AS farmers’ pressure and protests grow, the Punjab government, following the federal relief of Rs341bn for the community last September, has come up with a Rs100bn package of its own.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif convened the ‘Punjab Agriculture Conference’ earlier this month to announce the sketchy details of this package, which, he said, set the development agenda for the sector for the next two years.
The fine modalities of the package are yet to be finalised, but the money is guaranteed, as the CM claimed: “Even if it takes the entire budget to set things right for farmers and agriculture, Punjab would not be found lacking. The only thing it wants in return is a development payback timeframe and its immediate impact on agriculture.”
The entire amount of Rs100bn would be spent on purely ‘development activity’, and no recurring and regular expenditures or routine infrastructure development would be financed through this money.
The CM also announced his government would form a Kissan commission, which he himself would head, to suggest critical areas of intervention and oversee the spending. The entire amount of Rs100bn would be spent on purely ‘development activity’, and no recurring and regular expenditures or routine infrastructure development would be financed through this money.
The CM’s decision got a cautious applause from farmers’ bodies, academia and businessmen who made up the bulk of the audience on the day. Everyone cheered the setting aside of money and the concept behind it, but had some reservations on the execution side.
Most of the participants agreed that, if carefully spent, Rs100bn should bring a positive change in the provincial agriculture picture. So would be the formation of a commission if it lends representative voice to the farming community at the policy level. Headed by the chief minister, the commission would have both political and administrative teeth.
The farming community is of the view that, if given proper place in the policy formation, the commission can play a vital development role. The next door neighbour had formed such a commission in East Punjab. Now all Indian states have independent commissions — performing better than initially thought by their script writers.
Pakistan’s peculiar circumstances necessitated such a commission long ago, especially after the Eighteenth Amendment, which made agriculture a purely provincial subject.
Citing from a long list of such initiatives, which were started with an equal fanfare, but soon fell out of political favour and lost utility and life, some people fear that the new commission may also take the same route if headed by a busy chief minister with too much on his plate..
The province started the Punjab Agriculture Marketing Company (Pamco), which is almost on clinical support for the last many years despite being rehashed and effort to pump some life into it.
The Punjab Agriculture Research Board (Parb) can be quoted as another example. The Punjab Economic Research Institute (Peri) is yet another dying initiative.
All these initiatives have one commonality — despite having their own so-called independent board of directors — they are all working under the Punjab government and treated as extensions of its allied departments.None of them can raise voice independently or speak for themselves.
However, others maintain that it could be easier to implement the commission’s recommendations since these would be approved with the provincial chief executive at the head of the commission.
The proposed commission will start with two positives — political backing, at least initially, and assured money.
The doubters, however, insist that the provincial chief executive should create a commission, which is independent, permanent and effective and, most crucially, free of political interference.
He should look around and see how the commissions, which actually helped the agriculture sector grow, have worked elsewhere and try to gain from their experience.
Given the nature of deep-seated problems of the agriculture sector and its vast potential, farming and livestock development needs to be placed at the centre of Punjab’s economic growth strategy.