Saturday, June 11, 2011

Time for Restructuring State Ministry of Agriculture

TIME FOR RESTRUCTURING AGRICULTURE REGULATORY COORDINATION
B. YERRAM RAJU*

It is heartening to listen to the CM Kiran Kumar Reddy at Bangalore on the State’s prospect of posting a 6.5 percent growth and the State’s economy to leapfrog to 9.5 percent. There is also a goal for the State to reach 300mn tones of food production by the end of the Twelfth Plan. The State needs such optimistic thinking and approach at this critical juncture. But 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 this predicament. In the marketing season, farmers bemoan of lack of space to store, and nobody to deliver the price for their season’s hardship. We just witnessed in most market yards the paddy bags under sheets of water; not enough gunny bags to store; not even enough tarpaulins to store; no storage space in the existing godowns. Chilly farmers got their crop washed out in the untimely rains or burnt in well-designed cold storage warehouse disasters. The tenant farmers’ rejoice at their right for institutional credit through the recently announced ordinance hopefully results in the intended benefits – the only silver lining in this farm season, to site a good beginning. Why are all these happening for 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 60 percent of the population still depends 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 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 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. Planning Commission long back seized to be a coordination agency. It is 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 in 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 that deal with distribution under single Minister 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. These meetings are not transparent and monitorable in terms of the decisions taken and 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 in production and value chain management in agriculture right up to the distribution end and would be in a position to format the decision making process 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 cause the financial arrangements to be put in place. This mechanism would expand the burden of implementation on those who are actually responsible. Transparency, Accountability and Governance would significantly improve.

Whenever the disasters occur, emergency meeting shall be held to take collective decision for 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.

These measures would make a significant departure from each department pulling in different directions making the farmers cry loud both at the beginning and end of the season. The State would also have the pride of taking leadership once it ensures success of this model. The Rythu Chaitanya Yatras, Polam Badi, Atma, AIBP would automatically be integral to the whole effort and extension would be in a position to deliver results to the farmer. This would also help in reducing unnecessary expenditure in multiple delivery points in meaningless directions. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, young and dynamic and sportive as he is, 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 the courage to dispense with three Ministers!!

*The Author is an economist and Member, Expert Committee of Cooperative Banking, Govt of AP. The views are personal. Can be reached at yerramr@gmail.com