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Terming agriculture as the biggest strength of Indian economy, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari today wondered how could the previous government spend Rs 70,000 crore for buying aircraft at a time when several states did not have irrigation facilities.
Stressing on the need of agricultural diversification towards energy like manufacturing of ethanol, he said the government is likely to bring a policy to promote bamboo cultivation which could be used to harness bio-fuel.
Taking a dig at the previous government regime, he said, "Had the capital cost incurred on the purchase of aircraft worth Rs 70,000 crore been used to provide irrigation facilities to farmers, it would have made a huge difference to the agriculture sector".
"Agriculture has not been the priority but purchase of aircraft worth Rs 70,000 crore (by the previous regime) despite the fact that 11 states lacked irrigation facilities with the percentage as low as 5.6 per cent in Jharkhand and 18.98 per cent in Maharashtra," Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Gadkari said here.
Addressing a Summit on Crop Care & Doubling Farmers' Income: Myths, Challenges & Way Forward by Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration of Assocham, the minister said the percentage of agriculture was less than 50 per cent in 11 states.
He also said the government is likely to bring a policy to promote bamboo sector which could be used to harness bio-fuel.
"I have been diligently working towards diversification of agriculture into energy and power sector, I am happy to inform that I aggressively followed up with the matter and held three meetings with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and soon we will have a bamboo policy," he said.
"Our petroleum minister has also signed 15 contracts to harness bio ethanol out of bamboo," he added.
The second generation ethanol can be made using bamboo, cotton straw, rice straw and residual cane-waste (bagasse).
"I do not think future of farmers can be transformed by producing wheat and rice as such carrying out innovation, entrepreneurship, technology and research is very important," he said.
"There is a need to bring down costs per acre and also to promote allied sectors like dairy, fisheries, poultry and others," he added.
The minister said in the current scenario, efforts are needed to boost productivity to promote economic viability, which would lead to job generation and boost the gross domestic product (GDP), besides promoting agro-processing industries and bringing down costs of power, seeds and fertilisers.
He said states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Odisha are grappling with water shortage and facing the grave issue of farmers' suicides.
"Unless and until, we have about 55 per cent of irrigated land and 60-65 per cent drip irrigation, no one can stop farmers' suicides, this is the thumb rule," he said.
He lamented that irrigation projects with investments worth about Rs three lakh crore had remained non-starter and were gradually rolled out.
He said for the first time, the present government in the second year's budget had allocated Rs 75,000 crore for a five year term and with a view to revive the irrigation offices of state governments.
Asserting that Centre was committed to addressing their problems and bring more cultivable areas under irrigation, he said it was the time that farmers oriented policies were framed and diversification of agriculture took place.
The minister said drip irrigation was also the need of the hour as dependence on rains was not the solution.
Stressing the need for wide-scale cash crop cultivation in the country to augment economy, the minister said he has suggested Rajasthan Chief Minister promote olive cultivation in the state.
He said he had talked to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for promoting the production of ethanol from sugarcane in the state to run vehicles on environment-friendly fuel.
In Nagpur, 55 buses were running on ethanol, the minister said, adding he was in talks with Volkswagen for running vehicles on ethanol.
This will reduce huge Rs 7 lakh crore crude import bills.
Besides, he stressed the need for cross breeding of certain varieties of cows like Sahiwal and Gir which were popular in Brazil to enhance milk production.
He said, unfortunately, India imported wood worth Rs 40,000 crore annually which could be easily cultivated here besides stressing the need for bamboo cultivation, fisheries and honey production.