Allocations to agriculture sector ever declining: Som Pal

BANGALORE, NOV. 27. The member of the Union Planning Commission and former Union Minister, Mr. Som Pal, has said that corrective measures should be taken on a war footing to enable Indian agriculture produce to obtain remunerative price apart from ensuring that it was not pushed down by intense competition from some of the agriculturally advanced countries.

He was delivering the inaugural address at a national seminar "Indian Agriculture in the new Millennium" organised by the Rashtriya Navanirmana Vedike. Apart from Mr. Som Pal who spoke for over an hour on the Indian agricultural scenario, the other important speakers included the former Chief Minister, Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde, the Chairman of the State Agriculture Commission and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dr R.Dwarakinath, the farmers' leaders, Prof. C.Narasimhappa and Mr. M.S.Shankarikoppa, and one of the progressive farmers of the State, Dr K.Prafulla Chandra.

Mr. Som Pal said while the previous Governments at the Centre had claimed to have made higher allocations to the agriculture sector, the fact was that the investments in real terms were on the decline year after year. While the investments could be higher in nominal terms, it was reduced in realistic terms. The nominal increases did not even suffice the inflationary costs.

The agriculture sector in the country had grown tremendously over the last three years -- from a level of severe food shortage witnessed in the 1950's to one of surplus production in the 1990's. From about 50 million tonnes in 1951, foodgrain production in the country had now touched 206 million tonnes.

"In 1967-68, owing to severe food shortage accompanied by the stoppage of the PL-480 wheat from the U.S., the then Union Minister, C.Subramaniam, was sent on a mission abroad to seek food assistance. He returned empty handed and wept at the airport over his predicament in seeking food for his countrymen." The situation now was one of plenty accompanied by difficulties in selling the surplus production abroad.

Mr. Som Pal said all restrictions on foodgrain movement within the country and for exports should be removed apart from enhancing Customs duties on imported grains and processed foods. The Indian agricultural production should be opened up to market forces and movement of food should be made a fundamental right.

"There was a time when there were restrictions on the movement of foodgrain even from grain-glut areas only to ensure that the public distribution system was taken care of. Farmers were even prevented from converting their paddy to rice. If quantitative restrictions on imports could be removed, it should be the same with exports. The import duty on wheat has been raised recently but it should be increased further," he said.

The country today was on the top of the list in milk production apart from wheat and rice. Selling in the world market was, however, difficult owing to quality and pricing. Wheat productivity in some of the regions in Punjab and Haryana was higher than in the U.S. Sugarcane productivity was also higher than in Argentina.

The country was now on the threshold of producing about 180 lakh tonnes of sugar compared to a local requirement of 136 lakh tonnes. It was difficult for sugar produced in India to compete elsewhere owing to quality and pricing nor were there adequate facilities to store sugar and other foodgrain.

Only answer to problems: Hegde

Mr. Hegde in his introductory remarks said remunerative prices for agricultural produce was the only answer to solve the problems faced by Indian farmers. While the engineering industry was appropriately taken care of by the Government and the insurance companies, it was only agriculture which had not been given appropriate facilities.

Mr. Hegde said privatisation of agriculture could be the solution to the problems facing the farmers. Their land holdings could be merged in a proper manner, though it need not tantamount to cooperative farming. With larger holdings farmers could make use of advanced technologies in farming apart from making their voice heard.

The proceedings of the national seminar would be compiled and the booklet to be brought out by the Rashtriya Navanirmana Vedike would be circulated all over the country, Mr. Hegde said.