There is talk in Delhi's corridors of power of a likely cabinet reshuffle. Narendra Modi’s government came to power on the back of the rural and middle class India voting in its favour. Unfortunately, very little has been done for farmers as the crucial portfolio of Agriculture and Food Supplies is led by Ministers who are not interested in performance.
Radha Mohan Singh, the Agriculture Minister, has not been able to get a handle on his ministry and it is still run by the babus in a manner that they want. There has been no change in the functioning of the Ministry and it has squandered the mandate given to the government. BJP in is manifesto had promised several things to the farmers including the formation of a farmers market. That would allow farmers to bring their produce to urban areas and sell directly to consumers. While this was an easy thing to do as it is a well-laid out practice in most countries, nothing has been done till date on it.
Even in terms of changing cropping patterns to promote the cultivation of pulses, nothing has been done. There is a shortfall of almost 5 million tonnes between supply and demand for pulses and it has been growing rapidly every year. The problem is not new and the solution is discussed ad-nauseum within the agricultural policy circles. The lack of procurement initiative for pulses and the huge focus on the procurement of wheat and rice means that farmers across the country have stopped cultivating pulses.
The yield on the traditional seeds of pulses is also poor. Disease and drought resistant seeds of pulses is still a dream for farmers. The farmer is not assured of yield or price hence has moved towards wheat and rice even in areas where the water table is low, leading to problems of deterioration of ground water in several districts of the country. Farming experts have been asking for a change in government practices on wheat and rice for more than a decade now. This is not something that BJP as a party is unaware about as it had the most robust manifesto for agriculture. But there is no interest in the Minister or the ministry to kick-start this long term reform.
His colleague in Food and Supply Ministry Ram Vilas Paswan, is no better. The shortage of pulses is a historical reality but the supply ministry never plans for stocks in advance has no strategy for buying pulses. It is always a knee-jerk reaction to the rise in prices that it opens up tenders for pulses. Every importer knows and can time when the Ministry will rush in for the tenders. Even global traders know the lack of planning in Indian government approach towards buying pulses. The tenders are opened when the prices are the highest and global and domestic importers benefit from this.
Paswan has done nothing on the Food Corporation of India front too, as an organization it is struggling and has become a den of corruption. As a logistic infrastructure in the food industry it is the most crucial piece of the puzzle to keep consumer prices in check. But nothing has been done on the FCI front. A committee for revamping FCI came out with a report with bizarre suggestions of stopping procurement per-se in several states. More on this committee report here. Instead of suggesting how a pulses revolution could be ushered in through better procurement prices.
The non-performance of the Agriculture Minister and Food Supply Minister is the reason inflation is not coming in control. Something that Finance Ministry is trying to address through monetary control. But the real inflation control solution lies in long term solution on supply. If Modi government wants to address the real economy, better set of Ministers need to head these two Ministries. Maybe just one Minister as splitting these two Ministries does not make sense.
The author is a Delhi-based policy commentator who tweets @yatishrajawat