Potato prices generate heat in Rajya Sabha

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) The falling prices of potatoes generated much heat in the Rajya Sabha Friday with the opposition saying not enough was being done to protect the interests of farmers and the government saying it was ready to assist the states if they asked for help.

‘The only way out is for the state governments to start procuring potatoes from the open market. On March 3, I had written to the state governments suggesting their market intervention and told them that the centre would bear up to 50 percent of the losses (cost of acquisition),’ Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said during question hour in the Rajya Sabha.

‘Till now, we have not heard from any of the state governments,’ he added.

The response came on a question by Kusum Rai (Bharatiya Janata Party) on whether the government was aware that potato prices had fallen to Rs.1 and Rs.2 per kg in the wholesale markets when the new crop was ready with the farmers for sale. She wanted to know the steps the government was taking to ensure farmers sold their crops at a price higher than the production cost.

The reply, however, failed to satisfy the opposition and the BJP MPs, led by Rudra Narayan Pany, loudly insisted that the government do more.

Responding to a supplementary from Rai on the steps the government was taking to prevent distress sales by farmers, he said the West Bengal government had made two suggestions: exporting potatoes to Southeast Asia and the establishment of more cold storages.

‘The first will be difficult because Australia, the US and other countries also send their produce there and it is cheaper than ours. The second suggestion we are looking at,’ Pawar replied.

In this context, he noted that 107 cold storages had already been set up in various states against the 45 that had originally been proposed.

Responding to a supplementary on farmers’ production costs, Pawar said this varied from state to state.

‘In Punjab it is Rs.2.49 (per kilo), in West Bengal it is Rs.3.56, in Uttar Pradesh it is Rs.2.74.’

As had happened with the agriculture minister when he spoke in the house Wednesday on the rising prices of essential commodities, Pawar was constantly heckled during the reply. Unable to control the din, Chairman Hamid Ansari abruptly moved on to the next question.

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