Stepping up efforts to resolve the unrest among farmers, which is threatening to damage the image of the BJP and the central government, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has asked the pesticide industry to bring down prices and called for a meeting on Friday to press for the reduction of seed prices.
The move comes a day after the Union Cabinet decided to enhance support for farm loan subvention to ensure more credit. Speaking to The Indian Express, Singh said the government may also declare a substantive hike in Minimum Support Price (MSP) for oil seeds and pulses.
“The recommendation of the CACP (Commission for Agricultural Costs & prices) has come. The Cabinet will consider it and announce the MSP… There would be an increase of Rs 400 for oil seeds and pulses,” Singh said. Farmers in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur, Ground Zero of the unrest and an oilseed centre, have been agitating over low prices and the lack of adequate purchasing arrangements by the government.
About Friday’s meeting on seed prices, Singh said, “I will exhort private companies to reduce prices of seeds so that initiatives taken by the government for farmers are supported. The government’s attempts have been to reduce the cost of production in the agriculture sector. So, bringing down prices of seeds is very important.”
On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet approved an interest subvention scheme worth Rs 20,339 crore with which farmers will continue to get short-term loans up to Rs 3 lakh. The decision came in the wake of the Centre coming under criticism for its agrarian policies, which the critics say have not benefitted farmers on the ground. With the unrest turning violent in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, the party fears that similar agitations could be triggered in other states.
One of the main demands of farmers in various states has been the waiver of farm loans. However, even after BJP-ruled UP and Maharashtra announced such waivers, Singh indicated that the Centre was not supportive such a move.
“See, our priority is to empower farmers… we are investing in these efforts. We have invested in soil cards, neem-coated urea and crop insurance. We want their income to go up. That is the reason we have invested in allied industries, such as boosting the productivity of the bovine population to raise per-capita milk availability… We want to reduce their cost of production,” Singh said.
While UP announced a Rs 30,000-crore farm loan waiver to fulfill an election promise, Maharashtra followed with a waiver worth Rs 35,000 crore. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has refused to back such moves, saying that states would need to generate their own funds to facilitate these waivers.
Singh said that the Food and Civil Supplies Department wanted states to ensure that the declared MSP is given to farmers. “Many states are not able to give MSP for farmers and are forced to buy grain from other states for ration. So the government is very particular that states would have to give the MSP declared to farmers. There are states that are not able to purchase produce at MSP rates and do not procure as per requirement,” he said.
“The government wants to help farmers by helping them reduce cost and by making a good market available to sell produce. The Centre provides funds to states for this and allied industries like horticulture, fisheries, beekeeping, etc. Our schemes are focused on this,” Singh said.
The Union Minister also accused the Opposition Congress of instigating farmers to “agitate violently” against BJP governments. Referring to a video clip in which a Congress MLA is purportedly heard inciting a crowd to burn down a police station, Singh said, “Big leaders are trying to pour oil in the fire. You should not politicise this issue. Madhya Pradesh was the first state that tried to bring in welfare for farmers… Mandsaur has proved that the Congress is trying to politicise farmers’ issues… Congress leaders are not able to digest the popularity of BJP chief ministers and leaders.”