PM Modi-led NDA government has rightly decided to go directly to farmers and tell them the benefits of the new farm reforms
The Prime Minister’s attack on Opposition on the politicisation of farmers’ agitation should be seen in the context of the pain a reformer feels at brazen lies and political opportunism of these parties at the cost of farmers. Nobody is debating what is good for the country. Everybody opposed to the BJP is just trying to create an impression that there is no way to resolve the crisis other than withdrawing the three farm legislation that seeks to reform APMC, contract mechanism and the Essential Commodities Act.
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As against this is a government that is determined to push for reforms to enable a jump start to Indian agriculture and empower farmers so that they get a better price for their produce and improve their livelihood and lifestyles. It is not that their life was hunky-dory and the legislations would endanger that. Quite the contrary. The stories of farmers’ distress, their death from hunger and indebtedness and subsistence agriculture have occupied the minds of policy-makers.
PM Modi would never take any decision that would go against the interest of the country and his decisions have been geared towards the upliftment of the poor and the needy. He has always tried to empower farmers and decided on farm legislation based on proper feedback. The PM has pledged to double farmers’ income by 2022 and one way to do this is to increase and streamline private participation in agriculture without compromising on farmers’ interest. It is not that privatisation is a new idea in agriculture. The new farm reforms aim to streamline and create a better structure to safeguard farmers' interests.
It is naive to say that we didn't ask for these reforms. Any reform is a continuous process whether it was economic policies under late PM PV Narsimha Rao in the early 1990s or late PM Rajiv Gandhi's push for computers. Governments take feedback at various levels and built upon the past experiments. For instance, the introduction of Soil Health Cards and various other measures initiated by the Modi government to make agriculture more productive.
The irony with new farm reforms is that multiple opposition parties had promised reforms along these lines. The Congress Manifesto of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is an example. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had promised similar reforms in their manifesto for the state assembly elections in 2016. NCP leader Sharad Pawar had spoken about dismantling the APMC mandis. Most leaders had advocated that the system of middlemen must be removed to empower farmers.
A political consensus existed on this front. Instead of telling farmers that the government had taken laudatory steps for their welfare, however, these parties and the leaders are now instigating them to stall and not reach a compromise. Imaginary fears based on lies that farmers' lands would be taken away by big MNCs and that the MSP would go away forcing them to sell their produce cheap are being spread.
Instead of taking a meaningful stand, the Opposition has only displayed rank opportunism. What can be more ludicrous than Rahul Gandhi asking the government to roll back these legislations and Arvind Kejriwal tearing copies of the legislation which he notified some days back.
Moreover, the stand of the opposition parties largely led by the Congress, the Left and Islamists is to oppose every legislation passed by the Parliament on the street with an aim to build mass hysteria as seen in their opposition of the government on Triple Talaq laws, CAA, Article 370. Are we then not walking the dangerous path that would endanger Indian democracy in the long run?
The NDA government is confident that legislations are in the best interests of the country and is backed by background and history of suggestions made by expert committees, Committee of State Ministers and the National Commission on Farmers most popularly referred to as the Swaminathan Committee report. The Congress had kept the Swaminathan Committee report in the dustbin. PM Modi-led NDA government has implemented most of its recommendations to strengthen agriculture. Even Swaminathan himself has lauded the steps taken by the Modi government for empowering farmers.
The rigid stand of farmers is surprising since the legislation is intended to benefit them. Nobody is taking away anything from them. An option is there that they could continue to operate in the old system. If anything was forced, the agitation could have been justified. The government through the first legislation on reforming the APMC is trying to give more avenues to farmers to sell their produce without binding them to adhere to these. If they wish they can still go to APMCs and not to private mandis. But they should not stop the rights of others who are keen to sell their produce in private mandis. Such a system already exists in Maharashtra and some other states.
The second reform is to give legal structure to the contracts entered into by farmers. The contract system already exists. The government has just made the law that would ensure that their rights on lands cannot be questioned by anyone. The agreement would happen only for the produce. There would be a prior agreement about the price at which a private player would buy the produce from contracting farmers. And the farmer would get the price agreed even if there are crop losses. What is the opposition then? And best of all is none is forcing to enter into contract farming.
The Third legislation amends the Essential Commodities Act by enabling storing of agricultural produce without fear but at the same time retaining intervention in national interests such as the emergency situation of war or pandemic or too much price increase. Unless adequate storage facilities are there, farming would suffer. The country has gained confidence due to the hard work of farmers and we are a grain surplus country now. We must target exports and feeding other people in the world. This will definitely empower farmers by increasing demands for their produce.
Protesting farmers have demanded that MSP (Minimum Support Price) be made mandatory and anybody buying below the MSP fixed by the government should be put behind bars. This is essentially demanding that the government should buy the entire farm produce on MSP if there are no takers. And considering that international price may be higher than the MSP a trader would prefer to import and sell rather than buy from indigenous farmers. This is besides the huge cost that such an exercise would entail.
As of today, only about six percent of farmers are covered by MSP. Small and marginal farmers having small land holdings exist on subsistence agriculture and do not have a surplus for the market. Some farmers are already growing high-quality paddy and do not need MSP. The government has already unequivocally stressed that the MSP system would continue as before and that the new legislations do not talk against the MSP.
Already the Modi government has increased purchase under the MSP. Kharif crop purchase under MSP shows that the government has bought about 20 percent more paddy under MSP till 7 December 2020. In volume, it is about 350 lakh MT as against about 292 lakh MT last year. Punjab contributed to about 57 percent of this MSP purchase. If we compare the five-year tenure of the UPA government (2009-14) with that of five years of Modi government (2014-19) in terms of MSP regime, we find that while the UPA paid Rs 3.74 lakh crore to farmers as MSP for paddy and wheat, the Modi government paid Rs 8 lakh crore. The fear is unfounded.
Farmers are being made to believe that they would not get the price of their produce and that this could be well below the MSP. Those who sign contracts would do so at a pre-determined price that would invariably be more than the MSP since the farmers would then not sign and keep going to the MSP regime under APMC. Those who are not signing would have the option to choose a market of their own. Under the agreement, the farmer would still get the same price even if there is crop failure etc.
The vested interest says that the big MNCs that may enter would dominate the market once they dismantle the APMC mechanism. This is impossible to happen. The government would never allow farmers to be exploited. They are the biggest voting group and can vote out a government that would not work in their favour. Allow the scheme to roll out and see how it pans out for their existence. India is sitting on the cusp of becoming a major agriculture exporter in the world. Our low productivity shows that there is huge scope for unprecedented growth. If the same land grows more crops, farmers would stand to benefit.
There is also a huge issue of low-quality produce that may be impacting the health of our people. High fertiliser, high pesticide regime ensures that the rice may not be of good quality. Most farmers grow different paddy for their own consumption and a different paddy for a mass scale MSP regime. The MSP rice goes to the poor through the Public Distribution System (PDS) and also in defence. If our agriculture has to have a competitive edge it must adhere to international quality in terms of moisture, pesticide use etc. Growing MSP paddy and the variety with higher quality need different treatment and care.
The BJP as a party and the BJP led NDA government has rightly decided to go directly to farmers and tell them the benefits so that they stay out of the echo system created by irresponsible opposition parties. It has said that it is ready to talk with farmers point by point on each aspect of the legislation. Agitating farmers should also understand that rigidity is not good for anyone. If their concerns are addressed they should allow the new system to work. The government has decided to spend more than Rs 1 lakh crore in creating agriculture infrastructure. The best time for agriculture is just around the corner.
—Sudesh Verma is a former journalist and head of BJP’s media relations. He is the author of 'Narendra Modi: The GameChanger,' and represents the BJP as a spokesperson in various media debates. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
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