NITI Aayog’s Panagariya bats for GM crops, tweaking MSP regime to end agrarian crisis
Batting for GM crops – currently BT cotton is the only GM variety allowed in India and GM mustard is one-step away from being introduced pending approval of the governmentindia Updated: Aug 29, 2017 12:17 IST
The success of the Narendra Modi government’s promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 rests on introducing crop diversification, including genetically modified (GM) varieties, for higher yield and value, having fewer people employed in agriculture and modifying the existing support price mechanism, Arvind Panagariya, vice-chairperson of the government think tank NITI Aayog has said.
Panagariya’s to-do list for the government comes in the backdrop of the voluminous Three-year Action Agenda document unveiled by the Aayog last week, which also backs GM crops. The measures listed by Panagariya make ending the agrarian crisis contingent upon sweeping and controversial changes in the sector.
Batting for GM crops – currently BT cotton is the only GM variety allowed in India and GM mustard is one-step away from being introduced pending approval of the government – Panagariya said the Aayog firmed up its position after listening to arguments in favour and against them.
“We brought in both sides and found the scientists more compelling,” Panagriya told the Hindustan Times.
“Diversification into high-value crops, animal husbandry, fisheries, and crops that hook up into the food chain is essential and we need agricultural marketing to ensure a fair price to the farmer,” Panagriya said, listing other measures to increase farmers’ income.
Moving agricultural labour into other sectors is essential for reducing the number of people depending on agriculture and increasing the average income in the sector.
As an alternative to the MSP regime, “we should think of deficiency payments in a WTO compatible fashion,” he said. Famers can be given cash transfers directly into their accounts if the market price of their crops falls below the minimum support price (MSP), he suggested.
Remunerative prices for produce have been one of the key demands of farmers’ protests that broke out earlier this year. Five farmers were killed in police firing in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district where they protested for better prices for their produce.
Farmers in Maharashtra, another BJP-ruled state, also agitated over similar demands, mounting pressure on Prime Minister Modi.
The agenda document also talks about replacing MSP with a Price Benefit System.
“MSP has distorted cropping patterns, with an excessive focus on the cultivation of wheat, rice and sugarcane in the procurement states and neglect of other crops such as pulses, oilseed and coarse grains. The MSP has led to depletion of water resources, soil degradation and deterioration in water quality in some states, especially in the north-western region. It has discriminated against eastern states where procurement at the MSP is minimal or non-existent,” it says.
The government think-tank is already at loggerheads with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s (RSS) affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch over GM crops. The SJM wrote to PM Modi last month slamming the Union agriculture ministry over GM crops.
Two other Sangh affiliates – the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh – attacked the government think tank in June for what they called its “anti-farmer and anti-labour suggestions.”
The BKS has backed expanding the existing MSP regime.
First Published: Aug 29, 2017 12:16 IST