New Delhi: Three months after it announced a policy aimed at addressing the issue of plateauing foodgrain production and reducing the country’s dependance on costly imports of the same, the Centre is now changing the policy to allow for greater political involvement of the states.
The changes in the so-called food security policy, according to a Union agriculture ministry official who did not wish to be identified, were made at the insistence of West Bengal’s Left Front government. The Left Front is a key ally of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.
Production-oriented: Wheat being weighed at the Hodal grain market in Haryana. The Rs4,882 crore National Food Security Mission is aimed at increasing the output of rice, wheat and pulses by 10mt, 8mt and 2mt respectively, during the 11th Plan.
The official added that the West Bengal government had declined to submit its proposals by the deadline of 24 September until the Centre incorporated the changes it wanted in the policy; 15 states submitted their proposals listing which parts of their states could be covered under the programme.
Under the altered policy, the Centre will likely constitute state-level advisory bodies, to be headed by each state’s minister for agriculture, within the framework of the National Food Security Mission, or NFSM. This will, the ministry of agriculture official added, increase political involvement in the execution of a programme that was otherwise dominated by bureaucrats, with the exception of the Union minister of agriculture Sharad Pawar who is at the helm.
NFSM is a Union government sponsored scheme launched in September 2007 that aims to increase the production of rice, wheat and pulses by 10 million tonnes (mt), 8mt and 2mt respectively during the 11th Plan (2007-12) with an envisaged spend of Rs4,882.48 crore.
It expects to do so by increasing the area under cultivation and improving productivity in the identified districts of the country. Currently, India resorts to increasingly costly imports to cover the average deficit of 5-6mt in wheat and 2-3mt in pulses every year.
The State Food Security Mission Executive Committee is responsible for overseeing the activities of NFSM in each state. This is headed by the state’s chief secretary.
The advisory bodies the government is considering creating will not have any executive powers, said the official. “Its mandate will be to provide the political feedback to the Centre as well as help in programme design,” said the official.
In a telephone interview, Naren Dey, food and agriculture minister of West Bengal, refuted the claims of the Union agriculture ministry official about the delay in sending proposals to the Centre and said that West Bengal had submitted a list of 17 districts for boosting production under NFSM.
Dey, however, justified his demand for greater political involvement. “We want to implement the programme with the help of the people and we should have the people’s representatives on board. The success of the scheme depends entirely on its implementation,” Dey added.
Some experts do not think the involvement of the ministers is required.
“You cannot question the implementation merely because it is being done largely by bureaucrats. Moreover, there are many technocrats also involved in NFSM’s activities,” said Ramesh Chand, the Icar (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) national professor at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research. Chand said NFSM is a response to the crisis surrounding the shortage of foodgrain. He added that it is good that the current model does not involve too many politicians because the political process of decision making is often more time consuming.
“NFSM is meant to yield quick results. (But) It will not, by itself, solve the long standing ills of India’s agriculture sector,” Chand said.