The way the farm Bills were bulldozed in the Upper House of Parliament by suspending, disregarding, disrespecting the rights of Members and hitting the rulebook for a six clearly demonstrates the tyrannical rule of the NDA government led by the Prime Minister over the poor peasants of the country. It is amusing that while the government termed the farm legislations as historic, it believed that they did not deserve a meaningful discussion with the lawmakers.
I am deeply disappointed why the Union government is not looking at a Comprehensive Agriculture Policy incorporating some of the best and successful farm models available in Telangana and replicate the same in other States. This is a better way of strengthening the federal spirit rather than transgressing into State issues like agriculture and weakening it.
For example, the Government of Telangana is implementing 3Rs for farmers – Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bima and Regulated Farming.
A farmer is given Rs 10,000 under Rythu Bandhu as input subsidy; insurance is provided to her/his produce under Rythu Bima; and farming is regulated through intervention by agriculture scientists and extension services as to which crop is to be sown for better price realisation.
Apart from these, Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrashekhar Rao is implementing 24-hour uninterrupted quality power, water supply for irrigation, enhancing storage facilities, including cold storage, and systematic procurement process.
The Chief Minister is also seriously thinking of creating a corporation, so that right from sowing to selling of farm produce, the corporation can play an appropriate role. This will assure farmers about the amount that they are going to get for their produce right before sowing, and also help avoid exploitation by big corporate and private players.
The High Powered Committee of Chief Ministers, constituted for ‘Transformation of Indian Agriculture’ in 2019 under the Chairmanship of Devendra Fadnavis, hardly met. It should be activated under the Chairmanship of K Chandrashekhar Rao to draft a Comprehensive Agricultural Policy to assess India’s strength and weaknesses so as to transform this crucial sector, which has shown its resilience even during the present pandemic, in terms of lives and livelihoods. The pandemic highlighted the role of the farmer as no country can come to the aid of India for meeting its food requirements.
Ironically, the Congress, in its manifesto of 2019, had promised similar reforms in favour of farmers but changed its tune to gain popularity and lead the agitation, after realising that the protests by farmers against the said laws are gathering steam.
The bone of contention in these farm legislations, and more particularly in the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services legislation, is the absence of a proviso to allay farmers’ fears on continuation of Minimum Support Price (MSP). Though the Minister of Agriculture is on record saying that the government would guarantee MSP to farmers, it has failed to have the desired impact.
Now that the Bills have got the assent of the President and become Acts, I suggest that the following issues be included under subordinate legislation, within six months of notification.
- Incorporate a proviso to ensure guarantee on MSP for benchmarking a Fair Remunerative Price in the absence of regulated markets and ensure that each State is supported for MSP programme beyond the PDS requirements at least for five years till the benefits of the new laws reach the farmer.
- The transition from APMC to private trade is likely to result in the exploitation of the farmers initially. So it is desirable that there should be a floor price for each of the commodity with penal clauses to safeguard farmers. This is also required since private investment in the infrastructure for storage and processing as well as its competition, needs at least a few years to get established. The government should add a proviso to Clause 5 of the Bill indicating the floor price. The absence of this crucial proviso provides elbowroom to corporate and private players to exploit farmers.
- Considering the geography, India can be a major global player in agri commodities, which will bring in the desired returns to the Indian farmers. Therefore, appropriate incentives/tax breaks need to be provided for global players who can add value along with technology to harness the potential of Indian farming.
- The opportunities in the global market for non-GMO and organic food could turn the tables in favour of the Indian farmer with appropriate food safety and traceability by bringing in global companies involved in Farm to Fork with tax incentives.
- It is of utmost importance to ensure that the government has access to the data to know which farmer sold his produce at what price, to which purchaser and whether the floor prices are ensured so that appropriate interventions can take place and the farmer is protected. Otherwise, any farmer suicide can be tagged to the reforms.
- A relevant proviso to ensure that the National Food Security Act for distribution of foodgrains through the PDS and the food security to poor under Antyodaya should not be compromised in the event of the foodgrain prices in the market far exceeding the MSP.
(The author is Member of Lok Sabha (Chevella), Telangana. Views expressed are personal)
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