The recent announcement by the Minister for Food Processing Industry, GOI about a grant of Rs 80 crore to Goa to set up a Mega Food Park and for other schemes, raises many questions regarding such grandiose plans drawn from time to time using public funds liberally for projects with doubtful viability. The statement says that the 'Park' will be a '' well defined agri-horticultural processing zone containing state of the art facilities with supporting infrastructure and a supply chain". Another exalted 'objective' is to make these parks " a mechanism to bring together farmers, processors and retailers and link agri production to the market". The Park is supposed to 'function' as a sourcing hub for retail outlets. Well said and the idea deserves full kudos from all, interested in development of the food sector in the country, It is another thing that the idea is not knew as being imagined because the concept originated almost 3 decades ago at Mysore when the first dedicated food industrial estate was conceived and tried, though on a smaller scale and could not be implemented fully due to many reasons.
Having patted ourselves on our back, let us take a peep at the past record of such schemes. According to the Annual Report of MoFPI (2006-07) a sum of Rs 117.68 crore has been 'released' for 54 food parks out of which 29 has been 'declared' to be operational, whatever that means. In a country where government success is measured in terms of spending the extent of budgetary allocations earmarked, the hard outputs from these investments are conveniently brushed aside. A transparent report should have touched on the status of different food parks measured against their targets and if one goes by news from secondary sources, these parks have not attained even 50% of their targeted out put. If this is the ground reality with the food park projects of the previous 3 Plans, it is beyond any body's comprehension regarding the hurry in promoting even bigger projects under the 11th Plan, calling by any name, without critically analyzing the failures and successes and arriving at right recipe for better results on future investments.
The 11th Five Year Plan envisages 30 'Mega Food Parks' and the scheme provides for 50% grant in general areas and 75% grant in special areas for setting up such Parks. In its search for a right mix of policy support under its Vision 2010 plans to increase food processing from 20% to 35%, value addition from 6% to 20%, export from 1.5 to 3% and mobilize Rs 2 lakh crore investment in food sector, many schemes are being thought of, all in terms of financial support. Most crucial component missing is how to make the government more industry friendly by removing impediments, delay, indifference and interference that is literally killing the industry. As for mega parks, the common man's impression that these are projects intended to benefit real estate agents must be removed and right entrepreneurial credentials should be the criterion for awarding such projects. Probably the land issue that vitiates many projects must be marginalized through appropriate legal provisions.
What is surprising in the present situation is how a mega park can be awarded to a state which very recently revoked its stand on SEZ in the face of opposition from people, where local agri-horticulture potential is some what limited and a modern abattoir complex considered one of the best in India, is lying idle. Besides the mega park grant, the Minister, MoFPI also announced a grant for the existing abattoir, hardly utilized for want of business, another free bee in the form of Rs 15 crore grant! It is time we realize that dolling out money is not what industry expects because good entrepreneurs do not lack funds for right projects and the industry knows that government props do not come without strings attached. What it expects is a total freedom to operate within a stable frame work of supportive policies, minimum controls and least bureaucratic influences and above all trust and confidence in the industry to fulfill its socio-economic responsibilities. The business of managing the industry is not the business of the governments at state and central levels, but managing consumer safety is its business.