Despite producing bumper crop, Modi governmemt has allowed duty-free import of wheat. This has left red faces in the Union Agriculture Ministry. According to an Indian Express report, in its last estimate, released on August 2, Krishi Bhawan had pegged the output at 93.50 million tonnes (mt), up from 86.53 mt in 2014-15. This was despite government agencies procuring only 22.96 mt of wheat in the last rabi marketing season (April-June), as against 28.08 mt from the previous year’s crop. On June 17, the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) issued a notification continuing with the 25 per cent duty “beyond 30.06.2016 and without an end date” but in the latest CBEC notification, dated December 8, imports have been made totally duty-free — and that, too, “without an end date”. This decision has come even as the Agriculture Ministry has reported higher wheat sowings this year.
“We have no role in the decision (to permit zero duty imports). The Consumer Affairs and Food, Commerce and Finance ministries are the ones that have pushed it, saying this was necessary because of domestic prices flaring up”, a top Agriculture Ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, told The Indian Express. “Our focus is production and farmers. The other ministries, especially Consumer Affairs and Food, are more concerned about rising market prices. They feel imports are required, especially given low government wheat stocks that may encourage hoarding and speculation”, the official added.
This decision may also be used by the Opposition to portray the ruling BJP-led alliance as “anti-farmer”: Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, both going to polls early next year, also happen to be the country’s top two wheat-producing states.