Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh talked on a wide range of issues concerning agriculture on the second day of the Eegional Editors’ Conference on Tuesday. He also listed farmer-friendly schemes launched during the Narendra Modi government, but was evasive on the pre-poll promises made by the BJP for revival of the agriculture sector. He praised Punjab farmers for their unmatched contribution to national food-grain pool, but failed to suggest a clear solution to help the distressed community. Excerpts of an interview:
Before coming to power, the BJP promised to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission report, but nothing has been done. Your take?
Radha Mohan Singh: Of the 200 recommendations in the MS Swaminathan Commission report, most were accepted, except ensuring 50% profit over the input cost to the farmers. I think, that’s not feasible. Before the 2014 polls (Narendra) Modi promised to double the farmers’ income and we are helping them on that count through reducing the input cost, better market facilities, crop diversification and increasing production.
Punjab’s groundwater level is falling drastically and government continues to give free power to run tubewells? Do you recommend free power?
The fact is that 55% agriculture in India is being done without irrigation facilities. It is commendable that Punjab has arrangements for irrigation and its farmers reap good harvest even during a drought. It is difficult for me to comment on giving free power, but I am all for better water management.
Has Centre any debt-waiver plan for the Punjab farmers?
Not to my knowledge. I suggest the state government to do its bit by offering loans at zero interest to farmers. Banks offer loan at 9% to the farmers, of which the Centre contributes 5% and the state government can take care of the rest (4%).
Opting for basmati over paddy is not proving beneficial to farmers. What is government doing on this count?
We can’t offer MSP on basmati. Its remuneration depends on the market dynamics and fluctuates from season to season. Moreover, support price doesn’t help farmers much, there are other options to increase their income.
The benefits of government schemes don’t reach the farmers as envisaged. Why?
I agree full benefits don’t reach farmers. (Then he shifts to other question).
Nearly 30,000 hectares of farmland in Punjab is across the zero line on the international border. During the Vajpayee government, compensation was being given the landowners. Any plan to resume that?
We are working on it and will announce a policy soon.