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Monday, 21 May, 2001, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Vajpayee defends farm policy
Rice fields in India
The government's farm policy has been criticised
By Jyotsna Singh in Delhi

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has defended his economic reform programme, saying the liberalisation of imports will not hurt the country's farmers.

Mr Vajpayee's comments came at a gathering of chief ministers from 28 Indian states, to discuss economic reform and agriculture.

The government has been criticised for a recent decision to comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) import guidelines, as critics say farmers will be badly hit by a surge of imports.

The government's food policy has also come in for criticism because of falling supplies in drought-affected regions, while tonnes of surplus food lie unused in government warehouses.

WTO guidelines

Mr Vajpayee's message to the chief ministers was clear - India's decision to comply with WTO agreements, and to push ahead with its economic reform programme, would not put it at a disadvantage.

Prime Minister Vajpayee
Vajpayee: India is committed to the WTO
Countering recent criticism of the impact of the WTO agreement - which India signed a few months ago - on the country's farmers, Mr Vajpayee said the farming industry's interests would be protected.

The prime minister said discussions with the WTO were still continuing and that India would push for "a level playing-field" in global trade to ensure that domestic producers do not suffer.

Mr Vajpayee also called for an urgent action plan to decentralise food distribution to ensure that people living in extreme poverty would have better access to food.

Stocks stay in

At the moment the federal government spends a huge amount of money to obtain and subsidise farm produce.

Drought in Rajasthan
Food is running out in drought-hit areas
Critics also point out that a weak distribution system results in a lot of the food being stored in warehouses even as parts of the country suffer food shortages.

Food worth nearly $11 billion lies in warehouses waiting to be distributed.

Experts have warned that India needs to adopt an effective food management policy to feed its growing population, which has already crossed the one billion mark.

They say the country must increase production because surplus food stocks do not mean there is enough food for everyone.

The government is said to lack adequate storage facilities and nearly 30% of the population does not have the capacity to buy enough food.

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See also:

18 May 01 | South Asia
Vajpayee attacked on labour laws
13 Oct 00 | South Asia
Indian farmers halt trains
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