Wednesday, July 10, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

From wheat, rice to pulses & oilseeds
Radical plans mooted for Punjab farmers
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 9
The interim report of the Punjab Chief Minister’s Committee on Agricultural Policy has recommended an ‘’actionable plan’’ to reduce area under wheat and paddy by suggesting an all-encompassing management mechanism that will improve the state’s economy and ecology and benefit the farmer.

Committee Chairman S S Johl submitted the report to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh here last night.

Dr Johl told TNS today that the recommendations will provide a basis for Punjab to pursue with the Centre to assist the state by giving Rs 1,280 crore to operate the proposed ‘’crop adjustment programme’’ through ‘’income support measures’’, which in return will also help the Centre to reduce its financial and administrative burden to the tune of Rs 5000 crore, annually.

A beginning has to be made in the next rabi season, though benefits will accrue over a period of time. For an alternative (diversification) to wheat and paddy, there has to be a policy stance that provides a conducive market to sustain production effort, ensures an effective procurement system and minimum support price, he said.

The immediate need is to divert at least one million hectares each from under wheat and paddy to alternative crops: oilseeds (mustard and rape-seed) in Rabi and groundnut and soyabean besides pulses and cotton in Kharif.

The government spends nearly Rs 10,976 crore to purchase, handle, transport and store these foodgrains every year. Since distribution channels are clogged, the burden of eight million tonnes falls on the state. The Centre also suffers a loss of Rs 5,000 crore, as it sells it either at BPL price or exports it at subsidised price.

Thus, if the Centre gives to Punjab Rs 1,280 crore under the ‘’crop adjustment programme’’, it will pay a compensation of Rs 12,500 per hectare (Rs 5,000 per acre) to farmers, who agree not to sow wheat and paddy. This will be a partial compensation to farmers for low income as well as risk and uncertainty involved in planting alternative crops, especially oilseeds and pulses.

Dr Johl’s hypothesis is that such a measure will benefit both the State and the Centre. When the inflow of eight million tonnes of foodgrains gets reduced, Punjab will breathe easy on procurement and storage, farmers will get compensation while economy and ecology will look up. Also, there will be less lifting of underground water and reduced consumption of electricity. The Centre too will save Rs 5,000 crore that it spends on handling post-harvest produce.

The Chief Minister will send these recommendations to the Central Ministries of Agriculture, Food and Finance, as also to members of the Planning Commission. ‘’The report is a win-win proposal, wherein, the Centre and Punjab stand to gain mutually by helping each other’’, he added.

The report has outlined broad strategies for implementation of the recommendations, in which the ‘’panchayat’’, as the unit, will be entrusted with the collective responsibility of implementing the same. Farmers will sign a bond and the revenue ‘’gardawri’’ every season will determine the area sown or left out by each farmer, seeking compensation.

Dr Johl has also referred to the supply of free power and irrigation water, as enunciated by the Akali-BJP government. He cautions Capt Amarinder Singh against falling into the same trap. There has to be a strong political will to implement the recommendations by keeping ‘’cheap vote-bank politics’’ at bay.

“No where in the state have the farmers demanded free electricity. They have only asked for assured supply. By partial realisation of operational and maintenance costs, it is conveniently possible to collect Rs 1,000 crore from the farm sector. With this amount spent annually on ‘crop adjustment programme’, it is possible to take out one million hectares each from under wheat and paddy, annually’’.

With the suggested measures, subsidy to farm sector is not reduced. The alternatives will help give ‘’focussed and targetted’’ subsidy to the farm sector.

The report focusses on an ‘’integrated’’ approach, right from sowing to procurement to exports. The PAU must re-orient its research policies to evolve high-yielding improved varieties and production technology for oilseeds, pulses and cotton.

Punjab will gain by not having to bear the burden of foodgrains’ storage and subsequent cost and there will be less socio-political tensions due to chaos created by foodgrains.

Dr Johl’s recommendation is not a substitute for the system of minimum support price and procurement; it only supplements it and makes operations easy to handle on reduced arrivals. Also, no alternative crop(s) like oilseeds and pulses will be able to sustain without reasonable minimum support price and effective procurement of the alternative commodities produced.

Elucidating details on the export of rice and wheat, the report wants Punjab to impress upon the Centre to allow uninterrupted exports for 10 years; involve private trade and grain handlers; purchase by these agents and agencies at ‘’farmgate’’ in Punjab at prices not below the minimum support price; and allow purchasers similar costs, as being currently incurred by the Food Corporation of India, for six months. Undoubtedly, the report is a major political challenge to the Amarinder Singh government.

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