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Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'm not worried by criticism over wheat import, says Pawar

New Delhi : Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said Thursday that he was not worried by criticism from various quarters over the government's plans to import wheat, as his job was to provide food grain to the public at reasonable prices.

"Despite the (estimated) 74.9 million tonnes of wheat output this year, we have to look at imports. And the reason is that our wheat stocks are not up to the mark," he said, speaking at the inaugural session of the National Conference on Emerging Platforms for Agriculture Marketing.

The two-day conference is being organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the ministry of agriculture.

"As food minister, I have to take responsibility to provide wheat to the public at reasonable prices. That is why I am not worried (by the criticism). Or else, the government should provide budgetary support so that I can provide food grains to the public at reasonable prices," he said.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Left have demanded that the government institute an inquiry into the decision to import wheat when there was adequate domestic stock.

Earlier this month, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Brinda Karat had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to protest the government's decision to import 790,000 tonnes of wheat at an average price of $390 per tonne.

The government had also come under fire for its proposed move to import five million tonnes of wheat in April this year.

Pawar also said that a number of states have amended their respective Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Acts for promoting investment in marketing infrastructure, motivating the corporate sector to undertake direct marketing of agricultural produce and for facilitating a national integrated market.

"By now, 18 states and union territories (UTs) have amended their APMC Acts and Bihar has repealed the Act. Seven other states and UTs do not have any APMC Act. We expect the remaining states would complete these amendments by March 2008," he said.

While issuing a model agricultural marketing law for guidance to the states in 2003, the centre had requested the state government to amend their APMC Acts.

"Certain sections feel if such restrictions (like APMC) are removed, farmers will benefit," he said.

Stating that agricultural marketing, especially perishables, is a key driver for achieving higher growth in agriculture, Pawar said, "Market-driven production is the order of the day and an efficient and seamless supply chain management has become a necessity for us.

"To fulfil these objectives in potential areas, the government of India has recently initiated the process of setting up terminal markets under a central sector scheme. The hub and spoke model of modern terminal market including electronic auctioning system and state-of-the-art infrastructure facilities coupled with operational efficiency through synergy between the best of private and public sector practices is planned through the state governments," he said.

Pawar also said that for prompt and reliable market information of different commodities, electronic spot markets could provide a viable alternative to the existing practice of the mandi system.

Earlier, FICCI Agriculture and Rural Development Scheme chairman P.M. Sinha appealed to the government to encourage the private sector to engage in a comprehensive backward linkage with farmers to improve crop productivity.

Stating that for both fruits and vegetables, there is enormous wastage, he said, "We need to ensure that the private sector is encouraged to put the entire supply chain from sorting and grading... up to the consumer location in place."

In his welcome speech, former FICCI president Onkar Kanwar called for a stable exim policy on farm products.

"Let us give our farmers complete freedom to sell anywhere, at home or abroad," he said.

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