Panchayat polls before July end: CM

VIJAYAWADA, MAY 20. The Chief Minister, Mr. N. Chandrababu Naidu, has said that elections to panchayat raj bodies would be held before July end.

Speaking to presspersons here on Sunday, he said as all efforts to revert to the three-tier system had failed, the Government had no option but to conduct elections to the five tiers as before. He said there would be no problem in the reservation for backward classes in the elections. Reservation would be made as per the Supreme Court judgment, he said.

Mr. Naidu said he would make some concrete proposals to save our farmers from the adverse impact of World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the meeting of Chief Ministers convened by the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, in Delhi tomorrow. He said there could be no way to come out of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) as it would be difficult to make bilateral agreement with 143 member countries. He, however, stressed the need for the Centre and the States to identify the problem areas and evolve some mechanism to protect the interests of our farmers as was being done in many other countries.

The Chief Minister said the Central Government had signed the General Agreement in 1994 and implemented external reforms effectively. But, it failed miserably in implementing internal reforms and evolving duty regimes necessary to protect our interests. The States too had failed to prepare the farmers to reduce their cost of cultivation and become competitive in the international market. `All of us slept for seven years and woke up suddenly to find the GATT engulfing us', he said.

Mr. Naidu said the U.S. appoints consultants and advocates for every crop to study the international market and suggest measures like subsidies, import duties, etc. to protect their market. A similar mechanism was needed to be developed here. The Government started imposing import duties on agriculture commodities late and has not yet reached the permitted levels.

Edible oil, for instance, has an import duty of only 120 per cent against the permitted 300 per cent. Rice attracts 70 per cent import duty against the permitted 80 per cent. Soyabean attracts import duty to the permitted level of 40 per cent. Japan imposed 1,000 per cent import duty on rice. `We too have to study as how they are imposing such high duties and implement the same to protect our markets', he said.

Asked whether the Government can seek more time to implement the GATT proposals, he replied in the negative. The State and Central Governments may take time to prepare the farmers and in the meantime they had to suffer from the adverse impact of huge imports from other countries. `We want to reduce the suffering to the maximum extent', he said.

Despite his best efforts, he said the paddy farmers were still denied minimum support price (MSP) and he would review the situation tonight. He would also review as why FCI and State Civil Supplies Corporation failed to buy paddy directly from the farmers paying them MSP and force the millers to follow suit. When his attention was drawn to criticism of Congress leaders that he had colluded with rice millers and allowed them to fleece the farmers, he said, `What do you want me to do? Do you want me to arrest the rice millers?'.