Monday, May 20, 2013

As Gujarat agriculture slips into a deep negative in 2012-13, state rulers begin playing drought politics

By Rajiv Shah
Cat is finally out of the bag. If early estimates in the top corridors of the Gujarat government are any indication, during 2012-13, or the last financial year, the state’s agricultural growth rate slipped into the negative after an average of the last five year plan (2007-12) showed it had already been pushed to a single digit (4.8 per cent). “Soon it will be announced that the agriculture slipped to around minus ( -- ) 13 per cent in 2012-13. In certain places in Gujarat, especially Saurashtra, agricultural growth slipped to minus ( -- ) 22 per cent”, senior state bureaucrat said, adding, “Already, crop failure on account drought during 2012-13 has been assessed to be around 50 per cent.”
This should be a shocker to those who have been making tall claims about a constant double digit rate of growth in agriculture. The argument was, even in drought years, with so many check dams having come up and watershed projects launched, Gujarat’s agricultural growth rate would easily remain stable and never go sharply into the negative. Academicians like Prof Tushaar Shah and Prof Ravindra Dholakia were prominent to declare that the state’s agriculture would weather the storm of such exigencies like drought.
Already, Sachivalaya insiders said, efforts are being made in the top corridors of power to use drought for political ends. “Currently, preparations are underway to write off agricultural loans worth Rs 5,000 crore, including interest to the tune of Rs 300 crore. While the exact amount of the loan to be waived has not been decided, the argument is, loan waiver is being offered because of “large-scale crop failure across the state. Insurance companies would be asked to pay for crop failure“, an official said.
Interestingly, Sachivalaya insiders said, most of the loan -- around Rs 3,500 crore -- was disbursed in three months, between mid-July and mid-September 2012, when there was little reason for taking it. This was against the normal practice of most of the agricultural loan being disbursed by mid-June.” The official quoted babus in the know of things as saying that “the loans were disbursed in anticipation of drought, with the promise that it would be waived”!
In fact, an official divulged, there are already file notings in Sachivalaya which suggest that some of the loans were disbursed for crops which were never sown. “In Saurashtra, certain cooperative banks issued loans for groundnut where Bt cotton was sown. This would, it was expected, help show that groundnut had been destroyed in order to claim loan waiver. A cooperative bank in Saurashtra which never issued loans for more Rs 30 lakh disbursed Rs 30 crore”, the official said, adding, “In another instance, area under cultivation was shown several times more than what it actually was.”
Officials have no clue where did all this loan go, but the suspicion is, it went to fund Gujarat state assembly elections, which took place in December 2012. While the BJP had the lion’s share, Congress cooperators were not far behind. One of them who issued such huge loans was a Congress strongman. Recently, he crossed over to the BJP and is fighting a by-poll from Porbandar, the Mahatma’s birthplace, the official said. Everyone in Gujarat knows who this stongman is.
With the polls over, high-level exercise began to “showcase” drought. Results of anavari, a Gujarat revenue department method to assess crop failure by making spot appraisals, were declared. In Saurashtra, it was made known, more than 50-60 per cent of crop had failed. It was estimated that the Bt cotton crop -- which is the main Gujarat crop -- which was 121 lakh bales in 2011-12, dropped to 81 lakh bales in 2012-13.The official wondered how would experts like Tushaar Shah and Ravindra Dholakia would react to all this. There is reason to wonder: Will the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) look into the great drought scam?”, he added.
Cat is finally out of the bag. If early estimates in the top corridors of the Gujarat government are any indication, during 2012-13, or the last financial year, the state’s agricultural growth rate slipped into the negative after an average of the last five year plan (2007-12) showed it had already been pushed to a single digit (4.8 per cent). “Soon it will be announced that the agriculture slipped to around minus ( -- ) 13 per cent in 2012-13. In certain places in Gujarat, especially Saurashtra, agricultural growth slipped to minus ( -- ) 22 per cent”, senior state bureaucrat said, adding, “Already, crop failure on account drought during 2012-13 has been assessed to be around 50 per cent.”
This should be a shocker to those who have been making tall claims about a constant double digit rate of growth in agriculture. The argument was, even in drought years, with so many check dams having come up and watershed projects launched, Gujarat’s agricultural growth rate would easily remain stable and never go sharply into the negative. Academicians like Prof Tushaar Shah and Prof Ravindra Dholakia were prominent to declare that the state’s agriculture would weather the storm of such exigencies like drought.
Already, Sachivalaya insiders said, efforts are being made in the top corridors of power to use drought for political ends. “Currently, preparations are underway to write off agricultural loans worth Rs 5,000 crore, including interest to the tune of Rs 300 crore. While the exact amount of the loan to be waived has not been decided, the argument is, loan waiver is being offered because of “large-scale crop failure across the state. Insurance companies would be asked to pay for crop failure“, an official said.
Interestingly, Sachivalaya insiders said, most of the loan -- around Rs 3,500 crore -- was disbursed in three months, between mid-July and mid-September 2012, when there was little reason for taking it. This was against the normal practice of most of the agricultural loan being disbursed by mid-June.” The official quoted babus in the know of things as saying that “the loans were disbursed in anticipation of drought, with the promise that it would be waived”!
In fact, an official divulged, there are already file notings in Sachivalaya which suggest that some of the loans were disbursed for crops which were never sown. “In Saurashtra, certain cooperative banks issued loans for groundnut where Bt cotton was sown. This would, it was expected, help show that groundnut had been destroyed in order to claim loan waiver. A cooperative bank in Saurashtra which never issued loans for more Rs 30 lakh disbursed Rs 30 crore”, the official said, adding, “In another instance, area under cultivation was shown several times more than what it actually was.”
Officials have no clue where did all this loan go, but the suspicion is, it went to fund Gujarat state assembly elections, which took place in December 2012. While the BJP had the lion’s share, Congress cooperators were not far behind. One of them who issued such huge loans was a Congress strongman. Recently, he crossed over to the BJP and is fighting a by-poll from Porbandar”, the Mahatma’s birthplace, the official said. Everyone in Gujarat knows who this stongman is.
With the polls over, high-level exercise began to “showcase” drought. Results of anavari, a Gujarat revenue department method to assess crop failure by making spot appraisals, were declared. In Saurashtra, it was made known, more than 50-60 per cent of crop had failed. It was estimated that the Bt cotton crop -- which is the main Gujarat crop -- which was 121 lakh bales in 2011-12, dropped to 81 lakh bales in 2012-13.The official wondered how would experts like Tushaar Shah and Ravindra Dholakia would react to all this. There is reason to wonder: Will the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) look into the great drought scam?”, he added.

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