As chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) for the last three years, Ashok Gulati’s thrust has been to recommend higher hike in minimum support prices (MSPs) for import-intensive oilseeds and pulses, and relatively lower MSP hikes for rice and wheat to curb excess stocks. As Gulati prepares to relinquish his office on Friday, he spoke to FE’s Sandip Das on a range of issues impacting Indian agriculture.
With your three-year stint at CACP coming to an end, what do you think are the major achievements of the commission during this period?
When I took up this job in March 2011, I knew I had just three years. So, I set out only two goals: get the prices right, and get the markets right. I believe that farmers cannot get the right prices for their produce if markets are strangulated. You may recall that exports of wheat and common rice were banned since September 2007. This type of a restrictive export policy is a hidden instrument of taxing peasantry. So, my first challenge was to fight for opening up exports of wheat and rice. The commission strongly recommended to the government for abolishing export controls on wheat and rice, and cautioned that without this it would end up being in a crisis of plenty. The government finally opened up exports in September 2011 and, consequently, India emerged as the largest exporter of rice in the world. In fact, in FY13, India exported 22 million tonnes (mt) of cereals, and is likely to export 18-20 mt in FY14. This has never happened in India’s history, and it significantly helped farmers get remunerative prices.
For the first time CACP was able to bring out a series of research reports and put it in the public domain which were often critical about the government. What was the purpose of producing such reports, while the commission’s job was mainly to recommend MSPs to the government?
CACP is also mandated to recommend non-price policies that impinge on agriculture. The idea of research reports (discussion papers) was to give detailed analysis of issues that are behind the recommendations of CACP. In order to encourage a healthy and unbiased debate on critical issues, we thought it would be good to put them on our website. It was a good way to communicate with our stakeholders. I personally feel these discussion papers paid rich dividends.
MSP has been been a