The forthcoming Union Budget is likely to bump up spending to spur a “second green revolution” in eastern India. Transforming the region into the country’s next food bowl is a part of broader measures to curb rising food costs in a bouncy economy.
As food inflation rose 17% over the past year, a statement from the prime minister’s office in January had concluded that the “only lasting solution to food price inflation lies in increasing agricultural productivity”.
The “look-east” plan was unveiled first in Budget 2010, but barring a few green shoots — such as in Assam and Orissa — it turned out to be a dud.
Allocation was a measly R400 crore; several states were in the grip of a drought and there were few government hands working on it aggressively.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, in a recent message circulated in his ministry, said he expected fresh funds for eastern states in this year’s budget and asked his ministry to prepare “in advance”.
“It will be a sizeable allocation,” Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen said. The ministry is expecting an increase of another R100 crore.
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 low-productivity Bihar, Assam, West Bengal and Orissa.
Pawar has asked agriculture secretary PK Basu to advise officials in the target states to begin strategising in March itself.
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, who must visit their “assigned districts once every fortnight”.
Much of the focus is on increasing rice production. However, this obsession with staples may not tame food inflation that is entrenched in vegetables, milk and meat, where demand has shifted of late.