The Centre’s directive against paddy bonus has left Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Raman Singh almost isolated in the state, but has also given him his first major opportunity in the third term, which, if judiciously used, may reinvigorate agriculture in the state.
While the opposition Congress wants the bonus to continue, senior BJP leaders reminded him that after making bonus a poll plank the government cannot back off, especially when the municipal polls are just months ahead.
Singh government has always boasted of procuring “every grain” produced in the state. Earlier, the UPA lifted entire rice, and Singh sat pretty as his expenses were compensated by the Centre. However, with 80 per cent of the state’s population in rural areas, Singh’s policies of bonus and total procurement over the years have made farmers completely dependent on paddy cultivation.
Singh, as the finance minister, has fewer options now. If he continues with bonus, the Centre will not procure foodgrains beyond the PDS requirement of Chhattisgarh. In the absence of storage and marketing facilities, the additional procurement and bonus will cost at least Rs 7000 crore to the government, 13 per cent of the state’s budget. While Chhattisgarh’s BJP leaders have repeatedly asked him to take up the issue with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Singh cannot afford to be seen in a standoffish position with the Centre. Quick to seize the issue, the Congress is pointing out that the Centre is not concerned about Chhattisgarh’s farmers and the Singh government is succumbing to Modi’s pressure.
Imperative, however, is a complete overhaul of Chhattisgarh’s agrarian economy and Singh’s policies. With or without the Centre’s directive, cropping pattern of Chhattisgarh need to be diversified and instead of low-yielding, low-quality paddy, farmers must shift to cash crops. The state need not produce a grain four times its requirements, a crop that has few buyers today. Ignoring the opposition’s clamour, Singh should set a vision for his farmers. A third-term CM must take some risks, and seek difficult but lasting solutions. He may lose a few municipal seats today but could reap good dividends in assembly polls four years later. So far, however, his government seems unable to grasp the obvious.