Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Food Minister or Agriculture Minister ?

I recently read a statement by Shri Sharad Pawar in the course of a TV interview by Karan Thapar, asking him, what was his response to the powerless accusation made that the Indian Congress government, is much happier "importing wheat from an Australian corporation," than from local Indian farmers who are silently playing out the dance of death in the Indian killing fields, especially in the very states the Agriculture Minister represents.
The honourable minister referred to the peculiar difficulty of his situation. Maybe he does have a point. He referrred to his role as that of being burdened with the twin responsibilities of being the Food Minister as well as the Agriculture Minister of the second most populous country in the world - India.
India also happens to have the largest number of farm dependant population, that is, those who have no sources of income other than from farming, a fact often forgotten in global negotiations on tariffs and agricultural subsidies.
I quote his response - "As representative of the government, I know better than the papers. Suppose I purchase wheat from Punjab and Haryana and if I have to sell it to the entire South India, my yearly storage charges and my transport charges alone cost me Rs 1,150 to Rs 1,160 per quintal.
My import price from Australia in southern India is somewhat close to Rs 950.
It is my responsibility to protect the interests of the consumer, and for the sake of protecting the interests, I have to build up my buffer stock, and essentially in southern India. For the sake of building the buffer stock, in the case of an eventuality, I have no choice, I will import from anywhere..."
This is very interesting and maybe a precursor to the changed Indian position in the Doha talks.
Suddenly, the Indian minister is finding a conflict in his position as Food Minister and as Agriculture Minister.
While on the one hand he is happy that farmers have the option to "not sell" wheat to the government, he is also very concerned about the wheat consumers of South India.
Does it not make sense to relieve the minister of his dual responsibilities, so that there can be separate ministers for Agriculture and for Food ? He will then not have to play pick and choose and can truly represent his constituency more appropriately.
Afterall, the constituency of food growers is very large, and now, with farmers quitting agriculture, thanks to an undeclared farm exit policy, the constituency of urban food consumers is also very large.
Yes Minister, you do have a point. There needs to be some urgent action and the terrible burden on his shoulders must be released. He can choose which ministry he wants to keep and the other can be given to effect one more expansion of the Cabinet.
In case he chooses the Food Ministry, then he can the promote the ill fated Doha Round of WTO talks. The WTO Head, the EU Trade Commissioner and now the US Agriculture Secretary, have suddenly woken up to the need for progressing on the collapsed Doha talks. Many rapid fire visits have been made to Indian and Brazil capitals, in an attempt to rope in the shakers and the movers of the Indian trade and agriculture ministries.
Of course, the poor African farmers, the Indian farmers, and all those who are supposed to benefit from WTO revival, are still not aware that such hectic and back breaking efforts are being made " on their behalf " by such good intentioned folks.

1 comment:

Buddha Ram said...

It is interesting that you point out this conflict. More interesting is what the Minister chooses to be, not someone to represent the farmer, but, another sales man for the global corporatized food industry. I bet, he didn't talk of the subsidies being provided by the Australian government to ensure that wheat is made cheaper in India.