Delhi,India : On September 28, 2020, noted agricultural economist and Padma Shri Dr. Ashok Gulati wrote, “The passing of the farm bills in both the Houses of Parliament has sparked a major controversy in the country…..But the opposition parties described the passing of the bills as a ‘black day’…” He further asked “Where does the truth lie? Let us dig a little deeper into the economics and politics of it.” With that, Mr. Gulati had put his finger on the pulse of the problem, or widespread controversy, as is now evident in the form of the farmer protests being carried out around the National Capital Region, which has entered a severe phase with the hunger strike observed on Monday, December 14.
Dr. Gulati, who has served in academic as well as policy-making capacities in his career so far, calls the farmer protests ‘unfortunate.’ He goes on to say that it is this communication gap between the govt. and the farmers that has been ‘exploited’ by vested interests to not only call the farm bills a ‘sellout’ to corporate houses & create a fear psychosis among the farmers. Invoking the history of farm laws, Dr. Ashok Gulati invites the general public’s attention towards a few things, which are – 1) agricultural reforms actually started in 2003, under the then Vajpayee govt.; 2) agriculture sector faces two sets of problems – production problems and marketing problems (the current laws relate to the marketing part); 3) the present dispensation erected a new model of the reforms between 2015-17, after conducting lot of consultations with different state govts; 4)Lack of a champion in the agriculture ministry like former Union Minister, Late Mr. Arun Jaitley, who carried out consultations across the board to generate consensus for an equally complex law like GST.
Touching upon an unexpected benefit of the pandemic situation, Dr. Gulati, the Infosys Chair professor of Agriculture, highlighted the fact that despite suspending the APMC act (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) during the lockdown, to avoid rationing the Mandis, it was found that the system ran better and supply lines remains open despite everything else under a lockdown. It was this unprecedented benefit of temporarily suspending APMC act that inspired the govt. to go ahead with the “somewhat rushed” passing of the new Farm bills in the Parliament, to ensure that instead of congregating in a single Mandi, Indian farmers could go out and sell to whomever they thought was paying them the right price. Here, he is quick to point out that the Opposition has the right to oppose and ask why there was not a proper debate on the reforms before these were converted into law.
Another Sane Voice
Dr. Gulati is not alone in expressing this view. Another eminent personality, pained by this conflict between the farmers and the govt., is Dr. Krishan Jha, noted strategist, policymaker and founder of the Anti Corona Task Force. A few days back, Dr. Jha had also expressed a similar viewpoint while saying that meaningful dialogue is impossible amidst the cacophony of sounds emerging out of the multiple farmers’ unions that carrying out the protest.
While suggesting measures, Dr. Jha had advised the govt. to –
- a)Make Minimum Support Price (MSP) a legal right of farmers
- b)Direct all the states to set up a Kisan Mandi Authority to ensure that all the Mandis (farmer markets) function properly and in an egalitarian way with all the necessary infrastructure facilities
- c)Encourage the private players in farming to pay 3-5% extra crop price to the farmers, and
- d)Ensure that the mandis are freed from the stranglehold of Middle-men whose presence led to increase of corruption in the system.
Dr Krishan Jha further added as:
The execution of MSP can be further improved by adopting technological solutions. These days we read a lot of stories that in UP several paddy purchase-related officers are being suspended either due to their reluctance to work as per the need of the hour or their indulgence in corruption. These officers at the grassroots level have a lot of nuisance. When farmers are not ready to pay around Rs 500 per quintal as commission, these officers delay in weighing processes or report a lot of issues like higher moisture levels or too much dust etc. These issues are raised to give an option to farmers to pay under the table to get their paddy sold at purchase centres of MSP. I have studied and observed this purchase ecosystem at the ground level. I want to suggest certain innovations to ease the life of farmers and to ease out the purchasing processes by reducing human interventions in the weighing and other scrutiny processes of paddy. We can create a place where the farmer can offload the paddy openly in big containers which are fitted with weighing machines and moisture etc measuring machines. The moment farmer of downloads his paddy or wheat in this big container an automated slip mentioning the moisture and dust etc is generated and grains are de moisturised technologically in these containers along with the removal of dust etc and the farmer is instantly paid his money in his Aadhar enabled accounts. These machines can be given on rent to private operators with full surveillance through online weighing processes and CCTV’S. This will improve the quality of procurement processes and grains with faster and automated payments to farmers . I mean it will revolutionise the MSP PURCHASE system.
The GOI could do well by hearing what policymakers and strategists like Dr. Gulati and Dr.Krishan Jha, have to say since such men have their ear to the ground. As a result, their views are quite relevant to resolve the deadlock present on the Farmer Bill’s & their core issues permantly.