Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pawar play !

Sharad Pawar’s request to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reduce his workload as he wants to devote time to party work and other duties is well timed, and should be welcomed. As still the country if under the intense heat of almost never ending food inflation and above that instances of food mismanagement by the FCI authorities coming to light exposes how much responsibilities he bears single handedly. Mr. Pawar holds additional charge of the food and consumer affairs and the public distribution departments. Mr Pawar, recently assumed charge as President of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Pawar, a former BCCI president and recently been elected as the president of International cricket body, has been criticized for giving more time to cricket than his ministry, which has resulted in mismanagement on the food front and spiraling prices. Food inflation is perhaps the most serious challenge facing the UPA government in its second term, and Sharad Pawar hasn’t really risen to meet the challenge. Now that he has been burdened with the additional responsibility of ICC, it is obvious that Pawar will have even less time to attend to managing food shortages and tackle the menace of inflation.

It may not even entirely be his fault as an individual minister it is a difficult task managing multiple and often conflicting objectives of all the ministries he presides over agriculture, food, civil supplies and consumer affairs. It does seem unreasonable to expect a single minister to deliver reform on agricultural production and food distribution while keeping consumer interests in mind, all at the same time.

It was without doubt a mistake to hand all of these departments to one minister. Now is the time to rectify that costly mistake and separate at least food and civil supplies from the ministry of agriculture. But while that may end certain obvious conflicts of interest—one important conflict is that the agriculture ministry wants maximum return for farmers while the food ministry wants to procure at cheapest price to distribute to consumer, it will not solve the problems of the agriculture and food economy.

It is long overdue to bifurcate or, trifurcate the mammoth ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer affairs and Public Distribution. Many of the earlier reports recommended for the same for its efficient functioning and better redressal of the causes of the beneficiaries.

When Rural Development Ministry can have 3-4 Minister of States, they why not thought be spared of first bifurcating the Ministry itself, then further trifurcate the departmental responsibilities to individual MoS, on the lines of Ministry of RD. This will surely improve the efficiency, reduce the existing babudom and reduce the timelag in the projects/schemes and its further implementation.

Earlier also as per Mr Pawar, he has asked for three ministers but has been given only one. The request to be relieved of some of his considerable ministerial duties may be a crucial window of opportunity for the government to push-start a reform agenda in agriculture and food sector, which is long overdue. Any lackadaisical attitude of government and PM can prove to harm the food production and food security system of the nation. So the incumbent government might take the Food and Civil Supplies Ministry away from Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

Alongside the government will have to press Pawar to undertake massive long overdue farm reforms, either it is seed bill, pesticide bill, land reforms, ICAR revamp, sugar and fertilizer sector liberalization etc. In the ministry of food, there is a need for the government to reform the moribund FCI, which presides over much leakage and waste. There is also a need to rethink the ineffective public distribution system. A division of responsibilities and change of personnel may put some wind behind these reform measures but the government will still have to show plenty of political will to get the reform through.

So from the Congress leadership it is expected to kickstart discussions on a Cabinet reshuffle soon and Mr Pawar is supposed to retain the agriculture ministry, will have to be compensated with an additional department. Over this the Congress leadership is yet to hold formal talks with alliance partners on the reshuffle plan and some other players like, RLD’s Ajit Singh are keen to join UPA. In the event of Congress deciding on accommodating Mr Ajit Singh, it will have to find a weighty portfolio for the new entrant.

Lastly, it is to the government to feel the due responsibilities and take appropriate decisions so that no work gets affected, and what is best in the interest of the large section of the farming community.

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