WHEN THINGS got a bit heated during the 10-hour discussion on agriculture at the Congress chief ministers' conclave in Nainital on Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh intervened to say that he would "look into" the issues of agricultural credit and indebtedness that had been raised. Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said the prime minister's relief package to debt-ridden farmers had brought some respite to farmers in Vidarbha.
But the news from the Vidarbha region on Sunday was grim: 11 farmers committed suicide in the past 24 hours. They were from Buldhana, Yavatmal, Amravati, Wardha, Washim and Akola districts. Since the prime minister's visit in July, 298 farmers have committed suicide; at least 97 deaths have been reported in September alone.
In Nainital, some AICC leaders criticised the government for being "anti-farmer". Digvijay Singh and Satyavrat Chaturvedi were among those who said that the Centre needed to change its "mindset" about the problems faced by farmers.
Manmohan Singh was more specific in his concluding remarks to the conclave on Sunday. He said there was a case for reviewing the system of procurement, the fixing of the minimum support price, the terms of external assistance and the import tariff on commodities. "Each farmer has to, in the final analysis, find agriculture remunerative," he said.
HT exclusive: A policy in making
IT CARRIES the promise of improving the debt-ridden and impoverished lives of crores of Indian farmers. And it will be with the government on October 4.
The final draft of the first National Policy for Farmers (NPF) -- prepared by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) -- is ready.
Atul Kumar Anjan, NCF member and CPI leader, says one of the suggestions is to constitute a farmers' commission in each state with an eminent farmer as chairman. "The state commission is expected to represent farmers' needs and problems in a streamlined manner," says Anjan.
The NPF makes a number of recommendations to protect farmers' incomes. "It talks about fixing the credit rate at 4 per cent per annum," says Anjan. "A national insurance scheme for all crops has also been suggested. Suggestion has also been made to overhaul the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Pricing that determines the minimum support price of crops. The system followed by the commission is dated and it has failed to determine a remunerative price."
Dr R.L. Pitale, another NCF member, says the emphasis is on protecting farmers' incomes so they do not get sucked into a debt trap.
The NCF was formed in 2004 to look into agrarian distress and suggest remedies. The NPF is expected to be launched on August 15 next year.