‘Boosting organic farming vital for cutting fertiliser subsidy’

A. M. Jigeesh

I think some kind of a taxation policy should be there to encourage the garment industry, so that it can compete in the international market. DIGVIJAYA SINGH, GENERAL SECRETARY, INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS

With the formalisation of Rahul Gandhi’s number-two position in the Congress party, his “guru” in politics and Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh’s stake is also high. Singh, who recently chaired discussions on “socio-economic challenges” in the party’sChintan Shivir in Jaipur, talked to Business Line on the recent policy decisions of the United Progressive Alliance Government. Excerpts:

How did party workers in the Chintan Shivir respond to measures such as FDI in retail and virtual decontrol of diesel prices?

India has one of the lowest tax-GDP ratios in the world. How this can be improved without hitting the poor is a challenge before us. Look at Azim Premji’s recent statement that there is a case for taxing the ultra rich. If the ultra rich can be taxed without hurting investment, it should be considered by the Government.

Measures like the Goods and Services Tax is a promise we have made and this would not only help the trade and industry but also the Union and State Governments to improve their tax-GDP ratio.

FDI by itself can create hundreds and thousands of jobs in retail and the Government has rightly made it mandatory on all investors to source 30 per cent of their products within India, which, I think, is a very good decision.

The UPA-II’s last Budget will be presented soon. What are your expectations?

I think we should look at two or three issues. For example, the garment industry has the highest employability. Unfortunately, the taxation introduced last year has made it difficult for them to compete with countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Korea and China. I think some kind of a taxation policy should be there to encourage the garment industry so that it can compete in the international market.

Also, 60 per cent of the people are dependent on agriculture and farm-related employment. We cannot ignore them. We have to improve productivity. Simple farming is not viable. The Government will have to look at non-farm employment in rural areas.

There is also a suggestion that small and marginal farmers should be paid under the MGNREGA to work on their own farm lands, which may be a good idea. We will be happy if these things get reflected in the next Budget.

Despite measures like waiving loans, farmer suicides are continuing. About 16 farmers committed suicide in Vidarbha this month. Do you expect urgent measures to address this problem?

Why are the farmers committing suicide? One reason is that they make big investments in digging tube-wells and because of no efforts for recharging of groundwater resources, these wells go dry and the investment made goes waste.

Most of the suicides are taking place in cotton-growing areas. Bt Cotton has done well in certain areas. Total dependence on the genetically modified seeds, particularly in States where not enough attention has been paid to monitor them, is another reason for suicides. The high cost of chemical pesticides is another issue. I have not seen any farmer doing organic farming committing suicide. If we use organic manure, organic pesticide and indigenous seeds, there is no investment.

Most of the suicides that are taking place may also be because of the wrong cropping pattern. I think we should look at the prospect of making organic farming more popular.

Instead of complaining about the high cost of petroleum products, petroleum-based urea and GM seeds, India should be looking at improving indigenous seeds and promoting organic farming along with popularising biogas.

We have to think globally, but act locally. How best we can use international research under local conditions is our biggest challenge. If the Government supports this, it will reduce energy and fertiliser subsidies.

In your home State, Madhya Pradesh, the BJP Government will face elections this year on the back of increased foodgrains production and better remuneration to farmers. How will you counter this campaign?

This is incorrect. My charge is that the higher agriculture production that is being shown is based on the minimum support price (MSP) operation for paddy and wheat. Most of this wheat and paddy is the recycling of the PDS (ration) wheat and rice. There have been a number of cases, one in my own constituency, where people who did not have land, 400 quintals of wheat was purchased in their name in the MSP operation. I am not sure that the growth in agriculture that they (BJP) are showing is correct. The point is, it has to be visible on the ground. One should look at mandi arrivals… It is not showing there.

 (Source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/economy/boosting-organic-farming-vital-for-cutting-fertiliser-subsidy/article4354141.ece?homepage=true&ref=wl_home)