So too a full-time PDS minister!

Also a full-time co-operatives minister!

Agriculture is becoming more and more hopeless and unviable. It is a great national shame that farmers and their families undergo in Vidharba. Readers, please go through the editorial, for details. As we write, there is another heart-breaking n new from Karnataka.

A fairly successful farmer who was to get the Krishi Pandit award in Bidar district committed suicide leaving behind three daughters and a son, all in primate age. What a great shame, one wonders. His mistake? He exceeded the district average production of 5o tonnes a hectare, he produced 160 tonnes!

The problem was that with excess sugarcane in the country, the sugar mill didn’t come forward to buy the crop in time and he had loans to repay and an honor to keep up and the result is taking his own life. After Vidarbha where the suicides continue, we hear in Karnataka more such cases even when the state government has taken steps to reduce the debt burden and waive off the loans and also offer crop loans at 4 per cent. So, the tragedies, one more suicide in Tumkur, come as inexplicable when we have everything in our capacity to protect the farmers, everything in our capacity to provide the timely help. Be it loans to cut the crops in time.

There must be many grievance redressal forums, the weekly district collectors’ meeting and also the local MLAs and even the people these days travel long distances to meet the CM and give petitions on all sorts of grievances. Though we are tired of repeating our warnings and criticisms, as a media responsibility what else we can do except to comment on the way the governments are functioning.

At the Delhi level we find there is utter disconnect with the state level affairs. Even when we write letters, as media or as public individuals, all in public interest, nothing seems to catch the attention 0f the leaders or ministers. At least, Sonia Gandhi acknowledges the letters through some intermediary.

The worst is the Prime Minister’s front. Never a letter or any communication gets acknowledged by the PMO. All the news that we read about this august office is about the many maneuvers of the retired officials deployed in senior positions and how they get the age limit raised to 68 to get on in their kursi, so that they continue to draw salaries and the perks in New Delhi. Or, how they get promoted as Ambassadors or Governors and so on. People’s concerns never get attended by the PM or the PMO and there is practically no new ideas or policy news that excites the public.

At least one would expect, as it was during Nehru and later ,at least for some years under Mrs. Indira Gandhi times that some small news items would be put up about the PM going out of the way to receive some small persons or sending some small letters or presents to those in the remote corners of the country. We are sure that so many such distressed souls must be writing petitions or post cards to the highest authorities, the President and the Prime Minister, at least. But no, this government doesn’t simply seem to have any time for such niceties. Then what would be the fate of this government in the next elections? No one asks or dares to think such a calamity! Now, we have being finding that agriculture is driven more by market realities than by any policy perspectives.

Though wheat output is predicted, don’t ask by whom it is predicted by the US department of agriculture only! Yes, Indian grains market is closely monitored by the USA so that they could export their own grains!

So, now, it is predicted that we would be importing wheat, at least some 30 lakh tonnes this year also. Last year we imported some 55 lakh tonnes through STC, the private trade imported at least some 20 lakh tonnes. This year too the Centre is keeping itself ready to resort to imports, even duty-free imports.

But then wheat market internationally is volatile, as it always is, and the international prices is higher than the domestic prices with the result that if the government imports, as it seems very likely, the government would spend  Rs.15,000 crores! May be more. As the very bonus payment this year of Rs. 100 per quintal would come to Rs. 1,500.At least the higher bonus is better, it would come to farmers, why pay the foreign supplier the precious foreign exchange?

Why the government is so stingy when it comes to coming to the aid of farmers.
In the case of wheat and channa this year we find higher price support announcement had boosted production, wheat at 72.5 million tonnes, a rise over last year’s69.48 million tonnes. Channa also saw a rise of 5-10 lakh tones to 61 lakh tonnes as against last year’s 45 lakhs (2005-06).

So too the question of running the PDS. Unfortunately, we see here bad management of the affairs. The Agri Minister himself had conceded how 100% of the PDS supplies to the North East are diverted. The other states, more advanced like TN is known to allow large scale leakages. All this has to do with the long years of lower prices and the populist policies that simply don’t care for the distinction between the BPL,APL families and also to keep the prices ridiculously low so that large scale black market operates in PDS.

Surely, such costly items need close monitoring and we need a separate minister in charge of the PDS. So too the agri credit co-operative loans. Already, the co-operative dept is under total neglect. The revival of the co-op dept on the Vaidyanathan committee report is overdue. Also the very agri credit system is dependent upon how effective the primary and the urban co-ops work.

Unfortunately, the Finance Minister doesn’t seem to be a believer of the co-ops as an effective alternative to the commercial banking system. He must at least take some mentoring under Dr.Verhgese Kurien! Now, the co-opt credit must be revived, there is no alternative. For this also we need a separate ministry that gives undivided attention to this vital sector.

Agriculture can’t be wished away. This government is going to pay a heavy price for its neglect. The time is now here to give some serious thoughts to this critical sector. On which hinges the votes, the next government formation.

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