NDA seeks framework to revive agriculture
A national task force on agriculture will recommend ways to reinvigorate agriculture, strategies for reforms
- CBI vs CBI: Supreme Court seeks Alok Verma’s response on CVC report
- SC to hear challenge to RBI’s circular on bad loans on 28 November
- Has economic growth in India been jobless?
- Reddit’s fight against Donald Trump’s troll army
- Waylaid by protests, Sabarimala-bound Trupti Desai and group stuck at Kochi airport
New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has formed a task force to suggest ways to boost agriculture, demonstrating its commitment to farmers in a year when rural incomes have been hit by freak weather and a slump in the prices of key crops.
The task force, under the aegis of NITI Aayog, the successor to the Planning Commission, will recommend ways to reinvigorate agriculture, strategies for reforms and identify successful experiments from which all states can learn.
The team’s formation is a follow-up to an 8 February decision taken in the first meeting of the NITI Aayog that was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was decided in the meeting that all states would set up two task forces each—one on agriculture development and another on poverty alleviation.
The NDA has been trying to project an image of being pro-farmer after being pilloried by opposition parties over the amended land bill, which critics say sacrifices the interests of farmers by making it easier for businesses to acquire land. Modi sought to refute the critics in his last radio address to the country.
India’s agricultural sector is under stress, with growth likely to fall below the 1.1% estimated in the year ending March. In the previous year, the sector had grown 3.7%. Farm incomes have been hit by a reduction in the procurement price of key crops and delayed rainfall last year.
The government has also moved towards rationalizing farm subsidies by initiating pilots of direct cash transfer of public distribution system benefits. Direct benefit transfers mean the centre will eventually limit procurement from farmers at a minimum support price.
The Union budget presented last month reduced allocations under several programmes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission—crucial to achieving high growth rates in the past decade—on grounds that states will contribute more for these programmes from the increased tax devolutions awarded by the Fourteenth Finance Commission.
The spate of unseasonal rains and hailstorms in March caused extensive damage to the standing rabi crops of wheat, pulses and mustard, alongside fruits and vegetables, in several states including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra; about 11 million hectares, accounting for nearly a fifth of the rabi crop area, have been damaged, according to an estimate released by the farm ministry on Thursday. The damage to the winter crop comes after the kharif output is estimated to dip by 7%, and overall foodgrain production is estimated to dip by 3% due to a deficit monsoon last year.
The year also saw a spike in farmer suicides in Telangana and Vidarbha in Maharashtra as cotton prices crashed. A bumper crop of sugarcane and subdued global prices may lead to more distress in the coming days. Sugar mills owe over Rs.17,000 crore in dues to farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Also, the latest hikes in the minimum support prices (the price at which the government procures grain for paddy and wheat, at 3.8% and 3.6%, respectively) have been the lowest in recent years.
“The decision to set up a national task force is a welcome step at a time when agriculture sector is under severe stress and is likely to register a growth rate substantially lower than the estimated 1.1%. However, it seems the task force will be collating information from states and making recommendations,” said Himanshu, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and a Mint columnist.
He added: “The question is how is it going to be different from, say, the agriculture chapter in earlier plan documents. There could be many advisory bodies- and plenty of advice to regenerate agriculture is out there- but where is the blueprint for implementation? We have been talking about a national common market for agriculture for twenty years now, but that is yet to happen.”
The national task force on agricultural development, set up on 16 March, will collate status reports from state task forces by 15 June and use these to prepare its own report by end of June.
According to a government order reviewed by Mint, the task force will be chaired by Arvind Panagariya, the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog. Bibek Debroy, a member of NITI Aayog, is on the panel, along with agriculture experts Ashok Gulati and Ramesh Chand, and secretaries of related departments such as agriculture, land resources, water resources, fertilizers and food processing.
Additionally, the task force will have special invitees, and adviser (agriculture) and adviser (development policy) from the NITI Aayog as convenor members.
A primary role of the task force will be to coordinate and develop synergy between central ministries and state government task forces.
“In a federal polity, coordination between centre and state is crucial; state and national task forces will be crucial to achieving this. The centre will need to work closely with states to ensure they continue to contribute to major agricultural programmes according to their priorities,” said a senior official aware of the development, requesting anonymity.
The task force will recommend strategies for reforms, innovation and technology devolution. It will also “identify successful experiments and programmes from which all states and UTs (Union territories) may learn’ and will be free to take up ‘any other measures”, according to the order.
The ruling NDA government has stated its intention to develop a national common market for agriculture produce as a way to raise stressed farm incomes.
“I intend this year to work with the states, in NITI (Aayog), for the creation of a unified national agriculture market,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech.
Editor's Picks »
- Future Retail’s Q2 result shows improvement in same-store sales
- Private insurance firms grow at the expense of LIC stuck with a sick bank
- Page Industries’s lofty valuations get a reality check in Q2
- Q2 results: Grasim’s Vodafone Idea stake is proving costly
- How Vodafone Idea’s $3.5 bn fundraising will impact telecom in India