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Minister calls for consensus on farm policy

Calcutta, Jan. 17: Agriculture minister Kamal Guha today called for unanimity of views among the constituents of the ruling coalition on the contents of the agriculture policy before the government formally placed its draft for the Cabinet’s approval.

Guha said he had requested chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the need to have such a consensus as differences on the issue might again hold up the policy formulation.

The agriculture minister and leaders of his party, the Forward Bloc, had put up road blocks when the government had earlier tried to frame a policy on the basis of, among others, recommendations from consultants McKinsey.

Guha said McKinsey’s recommendations on the policy should be seen in light of the “economic and political crises in countries where governments had sought and acted upon recommendations from such agencies”.

“We are not against globalisation, but we are most certainly against any move to accept so-called globalisation-induced changes in critical areas like agriculture without trying to learn from the crises plaguing contemporary societies,” said Guha.

The minister, who submitted a new draft of the policy to the chief minister last week, said the papers will be discussed at the meeting of a core committee before it went to the Cabinet.

Bhattacharjee is personally handling the policy formulation this time. Last year, there was controversy over the mention of contract farming in a policy drawn up by the government based on McKinsey recommendations.

Before submitting the draft of the new policy to the chief minister, Guha held several rounds of talks with his party leadership. “Now, the ball is in the chief minister’s court and it is up to him to take a decision,” he said when asked whether the new policy would be thrashed out at a meeting of the Left Front.

Sources in the government said Guha was against any policy that would allow private companies to have control over a farmer’s produce or his land. In fact, the agriculture minister has suggested that his department should control the use and utilisation of agricultural land, they added.

The chief minister, however, had assured earlier that the farmers’ land would not be affected at all by the new policy.

“The agriculture minister has not mentioned anything in his new draft about private companies entering into contract with the farmer. Instead, Guha has said the farmers should be educated in strategies of modern marketing with the help of the panchayats, the agriculture department and other government bodies,” said sources.

Guha will meet finance minister Asim Dasgupta tomorrow on the policy and the need to augment the agriculture department. At Writers’ Buildings, he said the farmers now realise that “traditional farming does not fetch real money” and so they have diversified into cash crops in many areas.

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