Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has refuted industry association Assocham's estimates of crop damage due to recent rains and hailstorm, saying the figures were factually incorrect and were aimed at forcing government to cut import duty.
In a strongly worded statement, Singh rejected Assocham study that estimated crop damage of 13 million tonnes, saying the unseasonal rains had caused some damage to wheat crop in some parts of the country, but production would still be higher by 7% at around 92-93 million tonnes.
The Assocham study, he said, was "factually incorrect" and was released to "compel government to reduce import duty on wheat", which is currently at 25%."The recent untimely rains and hailstorm in some parts of the country have caused some damage but, as per present assessment, production of wheat in the country would still be around 92-93 million tonnes which is substantially higher than the wheat production of 86.53 million tonnes during 2014-15," he said in a statement.
In the second advance estimate, the ministry has pegged wheat output at 93.82 million tonnes in 2015-16 crop year (July-June). Wheat harvesting has already started in some states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
"..news report of ASSOCHAM stating that wheat production in the country this year is likely to be lower by 1.5 crore tonne is factually incorrect," he added.
Singh said: "At this juncture, such incorrect information is being publicised with a view to compel government to reduce import duty on wheat." On Friday, Assocham had said that rains, hailstorms may cause 13 million tonnes (1.3 crore tonnes) damage to wheat output, forcing government to go for imports. It had also demanded cut in wheat import duty.
"Lower import duty on wheat would lead to a fall in wheat price in the domestic market and farmers will incur heavy loss while traders will purchase from farmers at lowered price," the minister said. Singh said the government is keeping a close watch on prices, particularly prices of food items and would make all efforts to keep food prices under control.
The minister said that global wheat prices have been subdued during the last one year. In order to protect the interests of farmers, the government imposed 25% import duty on wheat. Assocham did not reply to e-mail queries in this regard.
Singh said as against the buffer norm of 7.6 million tonnes as on April 1, the present stock of wheat in the central pool is 13.5 million tonne. With a target of 30.5 million tonne, FCI has already started wheat procurement.
During the last one year, FCI has sold 7 million tonnes of wheat through open market operations. "For the past some time, the market response to the tenders floated by FCI has been weak which implies that there is no shortage of wheat in the country at present," Singh added.