Even as the Congress flagship scheme of rice at Rs 1 per kg is set to roll out in 15 days, party Young Turk and Rahul Gandhi acolyte Krishna Byregowda has suggested a rethink on whether such doles and subsidies are necessary.
The government is also in the midst of preparing the state budget, which is likely to be full of populist schemes as a run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
But Gowda told Express: “I don't see why we need to keep on giving doles. They do not serve any purpose in the contemporary situation and only give us political mileage. I would much rather empower the farmer and create required infrastructure to ensure that farming is viable.”
Gowda, as Minister of State for Agriculture, is in the unenviable position of having to defend the rice at Rs 1 scheme, which is likely to further reduce the availability of farm labour. Like Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Krishna points out that the other Congress flagship, MGNREGS, has led to agricultural labour opting for other work at higher wages. This has led to an increase in the cost of farming.
“I fear that all such schemes are likely to impact the cost of agriculture. The recent census has indicated that 8.6 million farmers have given up agriculture in the last decade. The wages for farm labour have increased enormously and even in places like Raichur, we are not able to get farm labour for anything less than Rs 200 a day,” he said.
The Agriculture Department is planning to counter the labour shortage through increased mechanisation and efforts to increase the yield per acre of all crops.
According to them, India produces less than 50 per cent of the yield per acre in other developing countries like Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.
“We are aiming to use available technologies and improve the yield per acre in Karnataka. This will put more money in the hands of the farmers and stave off any fears of food security in the wake of shrinking farmland and high labour costs,” he explained.
The department is looking to increase the yield across crops by using all possible methods, including drought proof seeds and better farm practices.
“It is a long term plan and will not happen overnight. But this is the area where we should focus our energies and provide better marketing infrastructure for the farming sector, rather than give them more doles,” he contended.