Time for Restructuring Agriculture Regulatory Co-ordination in India
By Yerram Raju*
The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (AP), Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy recently expressed hope that AP would record 6.5 % growth and the State’s economy would leapfrog by 9.5 percent during the Twelfth Plan. The State also expects to reach the target of 30 Million tonnes in food production.
The State needs such optimistic thinking and approach at this critical juncture. When one looks at the serpentine queues of the farmers for the seeds of any crop right at the sowing time, poor management of the farm sector stares at us. This is not the first year that the State has experienced this predicament.
In the marketing season, farmers bemoan of lack of space for storage, and there is nobody to deliver the price for their season’s hardship. We have witnessed that in most market yards the paddy bags are stored under tarpaulin sheets where they get damaged by rain and rodents. Also there is not enough gunny bags to store; not even enough tarpaulins to store; no storage space in the existing go-downs. This year, chilly farmers got their crop washed out in untimely rains or burnt in well-designed cold storage warehouse disasters.
Why has all this been happening since the last few decades ? Why should farmers take to streets to fight for their basic production rights? Are there no remedies ? Do these questions not beg of us to look at the fundamentals of administrative architecture of this most important sector on which more that 60 percent of the population still depends on for their livelihood ?
Like nowhere else in the world, farm and allied sectors are looked after by at least fourteen ministries and a host of organizations which are heavily bureaucratized : Ministry of Agriculture; Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, Fisheries; Ministry of Major and Medium Irrigation; Ministry of Cooperation; Ministry of Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation; Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Food & Civil Supplies; Ministry of Marketing & Warehousing – at the State level and Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Food Processing; Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Forests & Environment; Ministry of Commerce and Trade; Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies at the Central Government level.
There is State Planning Board and the Union Planning Commission at the helm to decide on the many issues that concern all these ministries. Each Ministry has its regulatory strings to apply on the farmer because each is an empire unto itself and there is no coordination among them at the beginning of the agriculture season. The Planning Commission ceased to be a coordination agency long ago. It is now content with preparing grandiose plans and allocating limited resources through discussions at the National Development Council. Exigencies of politics predominate over economic necessities.
In Agrarian States like Andhra Pradesh, a beginning could be made by reorganizing the ministries to start with and bringing the departments of agriculture, horticulture and allied activities like animal husbandry, fisheries that deal with production, cooperation, marketing and civil supplies under a single Ministry who should have full comprehension and empathy for the farmers.
The orgnisational structure could be as follows:
This would mean that the number of ministries at the State level would be reduced to one from the existing four. At the beginning of the season, all the above functionaries would have a meeting with all the functionaries in the chart for a day or two – even now the Commissioner of Agriculture is holding a coordination meeting with the NABARD, financing institutions and cooperative banks and his department officials at the beginning of Kharif and Rabi season.
These meetings are not transparent and one cannot monitor the decisions taken. Also the officials concerned are not accountable for any lapses or shortfalls. In the above coordination meeting, the Minister presiding and the Agriculture Production Commissioner who is of the rank of Additional Chief Secretary, is expected to be fully informed of all the links in the supply chain, production chain and value chain management in agriculture right up to the distribution end and he would then be in a position to make decisions depending upon the various issues that come up for discussion.
The Minister can also invite the principal secretary (Energy) and Principal Secretary (Information Technology) for the half-yearly meetings to take into consideration the issues and facilitation that could come from them to the farmers during and off the season. Principal Secretary (Agriculture) should be the Member-secretary for this coordination panel. He would draft the minutes within the next twenty-four hours and arrange for issuance of appropriate instructions for all these line departments to follow implicitly and the concerned departmental heads would be squarely responsible for any and all lapses in implementing them.
During the week that follows, the State Level Bankers’ Committee should be convened to assess the financial arrangements that will need to be put in place. This mechanism would expand the burden of implementation on those who are actually responsible. Transparency, Accountability and Governance would also improve significantly.
Whenever natural disasters take place, an emergency meeting shall be held to take a collective decision for the coordinated implementation at the field level through the District Collectors. The Minister for Revenue would coordinate with the Minister for Agriculture in situations of natural calamities and other disasters.
Agriculture Budget : Further, the State like its immediate neighbour, Karnataka should put up Annual Agriculture Budget every year preceded by presentation of Agriculture Survey of the State done by the Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Horticulture Universities.
The Agriculture Budget would specify the direction of expenditure into subsidies. It should also focus on distribution and revenues that come from marketing cess and other sources. The farmers should be fully informed by the end of February every year, on what the State intends to do. Karnataka State has already started presenting a separate annual Agri budget though it is yet to take such an integrated view.
The State would also have the pride of taking leadership once it ensures the success of this model. The Rythu Chaitanya Yatras, Polam Badi, Atma, AIBP would automatically be integral to the whole effort. This would also help in reducing unnecessary expenditure in multiple delivery points in meaningless directions.
Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy is young, dynamic and supportive, he would be able to lap up electoral benefits from the largest voting constituency, viz., the farmers and could also win the hearts of the Opposition. What matters of course is, whether he has the courage to dispense with three Ministries !
* The Author is an economist and Member, Expert Committee of Cooperative Banking, Govt of AP. The views expressed here are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.