Saturday, March 24, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Wheat support price hiked by Rs 30
CACP recommendation disregarded
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 23
After days of dilly-dallying, the Centre today decided to hike the minimum support price for wheat by Rs 30 per quintal, bypassing the recommendations of the Commission of Agriculture Costs and Prices to reduce the support price this year.

The decision was taken at the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, which met at the residence of the Prime Minister this evening.

Agriculture Minister, Nitish Kumar said the Government had decided to raise the MSP for wheat despite the CACP recommendations to the contrary.

The decision followed a day after the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana called on the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, to demand a higher MSP for wheat.

When asked why the Government had decided to increase the support prices when the granaries in the country were overflowing, Mr Kumar said the Centre was concerned about the plight of the farmers.

It has taken the Centre nearly three months to announce the MSP. The announcement was slated for January after a CCEA meeting, but it was thwarted by the last-minute intervention of the Chief Ministers of Haryana and Punjab.

Contesting the CACP recommendation of reducing the MSP by Rs 60 per quintal for wheat, the Chief Ministers had put up a case for increasing the MSP to Rs 735 per quintal.

Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Mr Om Prakash Chautala took the plea with the Prime Minister that the MSP should be related to the input price index, the wholesale price index, management costs, farmers marketing costs and parity price with paddy.

They had pointed out that the two states together had pulled the nation from the brink of famine and scarcity to become surplus in foodgrains. The contribution of the two states to the Central Pool was up to 80 per cent. The CCEA also decided to increase the MSP for barley, gram, rapeseed, mustard and safflower.

The MSP for barley has been raised from Rs 430 to Rs 500 per quintal, and for gram by Rs 85 to Rs 1100 per quintal. The MSP for rapeseed, mustard and safflower for the rabi season has been raised from Rs 1,100 to Rs 1,200 per quintal.

Mr Kumar said there had been some problems in providing the MSP to regions which had recently become surplus and this would be sorted out. However, there was no such problem for the regions which had been foodgrain surplus for a long time.

The Agriculture Minister said that besides providing support to the farmers, the higher level of the MSP for oilseeds and pulses was intended to woo the farmers to diversify from rice and wheat production.

Since there was a shortfall in production of oilseeds and pulses, the move would help overcome the shortfall by increasing its acreage through such incentives.


Immolation bid by farmer
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Agitating farmers
Agitating farmers pull out Mr Pal Singh of village Taliyan, district Mansa, who jumped into a burning effigy of Centre and Punjab governments in Chandigarh on Friday. 
— Tribune photo by Pradeep Tiwari

Chandigarh, March 23
The Union Government announced a 30-rupee increase in the minimum support price of wheat this afternoon but not before one of the thousands of farmers sitting in dharna at Matka Chowk here for the past nine days made an attempt to immolate himself.

Unaware of the impending announcement of the Union Agriculture Minister, the five organisations of farmers of Punjab, feeling concerned at the attempted immolation by Mr Pal Singh, a farmer from Talian village in Mansa district, decided to end their dharna making it clear that the “fight will continue till the demand for a remunerative support price for wheat is conceded.”

The incident of attempted immolation took place while the agitators were burning the effigies of the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, and the World Trade Organisation. Mr Pal Singh jumped into the fire saying that the “agitation needs a sacrifice for its success.”

Mr Pal Singh chose the martyrdom day of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev to make his “sacrifice”. His comrades were paying tributes to Shaheed Bhagat Singh before dispersing at the end of the first phase of their agitation.

He was immediately rescued but not before he had burn injuries all over his limbs. He was rushed to hospital.

The incident brought into focus the growing incidence of suicide among the economically-wrecked Punjab farmers.

The five organisations had left threatening to resort to a “rail roko agitation” throughout the state from April 5 in case they were not offered a “satisfactory MSP for wheat”. The agitation, which otherwise remained peaceful, “unfortunately ended on a sad note. We all are moved by the incident involving Mr Pal Singh. It is only indicative of our plight and the pressures under which an average farmer in Punjab is trying to sustain himself,” remarked Mr Surjit Singh, an educated farmer from Mansa district.

The announcement made by the Union Government came only after the agitating farmers, saddened over the incident, had started leaving for home.

“We are leaving the city on a sad note,” they said without reacting to the new MSP of wheat. “It is mere eyewash. What is an increase of Rs 30?,” they said, wondering how the Punjab and Haryana Chief Ministers, claiming to be close to the Prime Minister and the NDA government, could take credit for the MSP when they themselves wanted it to be more than Rs 700 a quintal.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the dharna, members of the presidium — Mr Lehambar Singh, Mr Pishora Singh, Mr Kulwant Singh and Mr Hardev Singh Sandhu — said they were ending their dharna in Chandigarh and the next phase of the agitation would start on April 5 when thousands of farmers would start a “rail roko andolan”.

Earlier, during a massive rally, the farmers paid tributes to Ajit Singh, an uncle of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, who was imprisoned by the British for spearheading a movement of farmers.

The presidium members cautioned the Punjab Government to get the farmers a good MSP, failing which trains would be stopped everywhere in the state.

The decision to resort to a “rail roko andolan” was taken because of the success of a similar “andolan” launched by farmers in the state at the peak of the paddy crisis last season.

They also expressed their resentment at the manner in which the negotiations with the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, ended in a deadlock.

They held that the failure of the talks had “exposed” Mr Badal who was in favour of neither the farmers nor their demands.

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