Pragya Singh, Sangeeta Singh & Ashish Sharma
NEW DELHI: To revive Indian agriculture, the Centre on Tuesday committed to state governments that it will spend Rs25,000 crore in the next four years, but would link it to their ability to generate new programmes.
Addressing the National Development Council, the apex Centre-state forum, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also directed state governments to shift towards a more region- and crop-specific approach.
A new additional central assistance scheme is being introduced to incentivize governments to make plans specific to their states taking into account agro-climatic conditions and availability of natural resources. Programmes relating to livestock, poultry and fisheries will also be a part of it. A separate scheme is being worked out for irrigation projects.
Singh maintained that the state plans should be comprehensive with both an immediate and a medium-term objective of four-five years.
“They should build upon current baseline levels of production, yields and investments and must have clear, tangible targets in terms of raising agricultural agricultural output and yields,” he said.
However, Singh emphasized that the Union government will commit the necessary funds only if states maintain their baseline levels of expenditure and also contribute their share.
Finance minister P. Chidambaram said the mission should aim at “not only increasing production, but also productivity”.
According to agricultural economist M.S. Swaminathan, states should use this programme only to bridge the yield gap. “The amount (Rs25,000 crore) is not so large that it could be used for several purposes. There is a huge scope for yield gaps to be narrowed in the second-fertile crescent, comprising Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Besides, the gap should be filled on an end-to-end solution basis starting from technology and ending with marketing,” he said.
Reacting to the plea that states needed to do more to help raise production and contain food price inflation, Uttarakhand chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party member B.C. Khanduri said, “The Centre fixes the minimum support price and carries out procurement. States can only ensure the quality of foodgrain under the public distribution system. We can ensure that pilferage or hoarding doesn’t take place, but the main role is still the Centre’s.”
A new food security mission is being created to help raise the output of wheat, rice and pulses. It envisages a hike of about 11% in production of wheat and rice over the next four years, and nearly 14% in pulses, compared with the agriculture ministry’s second advance estimates for 2006-07.
India has set a 4% target for agricultural growth by 2008. Since the mid-1990s, however, growth rate in the sector has stagnated at under 2% a year. With the area under foodgrain and productivity also not improving, the government is seeking a consensus on the new approach to agriculture.
The emerging approach is that most strategic planning and implementation is best done by states, and later integrated with schemes such as the Backward Region Grant Fund and National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
“I believe a programme of this nature can provide the critical breakthrough we have so far been looking for and enable states to integrate all the various disciplines in farming—including irrigation—into a common umbrella with a focus on specified outcomes targeted at bridging the yield gaps,” Singh said.