouting at deaf ears! Yes, we are sorry to say so, considering how every sentence the Hon. PM had spoken at the meeting he seem to be talking just the known, tired themes. May be any incumbent PM is constrained to go by the ritual of such big meets. We are not sure.

But we are sure is the fact that the PM’s perceptions of what is wrong with the agri sector and what is the way forward are plainly inadequate.

The PM even didn’t mention the continuing farmers’ suicides. Why? Just not to disturb the comfort levels in the room? Yes, we feel like asking. Unless one talks of the prevailing ground level realities, how can we find realistic solutions? Now, we are here for talking of hand-on issues and finding hands-on solutions. So, what we feel?

Yes, agri sector decline impacts the GDP growth. But why we have failed?

Don’t the PM and his advisers on economy, agriculture know that still the PSBs charge as much as 10-13 percent on crop loans? PSBs are also corrupt at many levels. The 30 per cent agri credit the PM talked about is only on paper and manipulated targets. The small farmers still waste as much one full season to get their bank credit. So, what is being done, we like to ask directly. The PM thought fit to call in the cigarette major to know the ways to diversify agri sector! All big corporates wont know the problems of small farmers; it is not their job to reach out to the poor. Why not also ask the Pepsi model?

The PM must be having the latest World Bank report on agri policy in India. There are enough data and also enough policy alternatives. “Best practices”, “special economic zones”, Maharashtra model of horticulture linked EG schemes etc.

These approaches are in the nature of casual approaches. We need an effective institutional correction at many levels. Shall we list them as we find our own light?

Revamp the agri universities and revamp the agri research, extension curriculums to introduce more hands-on fieldwork. Now, the PSBs recruit agri graduates for their agri credit appraisal and credit management. We can say this is a disaster! No PSB is competent enough in the agri credit evaluation and related matters. We speak from our own experience with some of the big PSBs, including the biggest of all, the SBI!

Banks are utterly ill equipped to handle the agri credit portfolios. There is delay, delay all the way. Let the PM make an on the spot check in some surprise visits!

Next comes the really existing schemes like special economic zones for agribusinesses, food processing. All the food-processing parks (food parks) are grounded. We here again talk with our own personal experience! So, we suggest please make any new agribusiness proposal coming from private sector agencies, big and small (like ours) must be processed in some time-bound manner and be given clearance within, say 90 days. There is a number of surveys to show that India is still not a helpful country to start new businesses. So, we have to really make a big announcement that agribusinesses, agri development projects involving more than one farmer, say, a contract farming project, call it by whatever name you like, must be cleared by the banks within 90 days! Now, finally, we request the PM to think big and go for some massive farm debt writeoffs! There is no way you can revive farm sector without first reducing the accumulating farmers burdens!

The Central government has the resources to undertake a massive farm debt writeoff! So, please do this first before you can hope to revive the Agri economy.

– V.Isvarmurti

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