Pawar hints at announcement of package for farmers

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New Delhi, Feb 4 (UNI) Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today hinted at announcement of a package for farmers, possibly in the coming Budget, to salvage the deteriorating condition of the agriculture sector, resulting in growing incidence of farmers' suicides and to save the country from a potential food crisis.

In an interview to CNBC, Mr Pawar said the package proposed by his ministry had already been discussed at a high-level meeting attended by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and the Reserve Bank Governor, officials from Nabard and other departments concerned. But he did not spell out the specifics and said, ''My proposed package may be accepted.'' Mr Pawar did not confirm that the package would carry loan waiver for at least small and marginal farmers but added indebtedness of farmers had been the major cause of suicides by them. He pointed out that charging of exorbitant rates of interest to the tune of 40 per cent by private money lenders had put small and marginal farmers under duress.

On shortage of foodgrains, particularly wheat, Mr Pawar said ''No country in the world could produce all the crops it needed and it has to import one commodity or the other.'' But he hastened to add that wheat production in Punjab, Haryana and West Uttar Pradesh was ''quite satisfactory'' even as efforts were underway to increase productivity in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar and some other areas.

He expressed the hope that with improved seeds and other related technology, the country might be able to meet the growing domestic demand of wheat as even people in southern states are now choosing wheat as their staple diet.

Mr Pawar said the coming wheat crop might cross 75 million tonne mark and ''we need not to go in for imports''.

''Wheat imports last year went up to 5.5 lakh tonne because the government failed to procure the required wheat in 2005-06 which was improved to 11 million tonne the next year in 2006-07. This year 1.2 lakh tonnes of wheat has been imported,'' he said.

He denied allegations that the government failed to import wheat at low price last year and then went in for paying a higher price later. In fact, he said, the price of wheat shot up in the international market which ''even the UN Grain Council'' had not anticipated.

Referring to laggard growth in the agriculture sector, Mr Pawar said the required investment was not made in the farming sector but now the UPA government was trying to rectify the situation.

UNI JSS YA RN1904

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