The Telegraph
Tuesday , June 17 , 2014
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Rice target raised amid success doubt

Calcutta, June 16: The Bengal government has set a target to produce 156 lakh tonnes of rice in the current fiscal, a jump of 6 lakh tonnes from the present annual average production that officials said could be difficult to achieve.

Agriculture minister Arup Roy, who presented the agriculture budget today, said the target was set keeping in mind the increasing demand for rice that is projected to reach 170 lakh tonnes by 2016-17.

Asked if the target would be achieved easily, the minister said: “We have taken several initiatives like giving financial assistance to small and marginal farmers, aid for electrification of pump sets, promotion of farm mechanisationů. We are sure all these will help us achieve the target.”

But officials in the agriculture department said the measures mentioned by Roy were nothing new and had failed to increase the state’s rice production over the past two years.

“In 2011-12, the annual production was 146 lakh tonnes and the figure was 150 lakh tonnes in 2012-13. It has been projected that rice production would be around 149 lakh tonnes in 2013-14. It is clear that we have not gone past the state’s average annual production, which is estimated at 150 lakh tonnes,” said a senior agriculture department official.

The officials feared the situation was “alarming” because Bengal’s annual rice requirement was expected to reach 170 lakh tonnes by 2016-17.

Over the past few years, farmers in Bengal have been facing several problems such as lack of a proper irrigation network and poor procurement by the government, resulting in cultivators losing interest in investing in agriculture.

Another problem that the officials feared could affect production was a new crop insurance scheme the Centre has introduced this year. The scheme will be in place from this year’s kharif (monsoon) season.

“Farmers have to enrol themselves by July 31 if they want to bring their crops under the insurance. But over the past few years, the cultivation period in Bengal has been deferred to the last week of August because of an irregular rainfall pattern,” an official said.

He added: “If the farmers don’t know what would be their cultivation area, it is not possible for them to inform the bank and submit the insurance premium.”

Roy said the state government would write to the Centre to extend the deadline.

“We have decided to write to the Centre to extend the cut-off date as our farming season has been deferred to August-end. Crop insurance is extremely important as it encourages farmers to invest in agriculture,” Roy told The Telegraph.

The officials, however, hoped it would have been easier to convince the Centre had the Mamata Banerjee government maintained a proper liaison with Delhi.

“Only writing won’t be enough to convince the Centre. The insurance scheme is important to encourage farmers,” an official said.