Ahead of the debate on the Food Security Bill in parliament,Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said Saturday that while he supports the Bill,he has concerns about keeping up with rising demand unless drastic steps,including approval to more genetically modified crops,are taken simultaneously to boost agricultural production.
In a detailed interview to The Indian Express,Pawar said his biggest concern was that incentives to the farmer may be cut to meet the subsidy burden arising from this Bill,which,in turn,could set off a negative spiral,forcing India to import large amounts from abroad.
My worry is not today or tomorrow,but when it (Food Security Bill) will be in full swing… By next year,the subsidy bill will go up to Rs 1,25,000 crore. My worry is that any finance minister or finance secretary will not be happy with this burden and their advice to the council of ministers will be that dont hike the minimum support price… That will directly affect farmers. And if the farmer gets hurt,he will shift from crop A to B. So,if he shifts from wheat and rice to some other crop,then how are we going to implement food security?
The country,Pawar added,will have no choice but to import,which will send international prices soaring because India will have a high demand. So for that purpose,we have no choice but to produce more. For that,we have to provide money for irrigation,electricity,concentrate in a big way on the research for development of new type of seeds. We have to see fertiliser is available.
We have to develop the infrastructure of our marketing. We have to see that the farmer also benefits. We can definitely go for a Food Security Bill,but we cannot neglect this aspect.
On this count,Pawar called for easing the environment for conducting field trials for genetically modified (GM) crops. He pointed out that at present,91 per cent of the land under cotton cultivation is Bt Cotton,because of which India has moved from a net importer of cotton to the second largest exporter of cotton.
I can understand that we have to be very careful,but I dont understand why to ban,why not to allow trials? There are a number of crops where our scientists have developed a good variety of transgenic crops but they are not even allowed to take trials… We should take the views of those who are supposed to produce and not a few NGOs, said Pawar.
At the same time,the Agriculture Minister said,the current situation was encouraging and that the government could meet the demands of the Bill at present production levels. In fact,he added that production had soared because of better MSP,financial support to states and shifting the focus of production to eastern states.
We introduced the concept of bringing the green revolution to eastern India… we concentrated on Bihar,Chhattisgarh,eastern Uttar Predesh,Orissa,West Bengal and Assam… Because of these efforts,55 per cent of the countrys rice production today comes from these states. It has never happened.
Pawar also discounted the argument that the provisions of the Bill will have any immediate adverse effect on the economy since the implementation will start in right earnest only towards the next financial year. There is one view in my party about the timing of this Bill because of the weakening rupee. Certain sections of my party feel this is not the time to roll out populist schemes. But then this has been in the manifesto.
He,however,clarified that he did not fully agree with that view. Calling for opening up the agricultural trade as far as possible,Pawar cautioned that imposing restrictions on exports in the name of food security will only accentuate the problem. Better food security,according to him,could only be achieved if the farmer is incentivised also by export opportunities to produce more. If we dont take appropriate steps to improve production,it will definitely affect (food exports), he said.
No pre-91,govt has corrected course
NEW DELHI: Sharad Pawar,who was among the top few in the Narasimha Rao government that backed the Manmohan Singh-led economic reforms of 1991,conceded that some decisions of this government could have conveyed an impression that India had gone back to pre-1991 days but added,that it has now corrected course.