Indian agriculture has for long suffered from apathy and policies rigged to benefit others at the cost of the farmer. Under successive Congress governments, ringing tributes were ritualistically paid to the industry of “kisan”, but the loudly declared intent to help farmers never translated into ground reality. Committees were formed with the avowed objective of developing agriculture and improving farmers’ lot, only to consign the recommendations of experts commissioned for the job to the growing pile of files never acted upon.The sickeningly dishonest and dreary pattern was junked in 2014, with the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi determinedly trying to remove the fetters which kept farmers from fully harnessing the potential of Indian agriculture. From the focus on improving the acreage under irrigation and encouraging farmers to diversify into allied activities such as dairying and beekeeping, to hikes in MSP and direct financial assistance worth thousands of crores, a series of measures have marked a fresh approach which stands out from the false, populist pronouncements made by previous governments.
This approach has now seen the passage of two landmark bills by Parliament: Agricultural Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Simplification) Bill and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Price Assurance Bill. The protests against them represent political dishonesty and the influence of middlemen, considering that they together with changes in Essential Commodities Act to remove cap on stock holdings can herald a New Deal for the agriculture sector.
The first bill is aimed at liberating the farmer from the oppressively unjust situation he had been locked in. He was forced to sell his produce at the local market, where factors such as the domination of a cartel, price information asymmetry, and poor infrastructure worked to his detriment. If the ordeal of having to wait endlessly in adverse and humiliating conditions forced him to submit to the ruthless mandi mafia, high transportation costs ate into his already meagre profit. This virtually amounted to a state sanctioned heist.
Once the first legislation is enacted, farmers will be freed from the grip of the middleman, and able to sell their produce to buyers from across the country at a price they deem to be fair and at a time of their choosing. Freedom to sell at the farm gate will do away with transportation expenses, and thus boost incomes. This is a giant stride towards the fulfilment of the dream of ‘One Nation, One Market’ 73 years after Independence.
The second soon-to-be enacted law will help farmers go for contract farming with agriculture trade firms, wholesalers, big retailers and exporters. The provision of market linkages at the sowing stage itself will insulate them from production and price vagaries. It will also lead to introduction of better technologies, technical assistance, crop insurance and credit facilities. Contract farming will also encourage private investment in the financially starved sector and open the way for growth of agro-based industries and better storage, thus removing shackles which caused stagnation. This will lead to higher income for farmers who will be able to modernise farming methods and innovate to suit the demand for cash crops and agro-industry.
In many states, affluent farmers have already been reaping the benefits of collaboration with the corporate sector. This law will help small farmers derive similar gains. They will have the freedom to withdraw from this agreement at any point without penalty, while sale, lease and mortgage of the land will be completely prohibited.
The allegations that the twin legislations are anti-farmer are baseless and have been raised by Congress and others as a smokescreen to cover their failures. Congress promised to repeal the APMC Act in its 2019 manifesto, but is now putting the interests of middlemen over those of farmers.
The conduct of these political parties in Rajya Sabha during passage of these bills is a dark blot on Indian democracy and parliamentary decorum. It reflects their frustration over loss of support and anti-farmer mindset. That alone can explain the propaganda that has been unleashed that enactment of the two laws will lead to abolition of MSP. The lie has already been exposed with the announcement of MSP for rabi crops this week and with the government’s solemn declarations inside and outside Parliament that MSP will continue.
Since 2013-14, MSP for wheat and paddy has increased by 41% and 43% respectively, while there has been up to 65% rise in MSP for pulses and oilseeds. The quantity of wheat and paddy procured has also increased by 73% and 114% respectively, compared to 2014. In the case of pulses, the increase has been a staggering 4,962%. Increased agriculture credit, higher loan subsidy, soil health card to 16.38 crore farmers, increased support for mechanisation and launch of the Rs 1 lakh crore Agriculture Infrastructure Fund etc have been hallmarks of the Modi government’s effort to help farmers. During this government’s tenure, production of foodgrain has increased by 7.29%, horticulture by 12.4% and pulses by 20.65% respectively. The Modi government has also provided security cover to 13.26 crore farmers under PM crop insurance scheme and direct cash benefit of Rs 94,000 crore to 10.21 crore farmers through PM Kisan Samman Nidhi.
Sardar Patel had famously said, “If anyone has the right to walk on this earth with their head held high, it is the farmer of the country, who produces the wealth of the earth.” Today, I feel proud to say that BJP government under Modi’s leadership has taken historic and bold initiatives to empower the country’s farmers and make them ‘Atmanirbhar’.
(The writer is Union Home Minister, GoI)