‘Working for poverty-free India,’ says union minister Narendra Singh Tomar
Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said that all possible avenues of doubling farmers’ income have been activated and that the Modi government is working to eliminate extreme poverty so that there is no need for a state-backed job guarantee scheme. Edited excerpts from an interview to Sunetra Choudhury and Zia Haq:
Q. One significant statement to have come from you is that the Modi government would not like to permanently continue with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). Could you elaborate on this?
A. I had said that I am not in favour of MNREGA continuing in perpetuity. MNREGA is a scheme to provide the poorest with a source of alternative livelihood. Now, our effort and aim is that this country becomes totally free from poverty. That’s why any poor beneficiary who might be working under MNREGA today should be able to acquire skills so that he can be gainfully employed. He will need to improve his job skills so that a day comes when he or she should not be in need of something like MNREGA. It was in this context that I had said this.
Q. So is it possible that if the Modi government were to be re-elected in 2024, it would discard the scheme?
A. No, no, it’s not like this. Till such time that there are people opting for MNREGA, of course MNREGA’s utility will be there. But what if we can increase individual capacities of every person, what if we can enable them to live life with ease so that there is no need for MNREGA in the first place… that is what the Modi government is speedily working towards. To say that people should always be dependent on MNREGA, that in my view is not the best situation to be in. A time should certainly come when people’s livelihoods should function uninterruptedly so that they don’t feel the need for MNREGA. It can go on for 10, 20 years, but should MNREGA go on for 100 years?
Q. What is that time-frame by which we can accomplish these goals?
A. I cannot say that… what I can surely say is that the Modi government is working resolutely for a poverty-free India. MNREGA is a resource for alternative employment and we are increasing its allocations. We want to ensure that people find alternative employment, public assets are also created and MNREGA is corruption-free. We are transferring DBT, water conservation, improving agriculture, under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, we are building roads to every village. If a person rears cattle, produces milk and uses that road to sell, his dependence on MNREGA will end.
Q. After Karnataka, it was being speculated the Congress-led government in Madhya Pradesh could fall because of its thin majority. But the opposite happened when two BJP MLAs voted with the government. What is your assessment on what’s happening in the state?
A. The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] doesn’t believe in horse-trading. We also are not interested in bringing down any government anywhere. If Congress legislators resign, how is BJP to blame? Similarly, if a certain situation develops in Madhya Pradesh, then what can we do? As far as the two BJP legislators that you mentioned are concerned, they have not resigned from the BJP. Nor have they written to the speaker saying they are not in the BJP any more.
Q. But Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath has gone on record saying ‘the opposite has happened’?
A. How does it matter what Kamal Nathji has said as long as the MLAs don’t give it in writing (that they are quitting the BJP)?
Q. How long do you think the Kamal Nath government will last?
A. I don’t know. I am not an astrologer. But his government isn’t functioning well. That much I can say. Corruption has peaked, things are going out of control and there is chaos in the state.
Q. One immediate challenge for you this year is that the monsoon has been deficient?
A. There has been delay in the monsoon. It’s true. But to say that there will be a big problem of drought is a little premature at this stage. The monsoon has been continuously improving. The area under sowing has also been increasing steadily accordingly. As far as the issue of drought is concerned, we are continuously monitoring the situation in coordination with state governments. If a situation of drought develops, then contingency measures will be immediately taken up.
Q. PM-Kisan has been your flagship income transfer scheme for farmers. The Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government has rejected the scheme, saying that it gives far more to farmers...
A. I’d like to say to the West Bengal government that any flagship scheme from the Centre is not for Mamata Banerjee or Trinamool Congress. It is for the people of West Bengal. If they implement the scheme, then farmers will benefit. If they don’t, they want to deprive farmers of its benefits. This is cheap politics. West Bengal is using all other funds. Will she return funds for Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana or MNREGA funds or Aajivika funds?
Q. You have had several rounds of meetings with commerce minister Piyush Goyal on agricultural exports. Are you planning any new scheme?
A. We are discussing steps to double farmers’ income. One of the ways is to increase agri exports. Therefore, we need to push organic farming, subsidize such produce, form farm clusters and promote them for exports… these are issues we have been taking up with the commerce ministry.
Q. Our minimum support prices have been objected to in the World Trade Organisation. US President Trump has especially been raising trade issues. Do we have a long-term strategy to protect our support prices?
A. Every country has its own circumstances. Whatever is important for our agriculture production and our farmers, we will continue to do so.
Q. One of the colleagues from your state, Sadhvi Pragya, has made one statement after another that has embarrassed your party. The PM had also reprimanded her. Her latest statement was that it is not an MP’s job to clean drains. How do you view such statements?
A. See, when a person is in public life, he or she has to respect certain boundaries. That is what I want to appeal to all MPs.
Q. PM Modi has resolved to double farmers income by 2022. Farmers’ income, in a formal sense, is construed to be growth in the farm sector or agri GDP growth. The government’s own estimates (Dalwai Committee) states that agri growth must be 10% for incomes to double. Growth last year was about 3%. Economists say doubling of farm income won’t be possible at this rate...
A. See, the PM gives big calls and sets big targets because he has the confidence and wish to achieve something. One needs to understand the PM’s intention. If the PM has taken up a mission, one should know that all possible means of achieving that goal gets activated. Goals are achieved only when it is taken up as a mission. You have to accept that the time since the PM set the target, organic farming got a boost, farm research has been stepped up, Krishi Vigyan Kendras have been made active, roadmap to increase agri exports is being finalized… so all possible ways have been speedily activated… If a farmer’s income should be Rs 15,000 to double, it will at least become Rs 11,000 or 12,000.
Q. Your critics say that the government doesn’t want the latest farmer suicide figures to be made public, which is why it has been holding back the publication of the National Crime Records Bureau report...
A. Not at all. There is a process behind the publication of the report. When the report is finalized and comes to us… and it has not yet come… we will reveal what is there.