Businessline Millets Conclave: Krishna Ella calls for GST waiver for millets

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Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella with senior associate editor of NEInfo Businessline Richa Mishra at the Millets Conclave 2023 in Hyderabad on Friday.

Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella with senior associate editor of NEInfo Businessline Richa Mishra at the Millets Conclave 2023 in Hyderabad on Friday. , Photo Credit: RAMAKRISHNA G

One of the key players who helped India tackle the COVID pandemic with his Covaxin (vaccine), chairman of Bharat Biotech Krishna Ella pitched for GST waiver at the NABARD-Businessline Millets Conclave held in Hyderabad on Friday.

“Government should remove GST on millets so that everyone can join the mission on millets,” he said at a fireside chat with Richa Mishra, senior associate editor of Businessline.

His views found support from C. Tara Sathyavathi, director of the Indian Institute of Millets Research, a Center of Excellence in millets. “If demand for millets can increase rapidly, we can request the government to consider GST waiver,” she said.

Responding to a question on marketing millets, Mr. Ella, who also owns Ella Foods, said that the government and private sector should come together. “Those into millets business are small players who cannot support themselves. If, for example, ITC Ltd makes a millet product and gets GST waiver, everyone will buy the product,” he said.

Stating that NABARD should make the Center remove GST, he said, “If we ask the Planning Commission (Niti Aayog), they will talk of too many figures.”

Mr. Ella called for a holistic approach to tackle the issue of tax on millets. “Organizations like NABARD should take up issues like 5% GST on packaged millet. Otherwise, representations on this will lead to another paper,” he said. Calling for a different approach to market millets, he said that NABARD should fund a survey on consumers’ millet preference in the European Union and the US.

The survey needs to find out if people need solid fiber or other things. “This will help farmers increase production and export,” he said. “A farmer is the best entrepreneur in the world,” he added.

To a question on whether he would initiate a process for millets like he did with Covaxin, he said, “I don’t mind losing money. I am looking for ideas, and one of the ideas is to introduce gluten-free millet products.

“Can we start high fiber, gluten-free products? Can we come up with a nutrition bar or some other product? We should bring food science into nutrition,” he said, adding that he does not want to “start everything”.

Mr. Ella said that millet producers could look at the wellness point of view and provide young generation with chips grounded with millets. “It is an idea to look at, by mixing and making them palatable for children. We need to think strategically to make them eat daily,” he said.

“Scientists, industrialists, policy-makers and the government have to come together to promote millets. Let’s make the US eat our millets,” he said. Asked what his daily diet is, he quipped, “I eat whatever the cook gives me.”

Referring to a presentation he made to former President Pratibha Patil, he said that he highlighted the need for dryland agriculture. “No one is focusing on that. We can save water from rice and wheat by switching to millets,” he said. On a lighter note, Mr. Ella said, “Probably, we need more GST on rice.”

Stating that food is a business, he said, “We have a perception against millets as poor man’s food. But, the time has come to find out value in millets. We have to change the brand and nutritional value.”

The Bharat Biotech chairman pointed out that coconut oil, according to research, is good for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Mr. Ella pointed how corn producers in the US came up with Kellog’s research institute to promote corn cereals to solve the issue of surplus production.

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