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Centre to push through agri-marketing reforms as part of stimulus package

Making long-pending agricultural marketing reforms the centrepiece of the third tranche of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan economic stimulus package, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday announced plans to enact a central law to permit barrier-free inter-State trade of farm commodities and ensure a legal framework to facilitate contract farming.

The third tranche also included plans to invest ₹1.5 lakh crore to build farm-gate infrastructure and support logistics needs for fishworkers, livestock farmers, vegetable growers, beekeepers and related activities, although this includes some previously budgeted money and extensions of existing schemes.

Deregulating produce

The Centre will deregulate the sale of six types of agricultural produce, including cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions and potatoes, by amending the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, Ms. Sitharaman said.

Several agricultural economists and farm activists welcomed the reform and investment announcements, but questioned the lack of immediate support to help farmers survive the current crisis.

The Essential Commodities Act was enacted at a time of food scarcity, and needs to reflect current concerns, the Finance Minister said.

“Now what is happening is that farmers are producing. There is an abundance of crops, and this sometimes leads to issues because they would want to export, and we don’t permit that. Because of a flip-flop sometimes, farmers don’t get the benefit. Some other times, the consumers suffer. So there is a need to amend the Act,” she said.

No stock limit

Stock limits will not be imposed on these commodities except in case of national calamity or famine or an extraordinary surge in prices, the Minister said, adding that even these stock limits would not apply to processors and exporters.

The Centre has been attempting to reform agricultural marketing through a model Act which it encourages States to adopt.

However, it now intends to enact a central law to allow farmers to sell produce at attractive prices beyond the current mandi system, facilitating barrier-free inter-State trade and e-trading.

Death toll mounts to 2,674; Maharashtra, T.N. and Gujarat report most cases

India’s COVID-19 case tally shot past China, with a total of 85,761 cases, including 53,219 active ones, according to data from the State Health Departments. The death toll nationwide stood at 2,674.

The country has registered over 3,600 cases and over 100 deaths on average everyday since May 8.

According to the health ministry, India registered 3,967 more COVID-19 cases and 100 deaths on Friday, taking the total number of cases to 81,970 and the nationwide toll to 2,649.

Stressing the need to focus on high load areas and case fatality management, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said while worldwide the total number of cases stood at 42,48,389 with 2,94,046 deaths and the fatality rate pegged at 6.92%, India had managed to keep its fatality rate at 3.23%.

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat reported the highest number of cases, with the capital cities of Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad accounting for the most patients.

With 933 persons testing positive, the number of cases in Mumbai rose to 17,512 and the death toll increased to 655 with 34 more deaths, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation said.

With 261 new cases, Ahmedabad’s tally rose to 7,171 while the death toll reached 479 with 14 more patients succumbing to the infection, officials said.

In a release issued by the Ministry, Mr. Vardhan said, “So far, a total of 27,920 people have been cured. And in the last 24 hours, 1,685 patients were cured. This takes the total recovery rate to 34.06%.” It added that the impact of the lockdown was seen on the doubling rate, which improved from 3.4 days in the pre-lockdown week to 12.9 days last week.

An associate of Dawood, he later became a philanthropist

N. Muthappa Rai

N. Muthappa Rai, 68, former underworld don who had turned to business and social activism in recent years, passed away at a city hospital early on Friday. He was suffering from cancer and had been hospitalised.

Starting his career as a clerk in Vijaya Bank, he claimed to have accidentally turned to a life of crime in Bengaluru to protect his business, a bar and restaurant, from the underworld in the 1980s.

Fast rise

However, his rise in crime was fast. Said to be the brain behind the murder of the then reigning don of the city, M.P. Jayaraj, in 1989 — probably the first shootout linked to the Mumbai underworld here — he was associated with Dawood Ibrahim. His rise earned him enemies and he was attacked when he made an appearance in a city court in 1994.

Facing a host of criminal cases, he fled to Dubai in 1996. Though it was Dawood Ibrahim who helped him escape, he slowly gravitated towards the “Hindu faction” in a communally divided underworld. “This put him in good stead to turn a new leaf,” said a former city police official who did not wish to be named. He was soon associated with the real estate business, as the city saw a boom in the late 1990s and 2000s.

He was arrested and extradited to Bengaluru by Dubai authorities in 2002. Rai stood trial for a total of eight cases, including the sensational murder of realtor Subbaraju, but was eventually acquitted of all charges for want of evidence. There has been no major case against him alleging any criminal activity since he returned to India after being extradited from Dubai in 2002.

In 2008, Muthappa Rai started a Kannada organisation ‘Jaya Karnataka’, which became his public face. Though he had ambitions to convert this organisation into a political party, that never happened. Living in a heavily guarded palatial house in Bidadi, he called himself a businessman involved in the real estate sector. He subsequently turned a philanthropist and was also elected chairperson of the Karnataka Athletics Association in 2018.

The last rites were held at his residence in Bidadi on Friday. Due to restrictions imposed to curtail the spread of COVID-19, only his family members participated.

He is survived by wife and two sons.

Farmers seek immediate relief for supply chain disruptions due to lockdown

Big plans: Nirmala Sitharaman and Anurag Thakur speaking in New Delhi on Friday.Sushil Kumar Verma

With supply chain disruptions during COVID-19 revealing critical gaps in agricultural infrastructure and logistics systems, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced plans for a ₹1 lakh crore farm infrastructure fund as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan stimulus package on Friday.

The third tranche of the stimulus package also included plans to strengthen infrastructure in food processing, fisheries, animal husbandry, horticulture, herbal cultivation and beekeeping with a total funding of ₹50,000 crore, including funds allocated earlier in the budget.

The ₹1 lakh crore Agriculture Infrastructure Fund will be financed and managed by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the Finance Minister said. Financing will be provided to primary agriculture cooperative societies, farmer producer organisations, agriculture entrepreneurs and start-ups to develop cold chain storage and other post-harvest management infrastructure at the farm gate and aggregation points.

“These are good measures, but everything is in the future tense. In the present crisis, farmers are facing huge losses. What is desperately needed now is some immediate compensation rather than funds which will only have future impact,” said Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer and activist based in the Punjab-Haryana area.

“The government talks about supply chain disruptions and promises improvements. But they could have just taken over transport and storage facilities during the COVID-19 crisis to help farmers,” said S. Kannaiyan, a Tamil Nadu-based farmer and activist who was forced to throw away a portion of his cabbage crop and sell the rest at a loss due to the lockdown.

The focus hitherto has been on short term crop loans while investment in long term agriculture infrastructure has often not been enough, said Ms. Sitharaman. “The underlying principle is to empower the people, give them resources so that they can produce for themselves and have livelihoods for themselves rather than going for entitlements,” she added.

This rationale drives the plan for a ₹10,000 crore scheme to support two lakh micro-food processing enterprises, providing technical support to reach FSSAI health and safety standards, build brands and marketing.

The National Medicinal Plants Board will spend ₹4,000 crore on herbal cultivation over 10 lakh hectares with a special focus on an 800 hectare corridor of medicinal plants on the banks of the Ganga.

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