A day after winning the vote to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday made a strong pitch for FDI to Punjab’s farmers and ensured that the latest reform would introduce new technology and investment in marketing agricultural produce.
Addressing the golden jubilee convocation of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) here, the Prime Minister said, "It will introduce new technology and investment in marketing agricultural produce, hence India must take full advantage of it."
He also said the farmer organisations in Punjab had supported their decision to allow FDI in retail.
Manmohan Singh was conferred the degree of doctor of science (honoris causa) by Punjab Governor and PAU chancellor Shivraj Patil. Thereafter, the Prime Minister awarded gold medals to three outstanding students -- Pooja Manchanda, Kulbir Singh and Mandeep Kaur.
Appreciating the role played by the PAU in development of Indian agriculture, the Prime Minister said, “Right from the early years when we were food deficit, the university was in the forefront of developing new agricultural technologies and practices. It was PAU’s pioneering work combined with the receptivity and hard work of the progressive farmers of Punjab and other states that made the Green Revolution possible and gave the country food security.”
He complimented everyone associated with the university for the achievements and high standards the institution had continued to set. He acknowledged the PAU for being the first institution to win the best institution award of the Indian Council Of Agricultural Research and complimented the scientists honoured with various prestigious awards.
Calling former Punjab chief minister Partap Singh Kairon as the “son of the soil”, the Prime Minister paid tributes to him, crediting him for laying the foundation for agricultural and industrial development in the state.
The Golden Jubilee is an occasion to celebrate the past, but it should also become an occasion to look ahead into the future and help the state scale new heights, the PM said.
Agreeing to the agrarian crisis faced by the farmers of Punjab, Manmohan Singh asked the state government to address the problem of sustainability of water use in agriculture. Comparing it to the rest of the country, he said the problem was severe in Punjab where 80% of the development blocks were over-exploited. He cautioned against over-exploitation of groundwater to support rice cultivation, adding that diversification out of rice was essential.
The PM said an agricultural strategy combined with research towards evolving a workable diversification to ease economic hardship of the farmers in addition to cultivation of alternative crops like maize, cotton, sugarcane, pulses, oilseeds, particularly soyabean, fruits and vegetables, as mentioned by the Punjab chief minister, could be competitive with respect to paddy.
He said Punjab could be the torchbearer in development of efficient and vertically integrated supply chains in agriculture so as to address the handling/marketing of the perishable crops, thereby reducing the losses of farmers and increasing income.
Investment in marketing linkages would be greatly facilitated by supporting changes in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act, which would allow private markets also to develop in the state.
He said the role of agricultural research had special significance for the country, especially for Punjab. “We aim to increase our expenditure on agricultural research to 1% of agricultural GDP in the 12th Five-Year Plan from 0.65% in the 11th Five-Year Plan.”
Punjab could not ignore non-agricultural sector, particularly the manufacturing sector, as the youth of Punjab would increasingly look for productive employment opportunities outside agriculture, which was why it was important to develop post-farm agro-processing linkages, he said.
The Prime Minister pointed towards the small-scale industry that had earned a well-established reputation owing to its hard-working labour force, evolving innovative solutions, and adapting to existing technologies to suit the local circumstances.
Manmohan Singh said the Centre had taken many steps to liberalise investment decisions, opening the way for the state governments to compete with each other to attract investments from the rest of the country and from abroad. “I hope the Punjab government will rise to the occasion and show that Punjab is second to none in this national endeavour,” the PM said.
Badal, who delivered his speech before the address of the Prime Minister, did not touch the issue of FDI.
He called the Prime Minister as one of the best economists in the world and congratulated him for being honoured with the Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) degree, saying he deserved it more than anyone.
The chief minister also thanked Manmohan Singh for setting up the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) and the Directorate of Maize Research (DMR) in Punjab. Besides, he requested the Prime Minister to sanction another Centre of Excellence for Research in Soyabean to be set up in the state to boost farm diversification in a big way and also a Centre of Excellence for Research in Fisheries in the state as fisheries had a vast scope to give a fillip to allied farming in the state.
On the other hand, the chief minister lamented that the Centre had paid no heed to the repeated requests by the state to grant package for the recent drought-like conditions in the state.
He said the Punjab farmers were demoralised as there was no encouragement to them from the Centre, except the power subsidy of nearly Rs 6,000 crore being provided by the state government. “Even, then we are subjected to sharp criticism from all quarters for giving free electricity to the farmers, whereas it is an acknowledged fact that the major countries like the US and Australia heavily subsidised on agriculture to encourage the farmers,” said Badal. He impressed upon the Centre to provide adequate subsidy to farmers to boost their morale and enhance farm productivity.
He said the present farm crisis, if unattended forthwith, could have serious implications, which were likely to cause social turmoil and law and order problem in the country.
Meanwhile, he urged the Prime Minister to immediately set up a technology mission for diversification of agriculture with an allocation of Rs 5,000-crore Diversification Mission for the Green Revolution States in north India on the lines of the Rs 4,000 crore already sanctioned under ‘Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India’.
He said the PAU, mother of the green revolution, was facing financial crises despite the fact that the state government had increased its contribution from Rs 103 crore to Rs 270 crore. He called upon the Prime Minister that the Centre should also provide liberal annual grant of Rs 100 crore for the university to intensify research in modern farm practices.
Earlier, Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil awarded the Doctor of Science D Sc (Honoris Causa) degree to the chief minister along with three others -- PM Manmohan Singh, Dr Jaswant Singh Kanwar and Dr RS Paroda, both eminent farm scientists and researchers.
After receiving the degree, speaking in a lighter vein, Badal said, “I am the most undeserving man for the degree as I am just a graduate. Instead, I should be conferred a doctorate in politics.”
Farmers support FDI
Pavitar Pal Singh Pangli, the President of PAU Kisan club that has over 7000 members said that farmer organizations across the state had extended unequivocal support to FDI. "There is no investment in cold chain from the state government which is why investment from other quarters is need to safeguard the interests of small and marginal farmers especially the ones involved in the production of fruits and vegetables. We had also written to the union agricultural ministry to give a go ahead to the FDI," added Pangli.