The need to develop new modern marketing structures, promote agro-processing units, diversification of crops and agricultural research and development does not seem to have attracted the desired attention of our policy planners to prepare our agriculturists for the challenges of global expectations in the WTO regime.
In Punjab, we can ill-afford to ignore our agriculture sector. It is a fact that incomes of Punjab farmers have declined over the years. The farmers get pre-determined prices for most of their produce through MSP which has saturated. As per available information, during the last decade, the price that Punjab farmers received for their agricultural produce increased by about 51% as against the increase of 127% in input costs. Not only this, leaving aside the compulsive value addition to paddy, no value addition is happening to existing crops for the benefit of farmers.
The state has no major agro processing units other than the rice milling plants. As a result, growth of agriculture sector has stagnated at around 1.5% in Punjab. Not many of us realize that the same farmers who produce enough food for us are grossly indebted, suffering from multiple incurable diseases and staring at the severe problem of unemployment of wards and dependents.
Most of the present generation of Punjab farmers are compelled to move out of villages in search of jobs. This has not only resulted in lower economic and living standards but also poor social upbringing. We need to remedy this situation very fast, arrest the deteriorating condition of our farmers and the rural poor through some honest and credible action. It is only then that we can say the country is getting empowered.
I accepted this as a challenge on assuming the office of chief minister. We promised to weed out corruption in public life and started a campaign in this direction. However, it did not take us long to realise that we had grossly underestimated the magnitude and dimensions of the crisis bequeathed to us by our predecessor government. During the last three years, we have taken many credible actions to improve the economic condition of our farmers and the rural poor as also to protect their rights. Our action to protect the water rights of Punjab is one such example.
The other major credible action is to provide full power input subsidy to all farmers of the state. Many economists questioned this decision. Perhaps they need to verify the facts more carefully: input costs of farmers are rising with grossly inadequate increase in output prices.
During the last three and half years, we purchased power worth Rs 3 crore per day to ensure adequate supply of quality power to sustain and increase agriculture production. It is only because of this, and the resultant assured irrigation, that agriculture production increased. I am determined to find and take all possible administrative and legal measures to tackle these issues. It will be sooner than expected that credible action in this regard is visible. Because the poor and sick will not make the country empowered.
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