“How can we sell cheaper than Rs. 2 a kg to the Antyodaya population”

Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar on Saturday dismissed the possibility of free foodgrains distribution.

“The government already spends Rs. 66,000 crore on foodgrains subsidy. We buy wheat from farmers at Rs. 15 a kg, but sell it to the Antyodaya population at Rs. 2 a kg. How can we sell any cheaper than that?”

He was speaking at a meeting of the Maharashtra Pradesh Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Free distribution of foodgrains would ruin the producers. The Supreme Court had not directed that the foodgrains be distributed free of cost.

On the wastage of food grains, he said the government had undertaken a massive project to build warehouses throughout the country. It was also hiring private warehouses.

Giving data for the past eight years, he said the wastage of foodgrains had reduced substantially since the UPA government came to power. This year, he said, it was just 0.02 % of the total produce.

He pointed out that inflation was coming down. “My concern is the prices should not come down so much that it adversely affects the farmers.”

Criticising the States that did not buy foodgrains from the Centre alleging high prices as the reason, Mr. Pawar said they should first understand the mechanism of fixing prices. The government bought wheat from farmers at Rs. 1500 a quintal and sold it in the open market at Rs. 200 a quintal.

“We do not follow the policy of artificially keeping the prices low any more. Sixty two per cent of India's population is dependent on agriculture. Do we want them to remain poor? Prices have been fixed considering the input costs so that farming becomes viable. This has led to an increase in the income of farmers,” he said.

Mr. Pawar also criticised the States for buying only the food grains at the lowest price slab earmarked for the Antyodaya population and leaving the rest untouched. “I call up the Ministers and their secretaries, asking them to take away the foodgrains. But they are not interested.”

Good production

Due to good monsoon, food grain production was good this year. “Now the question is where to store those foodgrains?” He said 600 lakh ton excess foodgrains were available from the last year's production.

The cotton production, especially in Vidarbha, was also very good. This prompted him to think of exporting cotton, but the textile mills throughout the country have been writing to him to ban the export.

“Why should they [mill owners] insist on getting cotton at cheap prices? Let the farmers get good price for their produce. We will not entertain such vested interests [of the mill owners],” he said.

He criticised parliamentarians for stalling the proceedings of the House demanding a hike in salary. He added that the NCP leaders did not participate in it. “Demanding a hike in the salary is fine. But why waste people's money by stalling the working of the House? You [the protesting parliamentarians] will take the daily allowance but not work. This will set a wrong trend. In no time will this be imitated in the State assemblies and the corporations now.”

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