“The Green Revolution in Eastern Region is waiting to happen,” finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said in his budget speech, renewing an ambitious “look-east” plan by further giving it Rs400 crore. Taming food inflation hinges on how soon India can transform its lagging East into its next food bowl.
The programme aims to step up mainly rice farming in Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and some parts of eastern UP.
Growing pressure on grains and their flattening yields in the country’s traditional granary of Punjab and Haryana have prompted the government to look east.
The region, with fertile soil and abundant rainfall, is being seen as a next big agricultural powerhouse.
While many states hoped for more funds, farm secretary PK Basu said R400 crore was “sufficient”. “It is adequate for this scheme and, importantly, is in addition to nearly Rs6,000 overall under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana,” he said.
The “look-east” plan was unveiled first in Budget 2010, but barring a few green shoots — such as in Assam and Orissa — it had turned out to be a dud. Several states were in the grip of a drought.
Expecting the Budget to renew the plan, farm minister Sharad Pawar, in a recent message circulated in his ministry, asked his ministry to prepare “in advance”.
The upward pressure on food prices is the result of ramped-up demand. The emerging government wisdom is that much of it can be met by replicating the “green revolution” of the 1960s in eastern states. Pawar has asked agriculture secretary Basu to advise officials in the target states to begin strategising in March.
Last year, the scheme hardly involved some of India’s finest research institutes. Pawar, in his note, has now talked about roping in scientific manpower from the Directorate of Rice Research and Central Rice Research Institute.
Much of the focus is on increasing rice production. This obsession with cereals may not cool inflation that is anchored in non-cereals.