Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Did Agriculture suffer under Nehru? Are Gurgaon builders against Land Bill?

Interview with union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh

An RSS worker from his youth, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh proclaims himself to be an “English media shy” person. Reported to be one of the few in the Union Cabinet close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Singh is a workaholic. He takes his staff and officials into confidence and often calls them for get-togethers at his house. “Main zamin se juda hoon (I am always rooted to the ground),” is his favourite one-liner. 
This interview with blogger (Nirendra Dev) was run by The Statesman, New Delhi 

It has been a tough year for both the Modi government and you as the Agriculture Minister. What is the Indian agrarian crisis all about? What is the agriculture scene in the country today?

Agri Minister: The last two years, 2014 and 2015, have been challenging years for Indian agriculture. In 2014, there was shortfall of rain by about 12 per cent. This year, too, we had untimely hailstorms and unseasonal rains. But ever since we came to power, we made it clear that the Modi government wants results. The bureaucracy has shown enough sincerity. The states also cooperated with us and as everyone acted in unison, the result is not as bad as apprehended. Contrary to the fear of akaal (famine) as hundreds of districts were affected, we had a scene where there is reduction in production by only three per cent. We also avoided any politics with agriculture.

So politics over agriculture is an issue. In the Lok Sabha, you criticised the UPA’s agricultural policy. What is this past burden, more so, because your predecessor for 10 years, Sharad Pawar, is known to be a pro-farmer leader?

Agri Minister: (Smiles) I will answer your question a little differently. The importance of Soil Health Card was first realised both in India and at the UN level in 2007. But till 2014 hardly anything moved under a supposed-to-be farmers’ leader. I am not getting personal. This is what you asked. Till 2014, they (UPA government) spent hardly Rs 72 crore for Soil Health cards. It was only cosmetic. We took it up on a war footing. In 2014-15, we sanctioned Rs 88 crore and passed it on to states. We also sanctioned 69 mobile labs for soil health studies. This was an example.

But what about a concrete cultivation programme?

Agri Minister: Yes, I am coming to that. We decided that tradition-based cultivation should be encouraged in a big way. Therefore, in 2015-16, we have earmarked Rs 300 crore for it and in addition Rs 125 crore for the north-eastern states. The irrigation programme remains another priority and we are working on the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sichai Yojana. In the last 10 years, there was no shortage of funds for states like Maharashtra, but look at the agriculture scene in that state.

In your tenure, too, there are problems. In your first press conference as Agriculture Minister you announced launching of a nationwide Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sichai Yojana. The scheme went to Water Resources Ministry and now it’s back with you. In the process in one year not even paper work has been done. How do you justify this episode of old babudom/red tapism?

Agri Minister: The scheme has not suffered at the implementation stage. Now the scheme is back with the Agriculture Ministry and we will soon issue guidelines. Actually four ministries - Agriculture, Rural Development, Drinking Water and Water Resources - have already disbursed Rs 5,300 crore. My ministry has distributed Rs 1,800 crore. So the scheme is on.

The latest monsoon forecast says rainfall will be deficient this year too. The growth of agri and allied sectors also dropped from 3.7 per cent in 2013-14 to 0.2 per cent in 2014-15. Are all these not worrying you?

We will face the challenge as it comes. I will hold talks with India Meteorological Department (IMD) and other agencies. We have tackled a big challenge in 2014. I have directed my officers to give updated reports on the contingency plans. In fact, immediately after the April forecast, we held discussions with state officials and tried to understand the situation. We had already prepared a contingency plan for 580 districts. By June-end we will prepare plans for 25-30 more districts in the north-east. My ministry will also coordinate with officials from other ministries like Power, Food and Rural Development.

What about other priorities for the Agriculture Ministry in your second year in office?

Agri Minister: We will take up the Soil Health Card issue with all sincerity. But here again, along with other agricultural schemes, a lot depends on the states’ cooperation and performance. I have been getting states’ support and as I mentioned without states’ help our contingency plans, both in 2014 and 2015, would not have been successful.

You mentioned politics being a problem in agriculture. But the country has had several stalwarts as Agriculture Minister from S K Patil to Jagjivan Ram and Devi Lal and Sharad Pawar.

Agri Minister: All were great certainly. But I look at things differently. To start with, Dr Rajendra Prasad from the beginning had kept the focus on farm growth, farmers’ welfare and villages. But after independence, once Jawaharlal Nehru gave emphasis on industrialisation, the agri sector and villages were ignored. “Gaon peechey reh gaya”
In my understanding, after Rajendrababu, Lal Bahadur Shastri understood the importance of farmers and thus gave the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’; after him Atal Behari Vajpayee took it to new heights, adding Jai Vigyan to the slogan. Now it is up to the Narendra Modi government to change the scenario, and we will do it.

What about the land Bill? Why have you all made it a prestige issue?

We have not made it a prestige issue. But after the hyped campaign against the Bill, the Opposition is on the defensive. Even in Bihar, Congress leaders like Jairam Ramesh had to clarify that their party is not anti-development. The message slowly has gone down that the land Bill will facilitate development. This Bill is essentially being opposed by lobbyists for Gurgaon-Ghaziabad builders.
See, nowhere, does the private sector figure. This Bill is only to help acquire land to help farmers and for sustainable infrastructure projects like roads and defence-related works. Those who gave away farmers’ land at a throwaway price to private builders, ‘suit-boot’ wallahs and relatives are mostly against the land Bill. Not an inch of land will be given to private players.
Under Nehru: "Gaon peechhey reh gaya"

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