Recently, there have been reports of price crashes and distress sales in case of farm produce, such as tomatoes, mangoes, and garlic. In some cases, farmers have dumped their produce on roads. Produce such as fruits and vegetables are perishable and therefore have a short shelf life. Further, due to inadequate storage facilities and poor food processing infrastructure farmers have limited options but to sell the produce at prevailing market prices. This can lead to distress sales or roadside discards (in some cases to avoid additional cost of transportation).
Food processing allows raw food to be stored, marketed, or preserved for consumption later. For instance, raw agricultural produce such as fruits may be processed into juices, jams, and pickles. Activities such as waxing (for preservation), packaging, labelling, or ripening of produce also form part of the food processing industry.
Between 2001-02 and 2016-17, production of food grains grew annually at 1.7% on average. Production of horticulture crops surpassed food grains with an average growth rate of 4.8%. While production has been increasing over the years, surplus produce tends to go waste at various stages such as procurement, storage, and processing due to lack of infrastructure such as cold storages and food processing units.
Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.
Losses high among perishables such as fruits and vegetables
Crop losses ranged between 7-16% among fruits and around 5% among cereals in 2015. The highest losses were witnessed in case of guava, followed by mango, which are perishable fruits. Perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to losses as compared to cereals. Such crop losses can occur during operations such as harvesting, thrashing, grading, drying, packaging, transportation, and storage depending upon the commodity.
It was estimated that the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural products at the national level was Rs 92,651 crore in 2015. The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2017) stated that such wastage can be reduced with adequate food processing facilities.
Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.
Inadequate food processing infrastructure
As previously discussed, perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to damages as compared to cereals. Due to inadequate processing facilities in close proximity, farmers may be unable to hold their produce for a long time. Hence, they may be forced to sell their produce soon after harvest, irrespective of the prevailing market situations. Expert committees have recommended that agri-logistics such as cold chain infrastructure and market linkages should be strengthened.
Cold chain infrastructure: Cold chain infrastructure includes processing units, cold storages, and refrigerated vans. As of 2014, out of a required cold storage capacity of 35 million metric tonnes (MT), almost 90% (31.8 million MT) of the capacity was available (see Table 1). However, cold storage needs to be coupled with logistical support to facilitate smooth transfer of harvested value from farms to distant locations. This includes: (i) pack-houses for packaging and preparing fresh produce for long distance transport, (ii) refrigerated transport such as reefer vehicles, and (iii) ripening chambers to ripen raw produce before marketing. For instance, bananas which are harvested raw may be ripened in these chambers before being marketed.
While there are sufficient cold storages, there are wide gaps in the availability of other associated infrastructure. This implies that even though almost 90% (32 million tonnes) of cold storage capacity is available, only 15% of the required refrigerated transport exists. Further, the shortfall in the availability of infrastructure necessary for safe handling of farm produce, like pack-houses and ripening chambers, is over 90%.
Table 1: Gaps in cold chain infrastructure (2014)
(in million MT)
To minimise post-harvest losses, the Standing Committee (2017) recommended that a country-wide integrated cold chain infrastructure network at block and district levels should be created. It further recommended that a Cold Chain Coordination and Monitoring Committee should be constituted at the district-level. The Standing Committee also recommended that farmers need to be trained in value addition activities such as sorting, grading, and pre-cooling harvested produce through facilities such as freezers and ripening chambers.
Between 2008 and 2017, 238 cold chain projects were sanctioned under the Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure. Grants worth Rs 1,775 crore were approved for these projects. Of this amount, Rs 964 crore (54%) has been released as of January 2018. Consequently, out of the total projects sanctioned, 114 (48%) are completed. The remaining 124 projects are currently under implementation.
Transport Facilities: Currently, majority of food grains and certain quantities of tea, potato, and onion are transported through railways. The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income had recommended that railways needs to upgrade its logistics to facilitate the transport of fresh produce directly to export hubs. This includes creation of adjoining facilities for loading and unloading, and distribution to road transport.
Mega Food Parks: The Mega Food Parks scheme was launched in 2008. It seeks to facilitate setting up of food processing units. These units are to be located at a central processing centre with infrastructure required for processing, packaging, quality control labs, and trade facilitation centres.
As of March 2018, out of the 42 projects approved, 10 were operational. The Standing Committee on Agriculture noted certain reasons for delay in implementation of projects under the scheme. These include: (i) difficulty in getting loans from banks for the project, (ii) delay in obtaining clearances from the state governments and agencies for roads, power, and water at the project site, (iii) lack of special incentives for setting up food processing units in Mega Food Parks, and (iv) unwillingness of the co-promoters in contributing their share of equity.
Further, the Standing Committee stated that as the scheme requires a minimum area of 50 acres, it does not to promote smaller or individual food processing and preservation units. It recommended that smaller agro-processing clusters near production areas must be promoted. The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income recommended establishment of processing and value addition units at strategic places. This includes rural or production areas for pulses, millets, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fisheries, and poultry in public private-partnership mode.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.