Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, under fire from members of Parliament for high food prices, today continued to plead for opening up the agriculture sector, despite calls by politicians for more controls.
Even as thousands of trade union activists marched through Delhi, protesting against high food prices and unemployment, Pawar told reporters that it was time for India to resume exports of wheat, rice and sugar, especially in view of the relatively high global prcies for these products.
''This is the right time to give serious thought over allowing exports of certain quantities of rice, wheat and sugar as we have ample stocks,'' declared Pawar. ''World prices are very good while the harvest looks favourable.''
India is the world's second-largest producer of wheat and rice, and rotting foodgrains in overflowing warehouses have forced the Supreme Court to direct the government to distribute them for free to the poor.
Pawar is one of the few politicians who is pushing ahead for crucial reforms in agriculture, including allowing farmers to export their surplus produce. The agriculture minister, who is also the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – which has a strong presence in the affluent farm belts of western and northern Maharashtra – noted that the benchmark price for exports of onions should be brought down from the high of $600 a tonne.
''This high minimum export price (MEP) will create obstacles in exporting onions from India,'' said Pawar. ''I think it is a fit case for giving a second thought to bring down MEP to make Indian onions internationally competitive.''