TRIPURAINFO

 

INTERVIEW WITH PRANJIT SINGHA ROY, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE

 

His rich and influential family had always been involved in non-left politics for many years in Tripura’s ancient capital town, Udaipur-so much so that his close elder relative, late Ranjit Singha Roy had been a candidate for Congress in the assembly election of 1988-though unsuccessful. He had also lost a kin to an organized political murder committed allegedly by CPI (M) henchmen within days of the eventful assembly polls of 1988. This legacy and experiences had made sure that Pranjit Sinhga Roy, minister for agriculture, would never throw in his lot with leftist politics. His clean image and service-oriented approach to politics paid off in 2013 when he was comfortably elected as MLA but cross-currents of political developments in the party made him join BJP in 2017. Pranjit was reelected with a larger margin in the momentous assembly polls in February this year and was rewarded with the richly deserved ministerial portfolio of agriculture. In the following interview Pranjit who has already made his mark as an effective minister spoke his mind to tripurainfo.com:-

 

Question: The ban on cannabis (‘Ganja’) cultivation imposed and enforced by the state government seems to have made an adverse impact on state’s economy, specially in the rural areas. As a result there is an economic slowdown and, given this, how to you provide an effective alternative to this to restore the economy?

 

Answer: See this problem emerged over a long time, during the past twenty five years during the left front rule . Actually the previous left front government had turned a blind eye to this phenomenon but how can a responsible state government remain passive and indifferent to such banned cultivation. This also has international implications as we are bound by international protocols, so drastic action had to be taken. The chief minister has done well by taking this up on a mission mode. The liquidity problem that you see in the market will not be there in the market very soon as we have already launched ‘Black Gram’ pulses cultivation on a large scale which will help replace the cannabis (Ganja) cultivation as ‘Black Gram’ matures within a period of 3-3.5 months and fetches good prices in market both within and outside the state. Besides, the state government, specially the agriculture department is taking the responsibility for marketing with an assured price for the producers. So, to my mind the problem will fizzle out soon.

 

 

Question: What are the special measures you are initiating to improve the lot of peasants in Tripura? Anything which is new and novel?

 

Answer: Our main target is to double up the income of peasants by the year 2022, as promised by the honourable prime minister long back and we are working in this direction. We have already taken an initiative in this regard which I can not claim to be entirely new or novel but certainly it is a new thing for Tripura. We have a target of opening 36 ‘Krishak Bandhu’ centres across the state and 10 have already been established. These ‘Krishak Bandhu’ centres will be well equipped with all basic agricultural implements like power tiller, spray machines, other machineries of agriculture and comprehensive information sheets in both Bengali and ‘Kokborok’ for the list of crops produced in the state, their timing of sowing and harvesting, and a detailed list of ‘dos and do nots’ including medicines, pesticides and fertilizers to be used. The ‘Krishak Bandhu’ centres will be run by self-help groups comprising ten member each and they will have to deposit an initial share capital of Rs 50 thousand and the rest of requirement will be taken care of by the state government. The self-help groups will regularly attend the centres and will rent out the machines and other implements to needy farmers at officially fixed prices. That should help a lot but we have drawn this formula for work from the university of Haryana but in the context of Tripura you can say this is new and novel.

 

Question: What are the steps you are mulling to take to introduce organic farming in Tripura. This seems to be the need of the hour and northeast has a rich potential for growth and expansion of organic farming.

 

Answer: We are quite mindful and serious about the introducing organic farming in Tripura. There is however one minor problem: if fertilizer has been used on a plot of land for agriculture or horticulture, this land has to be kept idle without any agriculture-related activity for a period of three years and then organic agriculture can be started there with preparation. We have started motivating the farmers on this mode of production and people are gradually being convinced because the price of organic farm products is very high. How organic farming can fetch prices and create high quality is proved by the production of pineapple in Tripura. Our ‘queen variety’ pineapple is the tastiest in the world and this is done without any chemical or artificial fertilizer. True, the northeast has rich potential for organic farming and this is going to materialize in Tripura also as we are already on the job in the interest of farmers as well as of public health.

 

Question: What are the areas of priorities you are working on to improve agriculture and lot of peasants living by it? What is the focus areas of your plan of work?

 

Answer: Our basic target is to make agriculture a self-sustaining sphere of economic activity which will also generate gainful employment and opportunities for people. To elaborate on the matter, the state’s annual demand for total foodgrains is 8.56 lakh matric tons out of which we produce paddy of 8.12 lakh matric tons. This means we have deficiencies in other foodgrain requirements. Keeping this in view we are working to make the state self-sufficient in food production by the year 2022. Moreover, in order to honour the prime minister Naerndra Modiji’s commitment to give 1.5% hike in the prices of agricultural commodities the department is trying to give higher prices to peasants, reduce production cost and effectively market the agricultural products.

 

Question: How can your department help in marketing agricultural products and in giving 1.5% higher prices? It is also being reported that the FCI will purchase rice from Tripura with minimum support price?

 

Answer: We have already proved shortly after coming to power that the state government has an important role to play in marketing and fetching higher prices. We have exported ‘Queen’ variety pineapple to Dubai, Calcutta and Delhi at Rs 20 a piece which is much higher than market price in Tripura. To tell the truth, I myself sold our pineapples in a Calcutta market and will do the same next year also when the cultivators will be interested in producing more. Similarly, we will help in the marketing and fetching higher prices for horticultural products of Tripura to benefit the cultivators.

Regarding the proposed FCI purchase of agricultural products from Tripura with support price, I can only say that on September 12 the prime minister Narendra Modi had announced a new scheme PM-AASHA that has three components or phases. In the first phase the FCI will purchase paddy, oil seeds and dry coconuts from the state with minimum support price. In the second or price deficiency scheme the government will purchase oil seeds, almonds on the basis of a minimum support price scheme and store them. If the market price goes down the government will deposit money to beneficiary farmers through direct beneficiary transfer scheme. In the third phase private stockist and non-governmental registered vendors will be allowed to purchase government stock but in case the prices fall from the market rates the private vendors will be given 15% service charge. This system will assure the peasants of a definite price guarantee.

 

Question: There is however an allegation that farmers in the state continue to be deprived of ‘Fasal Bima Yojana’. What do you propose to do to rectify the situation? It is also alleged that after the recent flood the farmers in the state got no assistance or compensation.

 

Answer: In this regard, you are right as the previous government could not give benefits under ‘Fasal Bima Yojana’ even to fifteen thousand farmers. We are trying to cover all the farmers under this scheme. There are 21,500.00 hactres of high risk agricultural land in Tripura which is always vulnerable to annual natural disasters and farmers cultivating this will also be covered. There is however a problem because the insurance companys empanelled by the government of India for providing compensation under ‘Fasal Bima Yojana’ do not come here. We have brought this to the notice of the central government and hopefully a positive outcome will be there soon. We floated tenders twice but got no response and now the centre will decide on the issue .

 

As for your contention on non-payment of compensation to the farmers after recent flood, it is not correct because we had sought an assistance of Rs 11.66 crores from centre but we have not yet received any thing . However, we have already disbursed Rs 4.48 crores as compensation to farmers affected by flood and more will be given after receipt of central funds on this head.

 

 

Question: There are allegations that farmers are not given timely assistance and advice by officers of the agriculture department. What is your response to this and do you have a plan to make youths of the state self-reliant through agriculture?

 

Answer: This allegation was correct during the previous regime but after assuming power we have decided that farmers will not come to ago-specialists, officers or VLWs but they will have to go to the farmers to make available whatever assistance can be given. That is why we have decided to set up 36 ‘Krishak Bandhu’ centres in as many blocks manned by officer of the department among others and 8 have already been launched. The farmers will get all assistance there at need .

 

As for self-reliance through agriculture, we will try to have access to best agricultural models in different parts of the world and bring them here. In this context the ‘Haryana Model’ is also being thought of as part of which 10-member self-help groups will render all assistance to farmers in lieu of funds given by the government. Besides, we will introduce organic farming firstly in all fallow lands of the state and this will gradually spread. This measure will attract educated youths to farming as a viable means of employment and self-reliance. Many other steps are also being mooted for making the agriculture sector viable and attractive