Thursday, April 22

‘We are the worst affected, but we hope to recover the fastest,’ says Sanjeev Balyan

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Union minister of state for animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries Sanjeev Balyan is hopeful that the sector reeling under the impact of the 21-day lockdown, which started on March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19} outbreak, will bounce back as soon as normal services resume. In a telephonic interview to HT, he said the ministry is taking stock of the sector’s problems on a daily basis and pulling out all stops to address its concerns. Excerpts from the interview:

Q How is the ministry dealing with the crisis in the dairy sector? Pictures of farmers throwing away tonnes of milk have gone viral on social media.

A. The ministry officials are meeting daily to take stock of the situation. We are closely monitoring the production of milk, its collection and the problems being faced by the milk producers. There are three sectors involved in the milk production business — the cooperatives, the private players and the small, independent milk suppliers, who are involved in door-to-door milk supply, to sweetshops and other commercial establishments such as those that make cheese, etc. The third category has been impacted the most because the overall consumption of milk has drastically fallen after restaurants, ice cream manufactures and sweetshops were closed due to the lockdown.

While we cannot legally impose on the private sector to buy more quantity of milk but we’ve instructed the cooperatives to increase their collection, which has gone up by 8% since the lockdown started. We’re focusing more on the cooperatives during this period.

Q: What about the meat and poultry industry? There has been a decline in the sales of meat and chicken products, as shops are largely closed across states.

A: The ministry has issued an advisory to the states to ensure that meat and poultry items are included in the list of essential commodities and be exempt from the lockdown. However, there have been swirling rumours that it’s unsafe to consume meat and poultry products, which, in turn, have impacted their sale. The states have to take a call on whether to keep these shops open, as the ministry has already issued the advisory.

Q: Several animal protection organisations have urged the Union government to regulate all meat markets in the country in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Is this being looked at?

A: Our slaughters houses are being run in keeping with the laid down rules and procedures. There is no mixing up of various kinds of meat, such as poultry with fish. There are designated places for each segment. The fear and the perception that has arisen that it (virus) originated from meat markets have not yet been scientifically proven.

Q The Rs1.7 lakh crore economic package announced by the government as a cushion to bailout sectors in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak has left out over one crore fish workers. They have not even been included in the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme that offers Rs2,000 to each farmer.

A: The ministry is acutely aware of the fisherfolks’ difficulties. The poultry sector is also one of the worst affected because of the ongoing lockdown. Talks are on to include them under the PM-KISAN scheme.

Q: How will the sectors cope with the shortage of manpower that will arise from the mass movement of migrant workers back to their respective native places?

A: My ministry is among the worst affected sectors but we hope to recover the fastest. Poultry farmers don’t need too much manpower; those who run dairies also have the required manpower. Other sectors will also not be impacted, as the reverse migration of labourers has stopped.