Worked in mission mode to double farm income by 2022: Radha Mohan Singh

Radha Mohan Singh at BS Agri Round Table 2019
Just days before the interim Budget for 2019, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh on Thursday said the NDA government was looking at newer ways to boost farmers’ income and, in the past more than four years, changed the focus of policies from being production-centric to income-centric. 

Addressing the Business Standard Round Table, Singh said the government was looking at options through which the difference between the minimum support price (MSP) and the market price of a crop could be transferred into the bank accounts of farmers.

Coming down heavily on the UPA government, Singh said before 2014, there were many crops whose MSPs were l0-15 per cent lower than the cost of production and no government dared to raise them due to fears of a financial burden. But it is the government under Narendra Modi which has not only increased the MSP manifold but also taken steps to boost procurement. 

“Before 2014 around 700,000 tonnes of oilseeds and pulses were bought by Nafed (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation), which itself was on the verge of shutting down. We first revived and made Nafed strong and today it is earning profits, as a result of which in four years the NDA has bought 9.5 million tonnes of oilseeds and pulses from farmers,” Singh said.

He said the genesis of suicides by farmers lay in wrong policies framed by previous governments.

“The death of even a signal farmer even after 70 years of independence is shameful for all of us, but the seeds of this started in the 1980s because there wasn’t any effort made to mitigate the after-effects of the Green Revolution,” Singh said.

He said till 1999 there was no reform in agriculture and after Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government gave the slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan and Jai Vigyan”, science and scientific temper came to the farm sector to deal with the after-effects of the Green Revolution.

He said back in 2003, agriculture ministers from all over the country held a meeting and decided to bring a model Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act, which was sent to the states in 2004, but nothing moved on that front in the 10 years that followed.

Similarly, around the same time, to improve soil nutrition and check the pilferage of fertiliser, scientists suggested neem-coated urea, but work started after 2014.

“So when today someone asks about steps taken to help farmers, they should also question what the previous governments did with the two major reforms in agriculture — marketing of farm products and neem-coated urea — between 2004 and 2014,” Singh said.

On the much-talked about Swaminathan Commission report, Singh said the Commission gave its report, comprising more than 200 suggestions, in 2006.

“But how many of them were implemented between 2004 and 2014,” Singh asked, adding that if previous governments had seriously implemented his recommendations, coverage among farmers should have been much more.

“Till 2014, those who didn’t do anything about the main problems faced by farmers are now questioning the government … without acknowledging that just four-five years have passed since the government has been formed,” Singh said.

Singh said Swaminathan said organic farming was needed for sustainable agriculture while the UN had warned countries on soil health management because soil was dying. But till 2014 no state got any money and all soil-testing labs were lying unused, while there wasn’t any separate programme to promote organic farming, he said. 

Repeatedly quoting Swaminathan’s report, Singh said the report said more than 22,000 gramin haats should be developed and if they did, they should have been visible everywhere.  On loan waivers, Singh said to strengthen and empower farmers one needed to take measures and not just indulge in sloganeering about waivers during election time.

He said in 2008 a similar slogan of loan waiver was given. The reality is as against an outstanding loan of Rs 5-6 trillion, a target was set to waive around Rs 72,000 crore, while in reality just around Rs 53,000 crore was waived. “In this too, the maximum benefit was distributed to small processors and balance sheet of cooperative banks improved,” Singh said.

He said when the NDA came to power 99 major irrigation projects were pending completion and people from a particular family who ruled for more than 60 years kept on asking when these would get completed. “We have provided a corpus fund of Rs 40,000 crore for the pending projects and I am happy to announce a significant number of them are getting completed by December 2019,” Singh said.

Singh said to boost farmers’ incomes, just focusing on the crop sector wasn’t enough and “we need to focus on allied activities like horticulture and we are moving towards this”.

He said earlier not many people knew of the major schemes of agriculture run by the government. “But I’m happy the prime minister has created awareness about schemes that are run for the welfare of farmers.”

Talking about risk-aversion measures for farmers, he said the Modi government not only raised the compensation amount for immediate relief after natural disasters, but also brought out a crop insurance scheme that included post- and pre-harvest loses. 

Singh said Swaminathan had acknowledged though the National Commission on Farmers gave its report in 2004, it was the Modi government that seriously started implementing it in 2014.

“Swaminathan’s acknowledgement matters a lot, which was put into cold storage by the previous government,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal said in the case of pulses, the government faced an unprecedented situation since it was prepared for a shortfall but not for a surplus owing to a bumper harvest. As a result, a huge stock of pulses has now been generated in the country. 

“The government designed a policy under which states would be able to buy this dal from the Centre at a discount of Rs 15 per kg, solely to be used for distributing them under the public distribution system (PDS). About seven to eight states have come on board and more are joining in,” Agarwal said.
(With inputs from Abhishek Waghmare)

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