Opposition annoyed at 'extravagant' budget for farm modernization project

Published On: June 3, 2019 05:00 AM NPT By: Zenith Shah

KATHMANDU, June 3: Main opposition Nepali Congress has criticized the government for its failure to spend budget allocated for the Prime Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP).

Speaking in parliament on Sunday, Nepali Congress lawmaker Minendra Rijal expressed disapproval over the 'extravagant' allocation of budget for the PMAMP. He criticized the government for increasing the allocation for the project for the upcoming year, despite its failure to spend the budget allocated for the current fiscal year.

The project, which was initiated in early 2017, has seemingly failed to live up to the hype that it garnered in its early days. The main objective of the project was to increase agricultural production and productivity growth.

The reality, however, seems far from ideal. The project has been delivering disappointing results, if not a complete failure, since its very inception. The government is yet to entirely meet the goals of the first year of the project implementation. The country has failed to become self-reliant in any of the projected crops within the estimated time, and continues to import agro-products in huge volume.

The news of inefficient resources utilization in the project has come few weeks after the 56th Annual Report of Office of the Auditor General suggested the project authorities to reduce their office expenses.

Tej Bahadur Subedi, a joint secretary at the Agriculture Development Division under Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, however, defended the budget practices, suggesting that the situation is not as bleak as expressed elsewhere. “While I don't have access to data at present, I'm mostly certain that the spending is being done wisely.” He further said that the budget has been used primarily in establishing collection centers for commercialization, industrialization, and processing of special crops. “For instance, we've built hi-tech plastic houses for vegetable cultivation, and custom hiring centers to support farmers,” he added.

When asked about the promise of self-reliance in rice production, he said that the data, while correct, had to skip several factors due to technical obstacles. “We are not yet able to exactly calculate the trade figures, largely owing to factors such as informal cross-border trade practices, and the qualitative comparison in types of rice, among others," he said, adding: ""We import Basmati rice, whereas export rice of lower grade, therefore leading to the estimated trade deficit in rice of some 10 to 12 percent.” He also argued that there has been a growth in rice production.

Lawmaker Rijal's lash came after the Ministry of Finance allocated a budget of Rs 8.1 billion for the project in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2019/20.

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