The onion crisis could have been contained to some extent if state governments had effectively raided the hoarders in their respective jurisdictions, Union Minister for Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar said on Thursday.
In an outspoken interview to IANS, Tomar, who also holds the charge of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Ministry, revealed that he repeatedly requested Chief Ministers of all the states to take action against the hoarders, seize their stocks of onions and release it in the market.
"However instead of conducting raids, most of them (Chief Ministers) politicised the issue. It's disheartening to note that in the event of crisis, opposition parties played politics over onion price hike," Tomar quipped.
On measures taken by the Centre to deal with the shortage of onions in the country in the past couple of months, the minister informed that the government immediately stopped exports of the tube and started offloading onions from its buffer stock.
"The government agencies went out of the way to procure onions at a higher price, which were later sold at subsidised rates. We also decided to import onions from abroad to increase its availability in the domestic market," Tomar said, adding: "We tried our best to address the crisis even as entire opposition played politics over the price hike. I feel, if there is a shortfall of any commodity due to some natural calamity than governments, cutting across party lines should rise above politics to make a joint effort in dealing with a crisis which affects the common man."
On the growing perception of economic slowdown, Tomar who virtually holds the reigns of rural India, said he believes that India's road to economy connects with its villages.
"Let me assure you that situation is not what is being projected by a section of media. The rural economy is the backbone of our economy and it remains strong. The so called slow down is seen through the eyes of certain analysts, particularly those residing in the bigger cities. It would have been better if they had also taken a view of our rural markets. 'Gaon ke bazar me kharidar bhi hai aur maal bhi' (The village market has no dearth of buyers and sellers)."
Regarding the money spent on scientific research on agriculture and agri-economy, the Union Minister said that sufficient budget has been provided to Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) which boasts of having more than 6,000 scientists working in over 100 institutes spread across the country.
"Prime Minister Modi is determined to bring reforms in agriculture sector. For example, from 2009 to 2014 (in UPA government) the budget for full five years was Rs 1.24 lakh crore. However, during Modi's tenure, in a single financial year (2019 to 2020) the budget is Rs 1.31 lakh crore... in simpler words, our budget of a single year is more than (UPA's) five year budget."
For a healthy India, the government now plans to lay stress on increasing its production of edible oils.
The Agriculture Minister Tomar said that Modi government will soon launch 'National Tilhan (oilseeds) Mission'. At present, India imports around 150 lakh tonnes of edible oil yearly which drains the foreign exchange.
"We are determined to become self sufficient in edible oils. We have several varieties of oilseeds... Our mustard oil is one the best edible oils. I personally feel that once tilhan mission gets started, the dependence on imported edible oils will be reduced." Tomar said.
Perceived to be a trusted aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Union Agriculture Minister said that a dedicated team of his Ministry, PMO, NITI Aayog and officials of concerned departments are presently focusing on increasing the area under cultivation of organic crops.
"Modi wants to increase the production of organic crops in the country and reduce the use of fertilisers. We also aim at doubling the exports of agriculture products particularly organic items. Besides, the government has set a target to establish 10,000 Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO) across India to provide a sustainable market for villagers who earn a living from farming," added Tomar, who believes that FPO would change the face of rural India.