Road to Farmers’ Prosperity
After the passing of three farm bills in the recent session of Parliament, the Opposition is seemingly spreading canards about these bills. In Punjab and Haryana as well as parts of western Uttar Pradesh, the confusion has increased so much that farmers are on strike about it. The Opposition alleges that through these bills the government is trying to abolish the minimum support price system. However, the government has rejected this charge of the Opposition from every platform, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar have made it clear that the government is not going to end the system of minimum support price. Against this backdrop, it is apt to mention the deteriorating state of decorum exhibited in the upper house during the passage of two legislation about farm bill, which clearly indicates nothing but the frivolous attitude of lawmakers of the largest democracy in the world. The pseudo-secular media is justifying the behaviour of the Opposition party leaders. However, it should have highlighted the agriculture reform long overdue. It should have explained the ultimate benefits to the farmer and the consumer. The Opposition tactics should have been exposed instead of trying to justify their antics. The opposition to changes that will be brought about by the new agriculture related bills is politically motivated. If, as claimed by the government, bills will give freedom to farmers to sell their produce to anyone they wish to sell, what is the problem then? Assuming what the Opposition parties claim is true and accepting that these bills are anti-farmer, opponents must explain why today small farmers are unhappy. I think small farmers’ interests are just ignored and big farmers are protected by politicians. If farming is a loss-making activity, why are politicians against contract farming by companies and also against sale of agricultural land to non-farmers? If we wish small farmers to earn decent income, they must be encouraged to stand on their own legs, without too much government help. They must be empowered to set up farmer producer companies/organisations and through them increase productivity, profitability and income.
Reforms are part of growth. The APMC, or the Mandi system, as it is known, has outlived its utility. The Mandi system thrives under political patronage with middlemen running the show. The state governments, especially Punjab, is opposed to it because the Mandi system is controlled by a handful of powerful farmers who virtually hold the small and marginal farmers to ransom. The small and marginal farmers need choices to dispose of their produce, which they are presently denied. The Congress CM of Punjab has conveniently forgotten that these are the very reforms that his party promised in its manifesto during 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A typical Congress reaction, which they also adopted at the time of GST reforms after supporting the bill. It is worth mentioning that within days after the GST reforms, they started opposing it on the grounds of too many rate slabs, totally ignoring the fact that rationalisation of rates will be undertaken as the GST regime progresses. The romanticism of state control in India doesn’t seem to have diminished even by an iota despite years of high growth after 1991 leading to more revenues, and therefore, higher welfare in terms of food security, housing programme, etc. What baffles me truly is that when the entire developed world is a leading example of both better social welfare and free market, how do the so-called intellectuals in India seem to always pull us back to the never-ending abyss of state controls. This hasn’t worked. While the anxieties of small farmers and others have to be addressed well, we simply can’t go back to the very system under which we have seen so many farmers committing suicides. As for private investment in the agriculture sector, I think the private investment didn’t come in because they didn’t see much benefit, as the rest of the country was still under APMC and the government didn’t take any interest in infrastructure development for the agriculture sector. Now that the entire country is one agri-market, all states and the Centre should adopt the PPP model to rapidly build infrastructure for the agriculture sector. Only then will these reforms fructify and private investment can be seen crowded into the agriculture sector.
By Deepak Kumar Rath