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Listen to Farmers;Address their concerns

By Hari Jaisingh

Listen to Farmers; Address their concerns

Agriculture is the lifeline of India’s economy, and so, I strongly believe the
the country ought to have a consensus approach on matters concerning a healthy
and faster growth of farms, as well as the well-being of farmers. However,
looking at the acrimonious atmosphere seen in both houses of Parliament during
discussions and protests of opposition parties against the three Farm Bills, I
have reasons to feel disillusioned at the state of affairs relating to farmers.

 

The official view is that the Acts are meant to empower small and marginal
farmers by allowing them access to markets and thereby get prices of their
choosing. The opposition parties and leaders of farmers disagree. According to
them, the Acts threaten to abolish their trusted mechanism of MSPs and
consequently, leave them at the mercy of large corporate buyers.

 

I view the on-going protests as a confidence-building crisis. The Modi
government has failed to take farmers and opposition leaders into confidence
and provide a clear narrative about its farm moves. No wonder, even Union
Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, an MP of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one
of the BJP’s oldest allies, resigned from the Modi cabinet (on September 17)
and publicly criticized its farm policy.

 


Pro-farmers’ voices in Punjab, and even in the BJP’s own state of Haryana, have been in the air for quite some time. Some opposition parties have gone to the extent of accusing the Centre of “destroying the federal structure” by bringing the Bills in Parliament. In fact, Punjab Chief Minister, CaptainAmarinder Singh felt that the farm bills would “throw small farmers to big sharks”.

True, politics has now come to the fore on farmers’ issues. This is but natural in
the complex polity of India if the ruling party banks on its majority in
Parliament to bulldoze its way.

 

Be that as it may, it is clear that official and opposition perceptions on
agricultural matters very sharply. I cannot be certain as to how and where things
have gone wrong.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that reforms in the farmer’s bills, which
replace ordinances promulgated in June, would take the farmers to the 21st
century.

However, farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh are
not sure about the government’s high-flying rhetoric. They are used to the
system of MSP, which, they feel, has worked well for them.

 

The government, on the other hand, has tried to project its moves as creating the
desired ecosystem and give farmers the “freedom of choice” to sell their
produce to anyone and anywhere in the country. Thus, neither farmers nor
traders, processors, retailers, and exporters would be forced to sell or buy on the
premises of state-regulated APMC Mandis.

The natural question to ask is: why are farmers skeptical about the new concept
of markets?

They are unsure if they will be able to exercise their options to get the right
price for their produce in the absence of the requisite infrastructural facilities to
store their produce. Besides, the rural areas lack a viable system of information,
which would enable them to bargain effectively for the right price for produce.
The official stand on the gains from “freedom” looks like a theoretical
proposition.

For farmers, what matters is not the question of “benefits” on paper, but better
remuneration from an assured system that gives them a better standard of living.
Looking beyond, the real problem with Indian agriculture is it’s over-
bureaucratization.

The authorities strike one posture publicly but do the reverse of what they say.
There is an obvious misalignment between words and actions. That is why even
PM Modi’s declaration, that the MSP system and government procurement of
crops would continue, does not help build much confidence among farmers.
This is not surprising.

We are aware of how the official system works. Its casual approach can be
attributed to the absence of a sound policy perspective and the absence of the
a grassroots approach to look at problems from the viewpoint of the sons and
daughters of the soil.

 

As it is, the farm sector, by and large, has not kept pace with technological
progress. For this purpose, new efficiency and sustainability levels are
necessary to meet the changing needs from the grassroots upward.
More than the provisions as spelled out in the Farm Acts, the authorities have to
address the basic operational problems facing farmers.

 

Unfortunately, the track record of Krishi Bhavan is not all that flawless. It seems to be caught in the
shadow of its distorted policies and postures. Not knowing India’s strength, it
gives the impression of being ever willing to succumb to vested interests.
In this context, the inadequate storage facility in itself poses a serious problem.

 

This requires a top priority for the success of farm policies and strategies. In
addition, there are problems of salinity and waterlogging in certain areas, as
well as the widespread deficiency of micronutrients in the soil.
There also exists the problem of an increase in weed infestation, pests and
disease outbreak, not to mention the burning of combined harvested rice straw,
which has worsened air pollution.

 

All these problems call for a new integrated approach to resolving farmers’
issues. Their growing discontent cannot be ignored. Their frustration is mainly
due to their failure to get the expected farm income for their produce, besides
other operational problems at the grassroots.

 

(Mr. Hari Jaisingh, the former Editor of The Tribune group of publications, has had a distinguished journalistic career spread over a period of 45 years. He has worked in senior positions with leading Indian newspapers, including The Tribune, The Indian Express, National Herald, and the Business & Political Observer).

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of newsabode.com. newsabode.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

 

END

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