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Indian states raise concern over National Food Security Bill

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NEW DELHI: The Indian states have displayed their unhappiness about the National Food Security Bill, mainly the cap on the number of beneficiaries which will lower their allocation of subsidised foodgrains. The Central government is getting ready to implement the suggested National Food Security Act.

The need of funds, more foodgrains for disbursement under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), and paucity of storage capacity has been a common problem during the two-day conference of State Food and Agriculture Ministers on public distribution system, which has been inaugurated by Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Union Finance Minister, and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

The West Bengal representative has criticised the move and also want changes in the Food Bill with the aim to permit the states to modify the number of centrally-identified beneficiaries.

The Indian states feel that the financial burden of distribution of TPDS grains needs to be with the central government and it definbitely should not be passed on or shared with the state.

Prof KV Thomas, Union Minister of State for Food and Public Distribution, said, “Several States participating in the conference indicated their reservations on the food security bill during the conference, which will be looked into.”

The Bill, which has been referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee, aims to offer subsidised foodgrains to 75% rural and 50% urban population.

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Difficult to implement Food Bill without funds: Pawar

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Concerned over poor budget allocation for the farm sector, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today said it might be difficult to implement the proposed Food Security Bill without adequate funds to boost agri- output, a must for increased foodgrain requirement.

"My grievance is only one -- the total budgeted provision for entire agriculture ministry is Rs 20,000 crore. And subsidy is, as of today, Rs 65,000 crore. It might go to Rs 1 lakh crore in the current year."

"Solution is that unless and until we increase production, we will not be able to implement, we will not be comfortable to implement this [Food Bill]," Pawar told a private new channel.

The Food Bill, which aims to provide legal right over cheap foodgrains to 63.5% of the country's population, has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

When pointed out that the Food Bill was the pet project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the minister said: "This is not a question of individual. This is a question of investment in agriculture."

The ambitious Food Bill, which is considered as a pet project of Gandhi, proposes to give legal entitlement to food to 75% of the people in rural areas, including at least 46% in the priority sections (which is the same as below poverty line families in the existing public distribution system).

Up to 50% of people in urban centres will be covered under the proposed law, of which at least 28% will be in the priority category.

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Farming a risky operation in India: TNAU VC

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COIMBATORE: "Farming is becoming one of the most risky operations in India as it is exposed to a variety of risks including drought, floods, cyclones, pests and diseases. Due to cyclone 'Thane' which hit Cuddalore, Villupuram and Puducherry, about 1.5 lakh hectares of rice have been lost resulting in a yield loss of around nine lakh tonnes," said P Murugesa Bhoopathi, vice-chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU). 

TNAU in association with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi, has organized a national training on 'Commodity Market Research and Value Chain Analysis' from January 23-February 1, 2012 at the varsity campus. Around 20 scientists from state agricultural universities and fisheries college participated in the training. The inaugural function was held on January 23, 2012. 

Bhoopathi expressed that until recently impetus was given to production-oriented agriculture in order to increase food grain production, and in the process post harvest practices, food processing or value addition were not given due attention. 

Whenever the monsoon fails, most of the irrigated area in the state cannot be cultivated as rivers and tube wells go dry. In spite of such risks, the Indian farmer has been able to achieve high levels of agricultural production and the country is now self-sufficient in food grains. 

The vice-chancellor added that post harvest losses are very high. For example 8-12% of grains and 25-35% of perishables (worth Rs. 46,000 crores/annum of fruits and vegetables) is lost. 

M Paramathma, director of research, TNAU in his remarks expressed that agricultural marketing has undergone a paradigm shift in India with the emergence of integrated supply chains. 

N Ajjan, director, Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development Studies (CARDS), TNAU, in his address stated that high-income countries add more value by processing most of their agricultural products, as compared to developing countries.



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Chandigarh's mango growers worried over early flowering, expect poor yield

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CHANDIGARH: The mango growers in and around the city are worried about the early flowering of mango trees as the horticulturists state that it could lead to a weak yield this season. The inconsistent weather conditions have made the mango trees around Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali flower early this year.

Moreover, the mango trees across Sector 29 and the Industrial Area in Chandigarh have witnessed growth of a yellow canopy that is indicative of its flowering. The growers and horticulturists feel that the early flowering is not good for mango, which is the most sought after fruit in the summers.

Horticulturists feel that mainly the flowering in the mango trees around the city happens during late February and March.

RK Kohli, Senior Ecologist and Chairman, Department of Botany, Panjab University, said, “The flowering of trees is dependent on the weather conditions and the variety of the trees. However, all the trees have developed new buds much before their usual time this year.”

The growers are worried that if the trees become infertile for the season, contractors appointed by the local authorities are expected to spray the trees with medicines to get some crop. The ripening of these trees is expected to have taken place a month previously as compared to usual due to the western disturbances and the strange changes in weather conditions. Hence, the kind of insects that breed in a particular season also impacts the growth of the trees.

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Fertilizer ministry may revoke subsidy for GSFC

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New Delhi: In a move that could hit the margins of Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GSFC), the fertilizer ministry may revoke the subsidy on ammonium sulphate that the firm has been receiving since April 2010, two ministry officials said on condition of anonymity.

One of the officials said the ministry believes the company may have walked away with windfall gains of about Rs. 126 crore a year because of the extra subsidy payout. The ministry wants to recover the extra gains, the official added.

“We have written to GSFC asking them to furnish their financial details, including the subsidy they have received from the government,” the official said.

After non-urea fertilizers were freed in April 2010, the fertilizer ministry revoked a subsidy that some fertilizer companies including GSFC were getting on ammonium sulphate—an important intermediate product in making urea and non-urea fertilizers. It is also sold as a fertilizer in the open market.

GSFC produces about 320,000 tonnes of ammonium sulphate every year.

There is a divergence of views within the ministry on whether GSFC had the right to claim the subsidy.

While the first official said the company was being subsidized due to an “oversight” on the part of the fertilizer ministry, a second official said that while GSFC was within its right to claim the subsidy, the real issue was that the company was not passing on the same to the farmers through price cuts.

Atanu Chakraborty, managing director of the company, could not be reached for comment despite several phone calls made to his office on Friday.

Tarun Surana, an analyst with Mumbai-based Sunidhi Securities and Finance Ltd, said that during 2011, GSFC enjoyed a healthy earnings before interest and tax (Ebit) ratio of around 15%.

Company results show that while till September 2010, earnings per share (EPS) stood at Rs. 25.98, it crossed Rs. 94 in March 2011. EPS is an indicator of the profitability of a company.

Surana, however, said that after April 2010, the company did reduce the price of ammonium sulphate from around Rs. 11,000 a kg in 2010 to some Rs. 8,500 in 2011.

“Sure, the cut in price was not commensurate with that in the subsidy, but what one has to consider is that the cost of production also went up in that period,” he said. “So, to accuse a company of making super-normal profits is going too far.”

Surana also said the company runs a profitable chemicals business, and so a significant portion of its profits come from that segment.


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