New Delhi: India has adequate food stocks to make up a shortfall in output this year and will step up efforts to mitigate distress of farmers hit by deficient monsoon rains, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday.
“We had record production and procurement of foodgrains in both 2007-08 and 2008-09. We thus have adequate food stocks and there is no cause for concern or fear of shortages of foodgrains in the country as a whole,” Singh told a conference.
Reassuring: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Congress party is under pressure as food prices surged in the worst dry spell in 40 years. Subhav Shukla / PTI
The Congress party-led coalition government, which was re-elected this year on the back of its pro-farmer policies, is under pressure after food prices surged following the worst dry spell in nearly four decades.
Monsoon rainfall, a lifeline to India’s $1 trillion plus economy, was one-fifth below normal between June and 7 September, but a top weather department official forecast it to narrow to 15-18% by the end of this season.
“We have to recognize that most areas of the country will probably still have deficient rainfall and, therefore, we have to redouble our efforts to mitigate rural distress arising from the after-effects of drought,” Singh said.
He said the rural job scheme needs to be implemented at a faster pace across the nation, as it would act as a “safety net” for farmers whose crops failed. Last week, the Planning Commission forecast foodgrain output to be lower by 18 million tonnes in 2009-10, and this could propel the annual inflation rate beyond the comfort zone of 4-5% by end of March.
The widely watched Wholesale Price Index was down 0.21% in the 12 months to 22 August, distorted by the base effect of last year’s high energy prices and suppressing the rise in food prices.
Singh stressed the importance of effective oversight of various poverty alleviation programmes, for which the government has allocated Rs68,000 crore. “Allocations for poverty alleviation programmes are rising every year. We have now to ensure that our people get the best value for every rupee spent on their behalf,” he said. “Effective oversight of these programmes is therefore extremely important.”
Singh said the performance of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which promises 100 days of employment annually to at least one member of every rural family, was “uneven across states”. “We still have miles to go before we achieve the full potential of this unique legislation,” he said.
(‘PTI’ contributed to this story.)