Lockdown: Agri sector running smoothly, to be less impacted unlike other segments, says govt

New Delhi, Apr 29 (PTI) The government has pinned its hope on the farm sector to keep the economy running amid the COVID-19 stress, saying the agrarian industry is functioning 'smoothly' and would be less impacted unlike manufacturing and services.

Lauding farm workers working tirelessly for ensuring the country's food security even during the current crisis, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said many of the rabi (winter-sown) crops have been harvested taking safety precautions, and procurement of some crops such as wheat, rice, pulses and oilseeds at minimum support price (MSP) is underway.

Farmers have started sowing rain-dependent kharif (summer) crops like rice, and the acreage has gone up to 57.07 lakh hectares so far this year from 41.31 lakh hectares a year ago, he said adding that there has been no shortage of foodgrains, vegetables and dairy products in the country.

Farmers are getting better rates in mandis, Tomar claimed.

Stating that many other sectors are hit due to the lockdown, the minister said, however, 'the agriculture sector will not be impacted much'.

The government has taken several measures to ensure smooth operations of the agriculture sector and exempted farm activities from the lockdown rules, he added.

Government think-tank Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand asserted that at a time when 60 per cent of the Indian economy is closed and not working due to the lockdown, the agri sector alone will play a key role in giving normal growth to the Indian economy.

'Our estimates are that agriculture this year will have at least 3 per cent growth rate, which is a long-term growth rate of Indian agriculture despite prevailing adverse circumstances,' he said.

The farm sector growth stood at 3.7 per cent during the 2019-20 fiscal, he said and pointed, 'If you look at the growth rate in current prices, then that growth rate comes to be 11.3 per cent, which is 60 per cent more than the growth of the non-agricultural sector.' Asserting that the agriculture sector will come to the rescue of the Indian economy amid 'depressing' forecasts by many agencies including the IMF, the Niti Aayog member said it is because the support of agriculture is so strong, the share of agriculture in the GDP is 17 per cent. This is higher than even manufacturing, he said.

'In the case of agriculture, things are happening. And with that kind of growth, you find agriculture alone to give something more than 0.5 per cent to a little more growth rate to Indian economy,' he said.

In an otherwise gloomy picture due to the environment prevailing in India and across the globe, the agriculture sector will 'rise to the occasion and play a role in giving a normal growth to Indian economy' in this difficult and distressing time, he added.

Drawing attention to various indicators, Chand said forecast of normal southwest monsoon, 40-60 per cent increase in water level in reservoirs in first quarter of this fiscal for kharif crops, uptake in sale of fertilisers and seeds and better price for farm produce in mandis will encourage farmers to invest more.

'Farmers invest more when prices and terms of trade are favourable. One can expect better growth,' he explained.

'All those stories and forecasts that Indian economy is going to shrink, I think that will not hold mainly because support for agriculture is strong,' he added.

Chand also mentioned that gloomy economic forecasts by some agencies including IMF is causing serious worries among politicians, decision makers and ordinary citizens about the future of the Indian economy, jobs and food security.

Highlighting measures taken to ensure farmers not affected during the lockdown period, the government said it has disbursed the first installment of Rs 2,000 to 8.13 crore beneficiaries in the first fortnight of April itself under the PM-KISAN scheme.

Under PM-KISAN, the government gives Rs 6,000 per annum in three equal installments directly into the bank accounts of farmers.

That apart, the government has launched 'Kisan Rath' mobile app to help farmers find transportation for movement of farm produce to mandis.

All India Agri Transport call centre has also been put in place to resolve inter-state movement of farm produce and Kisan Rail was started on 67 routes for supplying essential commodities at fast speed.

The government also said new features have been added to the electronic National Agriculture Market (eNAM) to encourage farmers to trade online during this lockdown. It also said it plans to connect 1,000 mandis to eNAM by May-end, taking total to 1,585 mandis. PTI LUX MKJ MKJ MKJ