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'NCP does not have numbers in the Lok Sabha'


Minister of state for agriculture Tariq Anwar is a veteran in his own right. As a close Sharad Pawar ally and minister on the NCP quota, Anwar talks in a freewheeling interview with Pramod Kumar, discussing issues ranging from agriculture to politics.
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: February 16, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Lok Sabha | NCP | Sharad Pawar | Sushil Kumar Shinde |

For a long time now, there has been the demand to grant industry status to agriculture, even though it may have been prompted by the big farming lobby against marginal farmers.

Agriculture is the back bone of India and marginal farmers contribute the most to the economy. According industry status to agriculture will burden them with all kinds of taxes, which will not be either in their interest or the interests of the country.
Is the government planning to do something like strengthening the cooperative movement for marginal farmers?

Yes, we are thinking along those lines. Some experiments have already been tried successfully in states. Encouraged by the results, the agriculture ministry is planning on adding it to the new agriculture policy.

The Agriculture Commission in UPA 1 had not recommended that such farming practices be allowed because it will give corporate lobby the upper hand.

You are right about the warning issued by the Agriculture Commission but what we have in mind are cooperatives which are not a new experiment. Many fertiliser cooperatives have experimented successfully in some states. The advantage with this is that investment is low and marginal farmers are incentivised. On the other hand, contract farming in the horticulture sector have been greatly welcomed. The companies who do contract farming get government assistance by way of seeds, fertilizers and other amenities. In addition, the companies also help in storage and distribution.

Their answers could also be positive because farming and agriculture have become a costly proposition, especially when you compare their input cost with the product price.

You are right to a certain extent because in cooperative farming, input costs will be shared by all stakeholders. Where bullock carts do not work, there will be mechanised farming like availability of tractors, which will work. Per hectare yield will go up which will benefit the marginal farmer.

According to statistics, reductions in livestock resources have forced a shortage of dairy products in the country. Mutton and milk prices have been going up.

But despite a reduction of livestock resources, the production of dairy goods has gone up. In Haryana, there are very high grade buffaloes yielding huge quantities of milk. There are many varieties of cows. As far as milk and mutton products are concerned, India is among the world’s leading exporters.

Even today the marginal farmers’ investment costs are higher than the minimum support price they get.

As far as minimum support price is concerned, it is decided by the Agriculture Prices Commission in tandem with farmer unions and fertilizer associations. It is the government’s job to find the perfect co-relation. Even today, 70 percent of India’s economy is driven by agriculture. Since storage facility is scarce, middlemen tend to exploit the system. It is towards this end that the central government has asked the states to set up more minimum price centres where these issues can be decided threadbare. It will also help to meet food security challenges.

Diesel prices are a major consideration for farmers. Is the government thinking in terms of providing cheap diesel to farmers?

The Group of Ministers (GoM) has recently recommended a 50 percent subsidy on diesel to farmers in rain-deficient areas. All possible help and subsidies are provided by the central government to help marginal farmers.        

The other issue is irrigation and linked to it are power tariff and availability.

Look certain things that are in the hands of the state governments like power tariff and power availability. The centre can only issue advisories. It is up to the state government concerned to take action. Most states may not always heed central directives but they have to take steps to keep the farmers happy.

For storage, why has the gold chain system not taken off?

That is really the job of the ministry of food and processing. But it would not be right to say that the gold chain system is a failure. This is a successful PPP experiment and it has shown good results. Of course, it has a cap on subsidies which is why it is not widespread.

What would you say are the government’s positive contribution to the agriculture sector?

The biggest achievement is that despite the global economic slowdown – in which even the USA was not spared – and where some developing countries have had their economies devastated, India stood firm and the reason for this is their sound agricultural base. Their contribution cannot be ignored. The UPA government has done a lot but a lot more still needs to be done. News of farmer suicides has gone down. We are planning similar initiatives for UPA 3. As far as food grain production is concerned, this year we hope to break the existing record – 25.9 crore tone in 2011. India is emerging as the largest exporter of rice, wheat, sugar and cotton. The six monthly review has pegged our agriculture growth at 3.6 percent and we are sure to hit the 4 percent mark so that we can concentrate on other areas of development.

Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde says he would like to see NCP leader Sharad Pawar as prime minister. What is your view?

Shinde has clearly said that since Sharad Pawar has been his political guru and hence his desire. But the reality is that Pawar is not in the race; he has already said so. Naturally, in terms of experience, he is best suited for that high position. In reality, the NCP does not have a majority in the Lok Sabha, which is what is required. So at the moment, the question is purely imaginary.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017