Heading a panel, the Prime Minister had called for integration of spot and futures markets

More than three year ago, Narendra Modi, chairing a working committee to suggest steps for reducing gap between the farmgate and retail prices and recommending an action plan for better implementation and amendment to Essential Commodity Act (ECA) had submitted a report.

This report is insightful, constructive and radical in its approach.

The highlights are: speedy reform of APMC Act across the country and liberalisation of agri-markets; explore unbundling of FCI operation in terms of procurement, storage and distribution functions; to set up a ministerial level coordination mechanism at the national and the regional level for coordinated policy making for evolving single national agriculture market; recommended that offences under Section 10-A under the Essential Commodities Act should be made non-bailable and special courts should be set up for speedy trial of offences under the ECA.

The report had touched on the issue of information asymmetry both on the demand as well as on the supply side.

Data flow

It had pointed that if the collation and capturing of data is supplemented with the flow of information then it would fundamentally change the face of market. If necessary, it could done by creating a dedicated agency for the purpose.

Needless to mention that India’s commodity futures market has brought in a significant change in the last ten years where “reference price” are often used by the trade for purchase as well as production decisions. The report had observed that “until effective integration of futures and spot markets is achieved, we should be cautious about the futures trade in essential commodities.”

The report further said: “Since food security being the utmost concern, for the time being there should be a ban on the trading of essential commodities in the futures market” ( Point 2.7, Page 8).

Futures market

Today, as Modi is the Prime Minister of the country and embarking on a paradigm shift what does one expect? Does this mean that the futures market should keep the essential commodities such as wheat on the watch list for possible trade suspension? The report has, however, said that futures of the other commodities can be permitted. (Page 17, Point e.4)

The report also mentions about the “market failure” and traders making excessive profits. However, no evidence or empirical data has been provided to substantiate the point.

The report talks about the creation of agri-infrastructure and, in its recommendation, has laid emphasis on post harvest linkages. It talks about the Government providing financial assistance for construction of godowns at village levels along with godowns at PACS (Primary Agricultural Co-operatives Societies). While it is appreciated that the recommendation has looked at “small is workable,” it has may have erred in recommendation of PACs in the role which does not have any specialised functional expertise.

This report is a document which gives 20 recommendations with 64 detailed actionable points that will facilitate expeditious implementation.

The report has largely been ignored till now, however, the committee needs to be complimented for taking the bull by its horns and addressing the issue which will have significant impact during the tenure of the current government.

(This article was published on June 18, 2014)
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