J. Balaji

Announces reduction of interest rate on crop loans

NEW DELHI: Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has said the overall agriculture situation due to an inadequate South-West monsoon so far was quite serious, and that the government was taking all steps to face the situation.

Mr. Pawar said no State had yet approached the Centre to declare itself drought-hit, but the Centre would not remain silent if there was a drought-like situation in any part of the county.

“For the last three or four years the food production was good, but this year we have a serious situation,” Mr. Pawar told the Lok Sabha, in reply to a debate on the demands for grants for agriculture, consumer affairs, food, and public distribution departments.

He said his ministry had received information that the South-West monsoon would advance this year, and the rains arrived in Kerala on time.

Monsoon deficit

The overall monsoon deficit in the country, which was minus 46 per cent as on July 1, came down to minus 36 per cent on July 8, and further to minus 27 per cent on July 15. “But one can wait up to July 31 to study the situation,” Mr. Pawar said. Bihar, Western and Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, and some parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were hit by poor rainfall.

Regarding the overall crop situation, Mr. Pawar said except for the total transplantation of paddy having fallen, there was an improvement in the growth of crops like bajra, jowar, and oil seeds.

Mr. Pawar also promised to send a central team to the States and provide help if any of them sought relief from a “drought situation.” The Centre was ready to “protect the States and help the governments,” he said.

“So far, Manipur has declared drought in 11 districts, Jharkhand in four districts, Assam in 14 districts, and Madhya Pradesh in 41 districts,” Mr. Pawar said.

The Agriculture Minister also announced a reduction in the interest rate on crop loans, from the existing seven per cent to six per cent, for farmers who pay back their dues promptly.

Stating that food production had been good in the UPA regime, Mr. Pawar said the country had produced a record 233.87 million tonnes in 2008-09 season, according to the latest fourth advance estimates.

“Highest production”

“After Independence, this is the highest production,” he said. Wheat and rice procurement had touched a record 251 lakh tonnes and 330 lakh tonnes respectively.

On the Bharatiya Janata Party’s demand for a ban on cow slaughter, Mr. Pawar said “we cannot stop it by law” as it would be unfair to burden farmers with the cost of maintaining old cattle.

Exclusive TV channel

He also announced the Centre’s proposal to start a TV channel exclusively for the agriculture information. On the farm/crop loan waiver announced last year, Mr. Pawar said about Rs.67,000 crore out of Rs.71,000 crore had been disbursed to financial institutions towards reimbursement.

Over 3.96 crore farmers had benefited from this measure, he said.