Agriculture Policy Briefing

Ashok Gulati Declines to Join Yet Another Committee; Says Govt Must Act on Previous Reports

Ashok Gulati. Photo by Vivian Fernandes.

According to Business Standard, the noted agricultural economist has declined to be part of a NITI Aayog committee on agricultural reforms.

Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati has taken a bold stand and declined to become part of yet another government panel on agriculure, saying it has got enough advice, now’s the time for execution, reports Business Standard.
Gulati was also miffed that he was included in NITI Aayog’s committee on reforming agriculture by 2020 without being consulted.

In 2014, the Shanta Kumar committee had given an excellent report on reforming the Food Corporation of India. Gulati was part of that committee and Kumar had relied on his insights. It found that FCI was riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Head load workers in FCI’s warehouses in Assam were earning in excess of Rs 1 lakh a month. Of course they were not doing the work themselves. There is only so much lifting an individual can do in a day. The permanent workers were sub-contracting at lower rates and pocketing the difference.

When this correspondent met Shanta Kumar in January 2015 after he had submitted the report, he said FCI had four categories of workers. The average monthly wage of departmental labour was Rs 78,000. There were some who got between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 2 lakh a month and there were even cases of head load workers earning Rs 4.40 lakh a month. There was a certain rate for work till 5 pm, beyond that the rates were higher. There was also one rate for stacking up to five feet and a higher rate for stacking beyond that.

Kumar’s committee, called the High-Level Committee, had said that buffer stocking norms should be revised. The country needed to keep 30 million tonnes in buffer stock and strategic reserve but it did not have a liquidation policy. As a result, the stock of grain sometimes went up to 80 million tonnes. This resulted in pilferage and wastage.

The high-level committee had recommended that subsidy be given to the poor in cash through direct transfers to their bank accounts, rather than in kind, in the form of grain. It wanted state warehousing corporations and private players to be involved as well, so that Food Corporation could get competitive rates.

Gulati was forthright even as Chairman of the Committee on Agricultural Costs and Prices under the Manmohan Singh government. He wrote extensively in the media against the food security act even though it was Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s pet project.

This government seems to think that setting up committees is a substitute for action. On agriculture it has no dearth of advice. NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand has written a fine tract on how to double farmers’ income by 2022-23. He has identified high value crops — fruits and vegetables, spices and condiments, cotton and sugarcane, livestock farming and agro-forestry as sectors that can give the highest returns and cultivation of cereals as the least profitable.

There is also NITI Aayog’s Three-Year Action Agenda.

The Economic Survey of 2016 has said India must practice more-from-less agriculture.

Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian has written a tract on pulses and oilseeds and why cultivation of these “socially-useful crops” should be privileged.

Instead of acting on these reports, the ministry of agriculture has commissioned a huge study on doubling farmers’ income. It is a 14-volume series, of which four volumes have been submitted. It will be good reference material for academics and researchers. The job of the agriculture ministry is not to tell the country what needs to be done; it must get down to doing it. Gulati is right in telling the government the time for talking is over; purposeful action is the need of the hour.

 

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