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ColumnsApathetic governance, agonised farmers

Apathetic governance, agonised farmers

Published: 21st Nov 2021 12:00 am

By Singireddy Niranjan Reddy

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The Central government has dealt a death blow to the Telangana farmer by declaring that it would not buy ‘parboiled rice’ produced by the State from the ensuing Yasangi season. This unanticipated announcement has alarmed the farmers of the State as Telangana produces only ‘parboiled rice’ in the Yasangi season. Not buying the parboiled rice in Yasangi effectively means not buying a single grain from the State in this season.

To facilitate the distribution of rice to citizens, the Central government has been buying and accumulating rice produced in the States through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), for decades. For effective distribution through the ration shops, the Central government has also been encouraging the production of parboiled rice crop and paying better rates for it. In the case of ‘fine rice’, the yield is less, the duration of crop growth and maturity is longer; expenditure and loss is more. On the other hand, yield is more but the loss is negligible in the case of parboiled rice. Considering these advantages, millers prefer buying parboiled rice over fine rice. As the demand is more for it, they buy the entire available parboiled rice and farmers happily grow it.

After achieving Statehood, the conditions in Telangana have improved enormously and farmers have been growing more crops of the parboiled rice varieties, facilitated by the increased water resources and monetary help from the State government. Farmers of Telangana have also been exporting parboiled rice. But the sudden announcement of the Centre refusing to buy the parboiled rice has hit them hard.

TS for Farmers

Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao had not only taken up the completion of the long pending irrigation projects on a war footing but also designed and completed the Kaleshwaram project, the largest irrigation project in the world, in just three-and-a-half years. It provides water for irrigation to most of the Telangana farms. Being a farmer himself, Chandrashekhar Rao knows the requirements of irrigation; so, in addition to water for irrigation, he implemented uninterrupted supply of free power, quality seeds and fertilizers, and launched quite a few farmer-friendly schemes.

For example, under the Rythu Bandhu scheme, farmers are given Rs 10,000 per acre as investment support and under the insurance scheme, Rythu Bima, farmers get Rs 5 lakh in case of any unfortunate death. Research inputs from the State agricultural university have also enormously extended the cultivated area of the farms and the yield of the crops.

In the past, the parboiled rice of Telangana was exported to Kerala and Tamil Nadu as it is their staple food. The FCI used to buy the yield and supply to the two States. But in recent times, they are locally producing rice sufficient for their requirement. In this context, the Central government has the responsibility to devise alternative methods to buy and distribute or export the parboiled rice produced by Telangana.

But the Centre has struck a sudden blow to the farmers by refusing to buy the parboiled rice after the crop has been produced and that too without giving them sufficient time nor the required advice to turn to other crops in demand. This refusal shows not only neglect towards the farming community of Telangana, but also its antagonistic and inimical attitude towards the State.

Weird Argument

The Central government is putting forward a weird argument that it had already declared that it would not buy the parboiled rice. The argument is far from the truth as the production of parboiled rice has increased due to the Central government’s “Out Turn” regulation of 67% of the parboiled rice to be taken by the government.

During the rainy season, 66-69 kg per quintal of different varieties of rice produced is taken through the “Out Turn” method. But the rice produced in Yasangi in Telangana amounts to just 50-55 kg per quintal through the “Out Turn” method. Instead of correcting this discriminatory method, the Central government’s action of refusing to take even this amount of rice from Telangana is simply inappropriate.

The farming community of Telangana has suffered unbearable losses in the past decades due to the lack of even minimum resources of water and power. As soon as the State was formed, the agriculture sector was given the highest priority. The State’s innovative schemes made the farmers, who migrated to towns for a livelihood, return to their native places and concentrate on tilling their lands. These few years have seen the farming community prosper; it has improved the rural ambience. Other vocations, which are primarily village-based, are also thriving.    

Alternative Crops

Scientists and agricultural experts of Prof Jayashankar Agricultural University of Telangana are researching  ‘Crop Colonies.’ The Telangana government is encouraging the production of alternative crops of oilseeds and pulses. Its target is to reach 20 lakh acres of land for palm oil cultivation by 2024-2025. The farming community is enthusiastic to grow cotton and pulses such as red gram, black gram, green gram and sesame. The cultivation of red gram has grown from 2 lakh to 10 lakh acres. The TRS government has a clear and effective agricultural plan and is turning the attention of the farmers to reduce the cultivation of rice and cultivate other alternative crops.

The Telangana government is the first State government to establish a Market Research Analysis Wing to study and locate the national and international requirements of crops and raw food products; and, it is encouraging farmers to adopt the cultivation of crops that are in high demand in the market. Before the beginning of the cultivable season, the government is educating farmers on scientific assessments. 

In the past four months, Ministers for Agriculture, Civil Supplies, Industries and the Chief Minister himself, along with officials concerned, met Central ministers several times and requested them to rescue the farmer community from this irreparable loss. Leave alone giving a suitable reply to the State, the Central ministers have not shown even an iota of concern.

BJP’s Double Game

While the Centre is outrightly refusing to buy rice produced in Telangana, the State-level leaders of the BJP are provoking farmers to cultivate only paddy in Yasangi. Understanding the double game played by the BJP, the State government has thrown a challenge to the State level leaders of the saffron party to get a written commitment from the Central government that it will procure paddy cultivated here. Acting deaf to the challenge, the BJP leaders are continuing their antics.

Adding insult to the injury, they are attacking the centres where farmers are trying to sell the crops of the rainy season. It is not only incomprehensible how a national political party could be so insensitive to the plight of the State’s farmers, but also intriguing as to how the State level leaders of the very same party could be so destructive to the interests of a community that feeds the entire nation. 

Shanta Kumar Committee

The main reason for the present chaotic situation in Telangana is the lack of vision and understanding of the Central government. The Modi government had appointed the Shanta Kumar Committee on August 20, 2014. The Committee submitted its report in 2015, making several valuable suggestions such as strengthening the FCI, gathering and storing agricultural produce and fixing minimum support price (MSP) for crops. The Committee had clearly said the MSP for crops followed at present is favourable only to rice and wheat; and hence, farmers would prefer cultivating them as long as that system continues and the other crops are not given the same preference.

The Committee also observed that there is a dearth of pulses and oilseeds; and, they should be cultivated more. If this has to happen, the Central government should fix the MSP for these crops and encourage farmers to take up their cultivation. The Committee categorically stated that the diversification of crops is not possible if the government does not encourage with its farm favourable regulations and buy all the crops – 100% — produced by farmers.

The crux of the problem lies in the Central government’s declaration that it would buy only 20% to 50% of crops of the States for the MSP. The Telangana government has written a number of letters to the Centre to permit the purchase of 100% of the crops cultivated with MSP. As the Centre never heeded the requests, the Telangana government has been buying 100% of crops through organisations like MARKFED, bearing the losses in order to rescue the farmers.

Mandate of FCI

The FCI focuses on gathering and storing the crops from the States; in addition, if the buffer storage is beyond the limit, the organisation should sell the excess crops in the national or international public markets. The main purpose of this strategy is to take care of farmers.

India imports cooking oils worth Rs 70,000-1 lakh crore per annum. This amount could be saved if the Indian farmers are encouraged to cultivate oilseed crops by giving them incentives.

The national policy on commerce and business and the policy on MSP could be coordinated to eradicate or at least alleviate the losses of the Indian farmers. But in these six years, the Central government has not reviewed these policies, leave alone revising them.

The Committee strongly recommended to the government to provide incentives to increase the production of crops and improve their average import. Though the Committee had categorically stated remedies to improve the situation and help the farming community, the Centre has not heeded it a bit. It is not willing to offer its cooperation to the States. It announces the MSP and washes its hands of it.

Lessons from other Nations

A Central minister publicly declared that the stored grains are in excess. He is not even aware that it is their own immaturity and inactivity that they did not enable the FCI to take the stored produce to public markets and dispose of. It is neither difficult nor impossible to do it. For example, African countries use parboiled rice as their staple food and they do not produce enough. And, it is only the Central government that has the authority and responsibility to export these excess crops to other countries.

Everyone accepts that the farmer is the backbone of any country and it is the ultimate truth that we all survive on the food that comes from the soil. There may be alternatives to anything; but, there is no alternative to mother, mother earth and the food provided by the farmer through his divine job of working in the soil. The responsibility of governments, therefore, multiplies multifold to protect the farmer and safeguard his interests. The Central government ought to respond. It should not only immediately buy the rice produced in Yasangi but also help Telangana in diversification of crops.

(The author is Minister for Agriculture, Telangana)

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