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Infested croplands, ailing agriculture

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  16 Sep 2016 12:00 AM GMT

When the assembly elections in Assam this year catapulted the BJP to Dispur to lead an alliance government, there was much exultation in its tiol leadership. It was then perceived that the Assam win had put the saffron juggerut back on track after the thrashings in Delhi and Bihar last year. Having bagged Assam, the BJP is now eyeing Manipur to further expand its footprint in the Northeast. But the completion of 100 days of BJP-led government in Assam gives no sign that the Centre’s neglect for this State will end any time soon. The Sarbanda Sonowal government now stands as immobilized by the unrelenting fund squeeze as its Congress predecessor. On the campaign trail, the BJP led by its mascot Prime Minister Modi had used the issue of non-submission of fund utilization certificates (UCs) to beat the Tarun Gogoi-led government with. Having won the electoral battle here, the BJP-led government at the Centre is now using that same UC argument to hold its counterpart in Dispur to account and justify its tight hold on the purse-strings. The suspicion grows stronger that the Modi government with its limited finces has other priorities than Assam, so non-submission of UCs has become its handy excuse. After all, why should it hold the BJP-led government in Assam by the scruff of its neck for the omissions and commissions of the previous Congress regime? Having laid down strict rules to observe fiscal discipline and plug leakages, the Modi government could have helped the new Assam government on to its feet with an appropriate package. Let us remember that like Assam, Andhra Pradesh too has lost special category status. But BJP ally Telugu Desam’s supremo N Chandrababu idu raised a hue and cry and maged to wrest from the Centre a very generous special assistance package.

If Assam is to leverage its agrarian base to chart a route to development, how the Centre helps out should be keenly watched here. It remains to be seen whether the Modi government at least delivers on a few of its plethora of promises made to the electorate here. But when State Agriculture minister Atul Bora flew off to the capital to meet his Central counterpart Radha Mohan Singh, the same issue of non-submission of UCs by the previous Congress government took centre-stage. Bora later said he received ‘assurance of additiol Central funds’ after the UC process is completed. He also had to request Singh to release 75 percent instead of 50 percent of the first installment of Central funds in the current fiscal earmarked for various agricultural schemes. This apart, the State Agriculture minister also pushed for changing the contribution pattern of premium support for the PM’s crop insurance scheme, which presently stands at 50:50 ratio between the Centre and the state, to 90:10 for Assam. He also requested that the Assam Agricultural University be upgraded to central varsity status considering its vital role, as well as Animal Husbandry and Horticulture universities for the State. Another request was to raise the number of FCI’s paddy procurement centers in Assam from 9 to 30. Bora has rued that despite Assam being an agrarian state where half its workforce is engaged in agriculture and three-fourth of its population depend upon it, the average annual rate of farm growth in the State is a mere 4.5 percent.

The State Agriculture minister has also asked for Central support to compensate farmers reeling from pest attack in as many as 22 districts. Will the Centre proffer a helping hand, or will it make more appropriate noises? The caterpillar attack playing havoc in paddy fields across Assam is illustrative of the malaise that has long beset farming in this State. Agricultural experts are now saying that farmers here no longer take proper care of their croplands, thereby opening the door to various infestations. Earlier, they used to tend to raised alleys and margins around croplands by applying layers of mud, which killed off the caterpillars within their cocoons, while the others were eaten by birds. But nowadays without allowing their fields to thoroughly dry out under the sun, farmers quickly work over their lands with power tillers and tractors to plant their crops. So the land remains moist and unprepared before planting, allowing parasites and pests to begin their mischief even as the seedlings germite. This is a plausible observation, but we need to ask why farmers are hurriedly cutting corners to grow their crops. Lacking institutiol support to buy inputs like quality seeds and fertilizer, having no irrigation facilities or insurance cover, begging for minimum support prices, hit repeatedly by floods every year — is it any wonder that they have little time or patience for safe agricultural practices? The rot begins at the very top in the State Agriculture department, which the BJP-led dispensation needs to root out forthwith. And the NDA government at the Centre should walk its talk on Assam if it at all wishes to retain any credibility here.

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