Chairman of parliament's standing committee on agriculture Basudeb Acharia in an interview
Trithesh Nandan | August 5, 2011
The seed bil 2010 discussed in parliament on August 4 has several lacunae and will not serve farmers interest, says CPI(M) lok sabha MP and chairman of parliamentary standing committee on agriculture Basudeb Acharia. Acharia wants a seed liability bill along the lines of nuclear liability bill which will fix responsibility on the companies promoting genetically modified seeds in case of any setback.
The committee under the CPM leader has been drafting a report on GM food. In an exclusive interview to Trithesh Nandan, he says GM crops are not the panacea for India’s agriculture problem.
What is the status of the report on genetically modified (GM) foods? When is the committee submitting the report?
We have already started drafting of the report. A new committee will come in existence from September 1, so we want to submit report by the end of this month.
Any hint on the report's findings?
We can’t say anything right now because first it has to be submitted to the parliament. We want to present an objective view on it. Having said that we are taking into consideration all the contentious issues related to GM food crops in the forthcoming report. The scientific community is divided on this issue. We had invited those who wanted to appear before the committee. It received more than 5,000 memoranda on the subject from across the country. There were 25 discussions held on the issue in five states in the last one year as part of the consultation done by the standing committee on agriculture. We are going through health and environment aspect from growing GM crops.
What is your take on GM crops?
GM crops are not the panacea for India’s agriculture problem. GM technology food does not increases production but decreases the loss. There is a serious concern on the socioeconomic impacts of GM crops. One cannot label destructive farming as progressive science and force it down the throat of millions. On the one hand, we have seen how these GM crops are leading to monopoly of the companies like Monsanto in the seed sector on the other hand such technologies like herbicide tolerant GM crops will destroy the rural livelihoods dependent on agriculture.
Where is the government going wrong in controlling inflation?
It is because of government’s policies that there is high inflation in the country. First, we have been demanding futures trade be withdrawn but government is still continuing with it. Second, the amendment to essential commodities act which was amended and made flexible in 2002. The government is not doing anything on the issue. Third, the way the food security bill has been drafted, it will not be able to control prices. By dividing the population on priority and non-priority like below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL), majority of the population will be kept out of subsidised food grains. The government argument on procurement is that in order to cover 80 percent of the population – they need 75 lakh tons of food grains but maximum capacity of procurement is 55 lakh tones. But they can procure more because in Andhra Pradesh I have seen Food Corporation of India (FCI) is not procuring. Throughout the country FCI should undertake procurement of food grains – rice and wheat. Our production is more than what we procure. FCI can procure up to 80 lakh tones of food grains and if they procure then there would be no problem as 80 percent of the population would be covered.
How doe we tackle the problem of storage?
This has been the huge problem for the country. The capacity of the storage has not been increased in the last 15 years. Now the government is thinking of hiring private godowns and depots. The government is not sincere in increasing storage as the issue has been on discussion for the last three years. But in the last three years, government should have increased the storage capacity by thirty percent. Had it been done there would have no problem in keeping food grains in store.
Then the whole growth story could go wrong, as the government seems to be focusing more on market-driven growth ignoring the basic necessities of the population and agriculture?
There is no connection between growth and poverty. One third of the population still goes hungry means they just get one time food. The GDP led growth has no connection with the poverty. The increase of production in certain sector has no connection daily consumption of the people. So it has no impact on the production on commodities required by the common man. So why, when GDP grow, it has no impact on poor population.
The government has neglected the agriculture sector for long. There is hardly any growth happening in the sector in the last several years. As chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture what would you want to improve?
First thing which should be done is land reform because substantial percentage of population do not have agriculture land. What is required is land reforms in order to increase the production in agriculture. In our country, forty percent of land is irrigated and 60 percent of land is still in rain fed areas. There is need for the extension of the irrigation system as the enough investment is not been done. Third thing is capital investment in agriculture, which has declined over the years. This has been done very cleverly. There is increase of price of fertilisers and government has been reducing subsidy in fertilisers. We are importing fifty percent of fertilisers whereas our fertilisers production units are closed. At least eight of such public sector units have been closed in last few years. Also provide better quality seeds to the farmers. We are demanding seed liability bill to provide better seeds to farmers along the lines of the nuclear liability bill. In this session of parliament we have discussed seed bill. But this will not cater to the need of farmers. There is provision of compensation if there is no germination but it is not sufficient. So there is need for seed liability. The companies which supply seeds should be made liable. Today there is no loss for such so farmers suffer. If there is no germination, farmers’ income for the whole year will go down.
Also, if we look at role of banks, they are equally responsible for not lending to farmers. Over the years, the bank loans to the agriculture sector has been dropping.
Among the seventy percent of agriculture loans go to the big companies like Reliance, which is also selling agriculture produce. Rest of the loans go to small and marginal farmers. It happens at that time when 82 percent of farmers are small and marginal. They have to depend on private money lending. In 2008 budget, Rs. 60000 crore of farmer loans was waived. At that time there was there was demand to waive the loans given by the private money lenders. This comes around 49 percent. A committee was also constituted three years back but the committee has not yet come to conclusion on waiving of private money loans. The small and marginal farmers are not getting from the banks what they should have got. In 2010-11, the agriculture credit was three lakh twenty thousand crore but how much the small and marginal farmers got, this figure you wouldn’t get from banks.
What's your take on the current land acquisition bill?
Fertile land where there is cultivation of multiple crops should not be acquired. Agricultural land should not be used for non-agricultural purposes. Even if in the most exigent conditions, agricultural land should be diverted very sparingly as the land under agriculture is gradually shrinking for various reasons. So, there is a need for legislation to prevent land conversion. And, if it is done, only then it can be prevented. I have not gone through the land acquisition bill. We need land for industrialisation, irrigation projects, thermal and hydel power plants, and infrastructure. But we have to choose between agriculture and non-agriculture land.
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