M A I N   N E W S

Punjab cries foul over low wheat support price 
Chief Minister says Rs 20 raise a pittance 
Vibha Sharma/TNS

New Delhi, October 21
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and the farm lobby reacted sharply today to the Centre’s announcement of the Minimum Support Price for Wheat. The Centre yesterday had announced a nominal hike of Rs 20 in the MSP, fixing it at Rs 1,120 per quintal.

Describing it as a ‘stab in the back’, the Punjab CM claimed that the MSP fixed for wheat is lower than the rate at which the country is importing wheat from Australia. The peasantry in Punjab, he said in a statement, is in distress and the MSP should have been Rs 1,400 per quintal. Accusing the Centre of being insensitive to the plight of farmers, the CM said the rising costs of diesel, fertiliser and pesticides etc. should have been taken into account while fixing the MSP.

Describing the Rs-20 hike a “cruel joke”, farmers’ representatives also criticised the decision on Thursday and claimed that the latest MSP is half the cost of production of wheat. Officials in the Union Agriculture Ministry, however, claimed that the support price is at least 25% higher than the actual cost of production. Also, the government has sufficient wheat stocks this year, which is why farmers did not get “a better hike” this time.

Meanwhile, leading agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan, who had recommended a MSP of 50% more than the cost of production, endorsed the claim of the Agriculture Ministry and told The Tribune that the current MSP would give wheat growers 25 per cent more than their cost of production. Chief wheat growing states had been demanding a higher MSP for wheat with Haryana asking the CACP to fix it at Rs 1,275 per quintal.

“Originally the MSP used to be 15% higher than the cost…so in a way you can say there has been a substantial improvement in wheat MSP. Moreover, while fixing the MSP of a particular commodity, CACP has to factor in several issues, including cost of the commodity in the international market,” Swaminathan said, hoping that there is a bonus for farmers at the time of procurement of wheat. “MSP is the minimum rate and not the maximum that farmers may eventually get,” he added.

He, however, had reservations on the overall strategy. Farmers, he said, will not be encouraged to sow pulses merely on the promise of a good support price. The government will have to augment efforts to increase production with an effective purchase mechanism and ensure money reaches farmers, he added.

While sowing for wheat starts later, the government usually declares the MSP around October to enable farmers to take informed decisions. Hikes in the MSP is based on recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP)-the agency that determines the MSP for agriculture goods.

The Ministry, however, is targeting to increase pulses production to 16.5 million tonnes in 2010-11 from about 14.5 MT in the previous year. India, the world's largest producer of pulses, imports 3.5 to 4 MT to meet domestic demand of 18-19 MT.

Fumed a representative of the farmers, Yudhvir Singh, “There is no way farmers in Punjab can switch over to pulses because pulses are sown in areas that are rainfed, for example Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. With irrigation the soil texture changes, making it unsuitable for pulses,” he explained.





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