The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal pampers sons of the soil

New Delhi, Aug. 2: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sowed the seeds of a good election mandate, promising tillers of the soil that his government — under attack for its economic policies — would take more steps for their welfare.

A yellow turban round his head, Vajpayee said the Centre would boost production of pulses, oilseeds and other crops. He also promised to take “some measures” to improve the lot of sugarcane farmers, who have been reeling under the impact of low prices paid by mill owners.

Vajpayee’s assurances came at a meeting of the BJP’s kisan morcha at Talkatora stadium. The function felicitated him for lowering interest rates on crop loans and purchase of farm equipment.

Anxious to please farmers, who are agitated over the government’s World Trade Organisation-inspired economic policies, Vajpayee said he was ready to recommend a one-and-a-half-time increase in support prices of pulses and oilseeds, provided farmers increase production to make the country self-reliant.

The Prime Minister said welfare of farmers has always been on top of his government’s agenda and promised “more steps” to boost the sector. He pointed out that the Centre had provided loans at 9 per cent interest and waived loans in drought-hit areas to lessen the burden on farmers. However, the rain gods have been kind this year, he added.

The promise of sops came with a push for variety as Vajpayee urged farmers to diversify into oil seeds, pulses and horticulture and said his government could back them in their effort with support prices. Moreover, diversification would lead to better utilisation of the land, he added. The gram sadak yojana would help farmers reach their produce speedily to markets, he added.

Vajpayee said the country was spending a huge amount on importing edible oil and farmers could save foreign exchange by producing oil seeds. As for horticulture, he said there is much demand for flowers in Europe during winters, and farmers should use that opportunity to export.

To make his point, the Prime Minister praised farmers for helping the country export Rs 6,000 crore of foodgrain and said this showed they could meet any challenge if they wanted to.

Vajpayee expressed concern over the loss of food grain due to lack of proper storage facilities. He said 25 per cent of farm produce rotted because of this and regretted that though plans were made for effective storage, they have not been implemented well.

He advocated the need for a movement to promote rainwater harvesting and pleaded with farmers to turn to food processing to ensure maximum returns.

BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu, agriculture minister Rajnath Singh and food minister Sharad Yadav also addressed the function and hailed Vajpayee’s initiative in giving farmers a fair deal.

Naidu said he wants the government to either set up a task force or convene a meeting of chief ministers for extending the scope of the crop insurance scheme, now limited to only a few crops.

Heckle threat

Rajput and Brahmin outfits have threatened to heckle Vajpayee when he addresses a BJP rally in Jaipur on August 10 to press for reservations for economically-backward upper castes.

Leaders of the Samajik Nyaya Manch, the Rajasthan Brahmin Mahasabha and the Brahmin Aarakshan Manch said they would disturb the second half of his speech at the conclusion of a statewide yatra by state party chief Vasundhara Raje.

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