In­dia agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, close Modi aide, speaks on agrar­ian sit­u­a­tion

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

A Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS, In­dia’s “Na­tional Vol­un­teer Or­ga­ni­za­tion”) worker from his youth, In­dian Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Radha Mo­han Singh pro­claims him­self to be an “English me­dia-shy” per­son. Re­ported to be one of the few in the In­dian Cabi­net close to Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, Singh is a worka­holic. “Main za­min se juda hoon (I am al­ways rooted to the ground),” is his fa­vorite one-liner.

Ques­tion: It has been a tough year for both the Modi gov­ern­ment and you as the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter. What is the In­dian agrar­ian cri­sis all about? What is the agri­cul­ture scene in the coun­try to­day?

An­swer: The last two years, 2014 and 2015, have been chal­leng­ing years for In­dian agri­cul­ture. In 2014, there was short­fall of rain by about 12 per­cent. This year, too, we had un­timely hail­storms and un­sea­sonal rains. But ever since we came to power, we made it clear that the Modi gov­ern­ment wants re­sults. The bu­reau­cracy has shown enough sin­cer­ity. The states also co­op­er­ated with us and as ev­ery­one acted in uni­son, the re­sult is not as bad as ap­pre­hended. Con­trary to the fear of akaal (famine) as hun­dreds of dis­tricts were af­fected, we had a scene where there is re­duc­tion in pro­duc­tion by only 3 per­cent. We also avoided any pol­i­tics with agri­cul­ture.

Q: So pol­i­tics over agri­cul­ture is an is­sue. In the Lok Sabha, you crit­i­cized the UPA’s agri­cul­tural pol­icy. What is this past bur­den, more so, be­cause your pre­de­ces­sor for 10 years, Sharad Pawar, is known to be a pro-farmer leader?

A: (Smiles) I will an­swer your ques­tion a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. The im­por­tance of Soil Health Card was first re­al­ized both in In­dia and at the U.N. level in 2007. But till 2014 hardly any­thing moved un­der a sup­posed-to-be farm­ers’ leader. I am not get­ting per­sonal. This is what you asked. Un­til 2014, they ( UPA gov­ern­ment) spent hardly 72 crore (720 mil­lion) ru­pees for Soil Health cards. It was only cos­metic. We took it up on a war foot­ing. In 2014-15, we sanc­tioned 88 crore ru­pees and passed it on to states. We also sanc­tioned 69 mo­bile labs for soil health stud­ies. This was an ex­am­ple.

Q: But what about a con­crete cul­ti­va­tion pro­gram?

A: Yes, I am com­ing to that. We de­cided that tra­di­tion-based cul­ti­va­tion should be en­cour­aged in a big way. There­fore, in 2015-16, we have ear­marked 300 crore ru­pees for it and in ad­di­tion 125 crore ru­pees for the north­east­ern states. The ir­ri­ga­tion pro­gram re­mains an­other pri­or­ity and we are work­ing on the Prad­han Mantri Gram Sichai Yo­jana (na­tional project to sup­ply wa­ter ir­ri­ga­tion to ev­ery field). In the last 10 years, there was no short­age of funds for states like Ma­ha­rash­tra, but look at the agri­cul­ture scene in that state.

Q: In your ten­ure, too, there are prob­lems. In your first press con­fer­ence as agri­cul­ture min­is­ter you an­nounced launch­ing of a na­tion­wide Prad­han Mantri Gramin Sichai Yo­jana. The project went to Wa­ter Re­sources Min­istry and now it’s back with you. In the process in one year not even pa­per­work has been done. How do you jus­tify this episode of red tapism?

A: The project has not suf­fered at the im­ple­men­ta­tion stage. Now the project is back with the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry and we will soon is­sue guide­lines. Ac­tu­ally four min­istries — Agri­cul­ture, Ru­ral Devel­op­ment, Drink­ing Wa­ter and Wa­ter Re­sources — have al­ready dis­bursed 5,300 crore ru­pees. My min­istry has dis­trib­uted 1,800 crore ru­pees. So the project is on.

Q: The lat­est mon­soon fore­cast says rain­fall will be de­fi­cient this year too. The growth of agri and al­lied sec­tors also dropped from 3.7 per­cent in 2013-14 to 0.2 per­cent in 2014-15. Are all th­ese not wor­ry­ing you?

A: We will face the chal­lenge as it comes. I will hold talks with In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (IMD) and other agen­cies. We have tack­led a big chal­lenge in 2014. I have di­rected my of­fi­cers to give up­dated re­ports on the con­tin­gency plans. In fact, im­me­di­ately af­ter the April fore­cast, we held dis­cus­sions with state of­fi­cials and tried to un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion. We had al­ready pre­pared a con­tin­gency plan for 580 dis­tricts. By June-end we will pre­pare plans for 25-30 more dis­tricts in the north-east. My min­istry will also co­or­di­nate with of­fi­cials from other min­istries like Power, Food and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment.

Q: What about other pri­or­i­ties for the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry in your sec­ond year in of­fice?

A: We will take up the Soil Health Card is­sue with all sin­cer­ity. But here again, along with other agri­cul­tural schemes, a lot de­pends on the states’ co­op­er­a­tion and per­for­mance. I have been get­ting states’ sup­port and as I men­tioned with­out states’ help our con­tin­gency plans, both in 2014 and 2015, would not have been suc­cess­ful.

Q: You men­tioned pol­i­tics be­ing a prob­lem in agri­cul­ture. But the coun­try has had sev­eral stal­warts as agri­cul­ture min­is­ter from S.K. Patil to Jagji­van Ram and Devi Lal and Sharad Pawar.

A: All were great cer­tainly. But I look at things dif­fer­ently. To start with, Dr. Ra­jen­dra Prasad from the be­gin­ning had kept the fo­cus on farm growth, farm­ers’ wel­fare and vil­lages. But af­ter in­de­pen­dence, once Jawa­har­lal Nehru gave em­pha­sis on in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, the agri sec­tor and vil­lages were ig­nored. “Gaon peechey reh gaya.” In my un­der­stand­ing, af­ter Ra­jen­drababu, Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri un­der­stood the im­por­tance of farm­ers and thus gave the slo­gan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’; af­ter him Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee took it to new heights, adding Jai Vi­gyan to the slo­gan. Now it is up to the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment to change the sce­nario, and we will do it.

Q: What about the Land Bill? Why have you all made it a pres­tige is­sue?

A: We have not made it a pres­tige is­sue. But af­ter the hyped cam­paign against the bill, the op­po­si­tion is on the de­fen­sive. Even in Bi­har, Congress lead­ers like Jairam Ramesh had to clar­ify that their party is not anti-devel­op­ment. The mes­sage slowly has gone down that the Land Bill will fa­cil­i­tate devel­op­ment. This bill is es­sen­tially be­ing op­posed by lob­by­ists for Gur­gaon-Ghazi­abad builders. See, nowhere, does the pri­vate sec­tor fig­ure. This bill is only to help ac­quire land to help farm­ers and for sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture projects like roads and de­fense-re­lated works. Those who gave away farm­ers’ land at a throw­away price to pri­vate builders, ‘suit-boot’ wal­lahs and rel­a­tives are mostly against the Land Bill. Not an inch of land will be given to pri­vate play­ers.

Q: What kind of steps has your min­istry taken on a mar­ket­ing pol­icy for giv­ing more pow­ers to farm­ers?

This is an im­por­tant area we have ad­dressed. Through a no­ti­fi­ca­tion we have al­lowed farm­ers to sell their farm pro­duce di­rectly in the open mar­ket. Some states have al­ready acted on this.

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