Stressing that reforms are necessary for the agriculture sector, Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand on Sunday said the repeal of three farm laws has come as a 'setback' to higher price realisation by cultivators and could be a factor in achieving the goal of doubling farmers' income by 2022.
He also suggested starting fresh consultations with the states for resuming the agriculture reform process, adding some people have already approached Niti Aayog with a call for effecting the reforms.
"You see, reforms are important for the agriculture sector. Some farmers were opposing it (three farm laws)...I think immediately what needs to be done is restarting fresh consultations with the states," the Niti Aayog member, who oversees farm policies at the government think tank, told PTI in an interview.
"Already people are approaching us that reforms are needed. But in what way, in what form, in what shape, that I think we need to wait for some time," he added.
Chand was replying to a question on whether the stalled reforms for India's farm economy will get another push after BJP's victory in four states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur -- in the recently held assembly elections.
Asked if it was possible to double farmers' income by 2022 without implementation of the three agriculture laws, he said reforms were needed to enable cultivators to get better prices, so if reforms are not happening, certainly that is a setback for higher price realisation by the farmers.
" So upto that extent there will be a setback to that goal (doubling farmers' income by 2022)," he opined.
The Narendra Modi-led NDA government has set a target of doubling farmers' income by 2022.
The Centre on December 1, 2021 notified a legislation to repeal the three agriculture laws against which thousands of farmers had protested for over a year.
These three farm laws were -- Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
To a question on the agriculture sector's growth, he said it will be around 3 per cent in the 2021-22 financial year.
Chand added that he expects farm sector growth to improve in the current financial year if monsoon and other conditions remain favourable and do not turn adverse.
Replying to a question on high inflation, the eminent agriculture economist said it is always a matter of concern for the government.
"The government takes various measures that if there is inflation because of genuine shortages, we try to increase import of pulses of edible oils.
"But in the case of rise in vegetables, seasonal factor also plays a very very important role and prospects of import of vegetables is almost ruled out," he explained.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has raised the retail inflation projection for the current financial year to 5.7 per cent from earlier forecast of 4.5 per cent.
Retail inflation hit an eight-month high of 6.07 per cent in February, remaining above the RBI's comfort level for the second month in a row, while wholesale price-based inflation soared to 13.11 per cent on account of the hardening of crude oil and non-food item prices.
Chand also flagged the impact of global factors on rising prices of various commodities in the domestic market.
"So now when price of fertilizer is increasing, price of diesel is increasing, that means the price of transport will also be increasing, cost of production will also be increasing," he noted.
The Niti Aayog member asserted that the government is trying to moderate the effect of these global factors.
Giving an example, he said increase in price of Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertiliser was absorbed to a large extent by the government.
"And in the case of urea, the government is absorbing entire increase in prices, but still some some increase is going to happen," he said, adding it is because of transmission of global factors.
On some experts' criticism that India's thirst for palm oil may create issues related to environment and food security, Chand said gone are the days when food security was equated only with rice and wheat.
Noting that the government is now talking of a comprehensive policy of food security, he said, "There can be threat to food security if we are not having reasonable kind of reliance in the case of edible oil."
Last year, the government had approved the National Mission on Edible Oils - Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) with a financial outlay of Rs 11,040 crore to promote domestic cultivation of palm oil.
According to Chand, under the scheme, the emphasis is on palm oil plantations in northeast India, adding that comparisons with Malaysia are misplaced.
He pointed out that Malaysia cleared the forests and then started cultivation there, which obviously will have ecological implications.
"But that is not case with our initiative on oil palm. It will have positive effect because in some parts of northeast, where Jhum cultivation (shifting agriculture) is happening, which is damaging for the ecology, that will be replaced by a settled cultivation," Chand observed.
He asserted that there will not be any threat to food security due to the government's initiative to promote domestic cultivation of palm oil. Rather, it will improve food security.
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