Government resorts to desperate steps!

Inflation rate hits a two year high of 6.73%.It was just less than  half this rate last year this time. Inflation can be a good thing, if it is at a moderate rate. Inflation keeps prices on the upswing and that is a lot of incentive for a lot of sections and sectors. It helps the economy grow and thus inflation was often considered a good thing. But then, inflation, as we see, is both an economic issue and a political issue as well.

Inflation now has become a political issue, a very sensitive issue, when Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttaranchal and Manipur and due in UP in April. So, when prices rise abnormally, as it has done now, with almost every major agriculture/food products prices rising at a new high, wheat, rice, pulses, vegetables, tomato, onions, then there is a cause for some panic.

Panic is what has seized the government. Sonia Gandhi has become alert. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, who were watching from the sidelines, have come into the open and have to say some things to save themselves from further embarrassments!

So, there is a desparation, wheat, pulses are all allowed to be imported without any duty, export of wheat and sugar banned. So too the import of other manufactured goods are also allowed. Now, comes the reduction in petrol and diesel prices. These are all seen as items of the common man’s consumption and all these measures, including the ones taken by the RBI should help to retrieve the situation and must, one hopes, win the elections!

Where is the Agriculture Minister? The one good the electronic medium scores over the print medium is that it gives room for many people to air their opinions, experts and non-experts alike and also the TV anchors have to butt in and adversity or inadvertently, the TV anchor in this case said that the Agriculture Minister is busy with his duties as president of the cricket board and has no time to attend to the farm sector’s woes!

In a way, the anchor’s remarks caught the fancy and attention of the millions of viewers who are also fed on the cricket news over the much other weighty news. The more weighty news is often ignored by the electronic media for the obvious reasons. The cricket starts, the film stars can pull the viewers, rather than the farmers’ suicides! And mind you, this time, the New Year has already seen more than 100 farmers committing suicides in the first one and half months
Yes, the question is relevant. Where is the Agriculture Minister?

The CPM of course takes a proprietary right over the price rise! The JD (U) for one has questioned the rationale of combining the three portfolios of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs in one minister. May be it is a question the PM must give some thought.

Agriculture unfortunately in this country has never been a fashionable sector at all!

The PM, Sonia Gandhi or even the otherwise very articulate Finance Minister had never seem to be interested in going out of Delhi and interacting with the common man, farmers are the common lot. So, there is no feedback at all. The PM is totally insulated or unwilling in this business of mass contact. So, he is less and less seen interested to respond to the day to day issues and concerns. The FM is too smart to even imagine that his words carry no credibility at all when it comes to farm credit.

What sort of farm credit that we are having in India? The Nabard bank was supposed to take care of the agri sector. But it has completely been hijacked! There has been a long time demand for a separate National Agricultural Bank, National Co-operative Bank, even a separate agricultural insurance company. The last one is in existence. But there is now interaction with the farmer’s bodies. The issue of creating new institutions to meet the current and emerging trends in the agri sector can’t be brushed under the carpet anymore.

There is no crop insurance scheme worth talking about; just 4% of farmers household insure their crops.57% of farmers households don’t even know their crops can be insured. The agri extension programme is as good as non-existent. The role of agri universities in updating our research base, making our agri research based on practical problems in the sector is just a utopian concept here.

So, we are looking for and waiting for the American help to come and lift us out of this mental inertia!  As we say, agriculture issues must become political issues and then only it gets noticed in the political setup.The present inflation crisis is a god send! Otherwise, who would imagine that agriculture sector does play a critical role in our day to day lives and politics?

So, we urge the government, the UPA, to announce a new strategy, a set of new institutions so that the share of the 60 per cent of the people who are dependent upon this sector for their livelihoods gets their share of the development funds, on a basis of equity and in a transparent way!

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