This is a letter written by Dr Krishan Bir Chaudhary, to the ruling UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, protesting against unilateral opening up for imports, in midst of surplus farm production in the country. Dr Chaudhary also expressed his concern over GEAC approving new BT COTTON hybrids without considering cases of reported failure of BT COTTON already under cultivation :-
31st May, 2006
Respected Smt. Sonia Ji,
I would like to bring to your kind notice that certain policies of the UPA government which are likely to spell disaster for the Congress Party in the near future, if immediate mid-course correction is not taken up.
Congress Party is the major party in the ruling UPA coalition and any mistake committed by any of the coalition partner will reflect upon the image of the Congress Party. I, therefore, request you to urgently intervene as chairperson of the UPA coalition to prevent the government from proceeding with its anti-farmer policies and agenda.
Madam, unfortunately the food and agriculture ministries are now being handled by a leader of NCP, who has least interest in preserving the farmer-friendly image of the Congress Party.
The farmers of the country have expressed grave concern over the government's policy of encouraging imports of several agro commodities. The agriculture minister, Shri Sharad Pawar in consultation with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has planned to import 3.5 million tonne wheat, despite a good harvest of 73.06 million tonne wheat. Only to justify imports the government recently scaled down its wheat production estimate to 71.54 million tonne. There was no reports of damage to wheat crop in the current season due to adverse weather conditions. Rather the area under wheat crop has increased by 400,000 hectare as against that in the previous year.
Even the government's revised estimate of 71.54 million tonne is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the country
The only problem is that the government's wheat stock is low. This is due to the deliberate action of the government and not due to the fault of the farmers who have worked hard to increase the production. The government has deliberately kept the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat low at Rs 7000 a tonne and allowed the corporate houses and multinationals to directly purchase wheat from farmers. The corporate houses and multinationals are purchasing wheat at prices about Rs 8500 a tonne, more than the MSP. The reason for low purchase by government agencies is clear - The MSP for wheat is low. The farmers in Pakistan are paid Rs 8400 a tonne which is more than the MSP of Rs. 7000 a tonne In India. (This figure is arrived at after considering the currency equivalence of both the countries). The cost of wheat production in India is higher than that in Pakistan. Therefore, the government should take immediate steps to raise the MSP for wheat to a substantially reasonable level
The involvement of the private sector in marketing and stocking of wheat and other agro produces are causing grave concern. The corporate houses and multinationals are stock piling huge quantities of wheat and other agro commodities and thereby creating a situation of "artificial shortage" and consequent rise in prices. There is an urgent need to re-impose stockholding limit to curb the manipulative practices.
Government is purchasing 500,000 tonne of wheat from the scam-tainted AWB Ltd of Australia at $ 178.75 a tonne on CIF basis, when the same exporter had recently sold wheat at $ 131 a tonne on FoB basis. The difference between CIF and FoB should not be more than $ 15 a tonne. AWB Ltd has now quoted a price of $ 200 a tonne for supply of additional quantity of wheat. AWB Ltd is already accused of paying $ 300 million to Saddam regime in Iraq for supply of wheat and the matter is being investigated by the Cole Commission in Australia. AWB Ltd is also accused of paying similar kickbacks to the I.K. Gujral government for supply of wheat in 1998. It is clear that such imports are being designed to fill the pockets of unscrupulous agents, The farmers of the country stand to no benefit. They are the worst loser in the process
The government is paying hefty prices for importing wheat, but is reluctant to pay the farmers the rational remunerative prices. The government says that wheat imports through the southern ports would save transportation costs. This agrument is totally misplaced. The land cost of imported wheat alongwith the handling and transportation costs will add up to no less than Rs 11,500 a tonne. Rather transporting wheat from the wheat producing northern states down to southern states through Railways would be much cheaper. It would also increase the earnings of the Railways, which is a government agency.
As per reports, government has recently planned to import sugar at a reduced duty of 20% and by instituting tariff rate quota (TRQ) regime. There is no shortage of sugar in the country and the government's deliberate policy of opening up for easy imports will spell a doom for farmers. It would jeopardise our negotiations at WTO as we are opening up for imports under TRQ regime without asking for any corresponding benefits for our farm sector.
Lastly the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is going on approving a number of Bt cotton hybrids, despite reported cases of failure of Bt cotton already under cultivation. The farmers have suffered huge losses due to failure of Bt cotton and thousands of farmers under the banner of Bharat Krishak Samaj recently burnt stacks of Bt cotton in Amravati in Maharashtra. Therefore, there should be a moratorium on the release of Bt cotton for cultivation.
The GEAC is also planning to release transgenic food crops like brinjal, potato and mustard. This may have serious consequence to human health and environment. We urge that transgenic foods should not be commercialised, in view of reported cases of health hazards in different parts of the globe.
(Krishan Bir Chaudhary)
Smt. Sonia Gandhi,
10-Janpath, New Delhi.