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India's Agriculture Minister Fiddles, While
The Country Faces The Heat On Food Prices

By Devinder Sharma

30 January, 2010
Devinder Sharma Blog

The media has finally woken up to the gross incompetence of the Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar that has led Indian agriculture into a mess. So far, the nation had remained oblivious to the games Sharad Pawar had been playing to corporatise farming, and facilitate interests of big business, including sugar industry and the GM industry. Agriculture remains outside the purview of the national focus, and therefore escapes public scrutiny. But the stupendous rise in food prices, continuing for more than a year now, has brought the attention of the nation on Sharad Pawar.

I have throughout maintained that the food prices are on an upswing because the Ministry for Food and Agriculture wants the prices to rise. There is no other reason why the prices should go up. At the same time, if it was not for the compulsions of the coalition politics, I am sure any strong government would have removed the Food and Agriculture minister by now.

Anyway, this editorial in the Deccan Herald today speaks of the games Sharad Pawar has been playing. I sometime wonder how and why is the nation tolerating a minister who has failed to measure upto the expectations.

Pawar's games

"The minister has tended to forget his responsibilities"

Union food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has again created an awkward situation for the UPA government by predicting that milk prices will soon be increased. As if on cue from the top, prices in Maharashtra are set to be hiked. It is not for the first time that Pawar’s avoidable remarks have given a boost to prices. He had recently said that sugar prices will remain high in the country in the foreseeable future. Sugar prices were already on fire and the minister’s comment reassured the hoarders and blackmarkeers that the government was not expecting the prices to come down. That could have only given them more confidence. Pawar has unfortunately tended to forget that his responsibility is to see that the prices of essential items do not go beyond the reach of common people. When the prices of all food items are increasing, here is a minister who is almost talking up the prices.

The comment rightly invited immediate criticism from chief ministers like Mayawati and Nitish Kumar, and opposition parties. Even the UPA found it difficult to defend the minister and the best defence the Congress could make was to state that he should find a solution if there was a problem. Pawar’s recent performance as a minister has not reflected his long political experience and reputation as an administrator. He may be losing the political touch, instincts may be failing with age, or time, energy and attention may be getting diverted. There has also been criticism that big lobbies and vested interests thrived in his shadow. Businesses like sugar represent such interests. Whether caused by intentional mischief, incompetence or indiscretion, Pawar’s conduct has not helped the cause of the government.

Milk prices have increased by over 10 per cent in the last one year. When the minister suggests that there is scope for further increase because of falling supply and rising demand, that is a signal for producers to think of better prices, justified or not. That cannot be taken as good management of the price situation. Even when the general price situation was deteriorating, Pawar was blaming the state governments for the situation. It is easy to find scapegoats and excuses but claims that do not carry conviction and blaming others for one’s own faults can best be avoided. It is unfortunate that an important ministry is so mishandled by a person who once wanted to be the country’s prime minister.

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