Thursday, July 23, 2015



Tejinder Narang 

Though the Government should restrict its role to policy formulation with periodic assessment of such policies, Indian authorities have dug deep in venturing with business of Agri trade. This is the legacy of outdated baggage of socialist’s regime (of 1960 to 1990) which should have been shed by now but Ministries still call the shots to target the business on day to day basis.
The trade which manages the market tries to outsmart the system to ensure that its profits are sustained or incur minimal losses by inflating prices in the bazar or paying farmers less. It also attempts to circumvent rules or duties by means that may not be legal. If traders fail to succeed, they default on the banks that fund them.
The public is be-fooled by the so called sanguine actions of the Government while nothing changes on the ground.  The paradigm “the government has no business to be in business” is denied as a rule than an exception. Nation suffers economically at the cost of political patronage.
This week (20th July 2015) Agriculture Minister announced higher sowing (note the word sowing) of pulses (134% higher), oilseeds (234% higher) than last year with probability of much higher output in FY16. This pronouncement sends bearish signal in the trade especially when the crop is nowhere to be sighted while the sentiment of excess is created. The uncertainty of further progression of rains, pollination, maturity and harvesting still remains. It is for the trade to assess these activities than for the Government to announce advance judgement on productivity.
Discrete intention of the agriculture ministry may be to depress the recent inflationary pressures on pulses and oilseed which will be harvested in October /November 2015. Trade will ignore such statements. The current prices of pulses and oilseeds may therefore remain unchanged but future prices, commencing October 2015 for the farmers would take a beating. Thus farmers’ earnings will be badly affected.
In June 2015, Food Minister announced that Government intends to impose 10% import duty on good quality wheat contracted at cheaper prices from Australia by the millers/trade in South India for customised milling of maida/suji/rava/bakery etc. Lower quality of MP crop necessitated this limited import of 0.5-1 mill tons. So far Ministry proposal remains non-notified, but should it happen, market price of wheat will surely flare up by 10%-15% or Rs 2/kg apprx. It will also create counter party disputes/litigation between Indian buyers and foreign sellers. To compensate for the penalties paid for the defaulted contracts by Indian millers, the losses will be passed on to the consumers. It also tarnishes India’s image as a responsible trader in the global village. WTO’s adverse observations cannot also be ruled out.
Pricing of sugarcane at SAP/FRP by the state/Centre, unrelated to the market forces of the end product-- sugar and by- products-- has created labyrinth of mess with mountain of surplus. Export subsidy is annully promised but not notified timely—thus untimed subsidy remains an authorization on paper. Market volatility caused by Brazil and Thai sugar can never be comprehended by officials and politicians. Annual financial reports of the millers reflect huge losses. Loans from the Banks are either defaulted or stressed or both. Arrears to farmers of Rs 21000 crores remain unpaid. None is accountable to the loss of resources of water, power, fuel, transportation etc. How the industry is surviving and banks/government are reconciling with this oddity should be subject of a paper in Harvard Business School.
Another example—Agriculture Ministry made official assertion to import pulses through PSUs  that pushed up international prices by 50%-100% on year to year basis with speculative trend. There are already heavy commitments of the private traders to import pulses which would depress prices in coming months, forcing PSUs to sell at a huge loss beyond the level of anticipated subsidy. Officialdom has no clue of the trading strategies of other market players.
Either the Government should not be in the business and if it wants, then it must learn the “trading” of Agri-commodities by giving specialised training to the bureaucracy in assessing supply demand  globally and domestically, current trading practices, working of commodity exchanges, shipping and banking practices. The Government –even though may provide the data—yet should not be in a hurry in making wild statements.

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