There is no clarity on which way the government wants to go with the PDS, food security
2012 was marked in the agriculture and food sector by a record grain production (257.44 million tonnes in 2011-12) on the one hand and a steep rise in the prices of essential commodities on the other.
The good run in grain output, especially of wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton, was marred by drought during the kharif season in parts of four States, which hit the production of coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds.
With plans afoot for cash transfers in food, there is no clarity on which way the government wants to go with the Public Distribution System and food security.
It was expected that the government would come up with the National Food Security Bill this year, but it was still pending with the Parliamentary Standing Committee and the surveys to identify the beneficiaries are still under way.
Another significant feature of 2012 was the Central government’s continuous attempts to augment the storage space for surplus food stocks and at liquidating stocks by exporting and selling in the open market to bulk buyers.
In fact, with the export of 7.73 million tonnes of non-basmati rice and 3.59 million tonnes of wheat after September 2011, agriculture exports grew 56 per cent.
But for domestic consumers, despite India being the largest producer of milk and despite 15 lakh hectares added to the pulse cultivation in kharif, the prices of essential commodities continued to soar.
As per official data, wheat prices had gone up to Rs. 19 a kg against Rs. 16 six months ago. Gram dal has soared by Rs. 15 a kg in the last six months, arhar by Rs. 10, moong dal by Rs. 9 and masoor dal by Rs. 7.
Sugar prices soared to Rs. 40 a kg, against Rs. 34 in June. Groundnut oil (packed) rose steeply by Rs. 26 a kg and soya oil (packed) by Rs. 9. Even gur is up by Rs. 4 a kg in the past six months.
The year ended on a high for the government with its victory in the vote in Parliament on allowing 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, paving the way for foreign mega stores to set up shop in India.
With the FDI issue out of the way, it is expected that the Centre will now train its guns on food security — whether to go in for cash transfer or provide grain to a fixed number of identified beneficiaries.
But while the Centre is dilly-dallying, the Chhattisgarh government has stolen its thunder, passing the Chhattisgarh Food Security Bill that provides for food entitlement to 90 per cent of the State’s population.
The State government will buy additional grain from the open market to feed its poor.
Keywords: 2012 agricultural output