Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh is a senior BJP leader from Bihar. The Modi government’s handling of the agriculture sector during its first year in office has drawn some criticism. Singh rebuts the criticism and claims that the government is well-prepared to tackle the after-effects of the coming monsoon, if it turns out to be deficient
IMD has revised its weather forecast and now says the monsoon will be deficient. Should that not worry you?
We are taking stock and I have directed my officers to give updated reports on the preparations. In fact, immediately after the April forecast, my officers held discussions with state officials to understand the. situation. We have prepared a contingency plan for 580 districts. Now that the forecast has been lowered further, I have directed that the plans be updated.
Officials are also talking to agencies like the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture. I will also hold discussion with IMD. But, we are better prepared this time than last year to deal with uneven rain. Last year, too, IMD had lowered its forecast during this time of the year. We had just come to power and faced a drought-like situation. Everyone was tensed up. But our ministry worked hard to minimise the damage. There were losses in production but the losses were not that huge. Also, there are alternate seed varieties available, if there is deficient rain and the drought management panel is monitoring the situation. Of course, there will be some losses if there is deficient rain, but we are confident that our policies will ensure minimum damage to the sector and the economy.
Recent data has shown that growth of agriculture and allied sectors has dropped from 3.7 per
cent in 2013-14 to 0.2 per cent in 2014-15. In fact, production fell in the third and fourth quarters. Is this a worrying sign?
It is correct that growth was negative in the third and fourth quarters of 2014-15, due to the uneven monsoon and uncertain rain during the rabi season. But, if you look at the gross value added in agriculture and allied activities, it has grown from ?15.23 lakh crore (adjusted for inflation) in 2012-13, to ?15.79 lakh crore in 2013-14 and ?15.83 lakh crore in 2014-15. This was triggered mainly by the fisheries and livestock sector, which has grown faster than crops.
What initiatives have you taken during the last one year?
I have already spoken about our initiatives like Gokul Mission and Blue Revolution, which have given a boost to livestock and fisheries. Another initiative was on organic farming. We sanctioned ?300 crore for it, with a special focus on the northeastern states. The entire focus has been on lowering the cost of production for farmers through less use of fertiliser, while increasing the value of their produce.
When I came into this ministry, only ?72 crore was spent (in a year) on soil testing and there were 13 mobile soil testing labs. We sanctioned ?80 crore in the first year itself and started almost 100 mobile soil testing labs. Then, we embarked on a massive scheme to give soil health cards to all the 130-plus
million farmer families. For this, over ?500 crore was sanctioned for three years, of which we have given about ?200 crore to states in 2014-15.
Why have your delayed the announcement of MSP for key crops?
I do not feel the announcement of MSP has been delayed. We are planning to announce it over the next two weeks.
What are your immediate worries on the food situation?
While the government had ample supply of rice and wheat, there are concerns over pulses; but, my ministry has been working on ways to supplement domestic supply through imports. We imported a record 4.5 million tonnes of pulses last year and are ready to import more when required. We are working on raising pulses and oilseeds production too. Data on the states’ requirements is also being collated.
How important is the agriculture sector to the Modi government?
Agriculture and allied sectors in India account for 17.2 per cent of GDP and 14 per cent of exports. Almost half the population is dependent on agriculture as the prime source of income. We, therefore, have to keep the momentum of growth of agriculture to achieve targeted growth of its economy and meeting the increasing and diverse demand of food.