It is high time for the Modi government to undo the mistakes of previous governments, listen to the farmers and take immediate corrective measures.
Even after 80 odd days, the farmers agitation is still on and they can be seen squatting on all the major highways leading to Delhi . They are demanding the repeal of the three farm laws and a law on MSP. They have decided to continue their agitation till such time that the government concedes these demands. There are clear signs that the farmer’s agitation has spread to many states and has intensified beyond the peripheries of the national capital. Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, during his address to both the Houses of Parliament reiterated his government’s stand that these three farm laws would transform the lives of millions of farmers and there was no question of their repeal. Farmers on the other hand, are arguing that they never demanded these laws. Instead, they want a law on MSP to ensure that farmers get at least the minimum price for their produce and nobody should be allowed to purchase their produce below the price fixed by government.
This farmers’ agitation has not only survived but has intensified, hence it cannot be overlooked or ignored by the Modi government. Whatever may be the public posturing of the national government, it has shaken the political landscape. Our country, India consists of about 650,000 villages inhabited by about 850 million consumers making up about 70 percent of population and contributing around half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Consumption patterns in these rural areas resemble the consumption patterns of urban areas. Indian agriculture with its allied sectors, is still the largest source of livelihood in India. 70 percent of its rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal. Even then agriculture sector never received due attention and support leading to continued indebtedness, poverty and backwardness of rural India despite the fact that India is the largest food grain producer (25% of global production). It is the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton and groundnuts, as well as the second-largest fruit and vegetable producer, accounting for 10.9% and 8.6% of the world fruit and vegetable production, respectively.
One thing should become clearer to our current and future policy framers that until we resolve the farmers distress issue, we will remain an underdeveloped, poor and backward country in the near future. If the income of 70% of the population is to be increased, supplemented and augmented then we need laws to ensure that farmers get the remunerative prices for their products as is the case of other producers and manufacturers. For this to happen government has to intervene and come up with a law to ensure a minimum price for the farm products, as agri markets are not like the other markets in the true sense of the term. Here the produce arrives in a short span of a month or so but consumption takes place during the rest of the year or beyond, which is not the case with any other market where the producer controls the output in consonance with the demand ,to control the prices.
Secondly, government needs to increase the number of agricultural produce markets to nearly 40,000 from the current number of nearly 7500 across the length and breadth of our country, to enable our farmers to have easy access to markets. This will help the farmers immensely, rather than insisting on the opening of private mandis with different set of rules. Ironically every large village has at present a privately managed farm produce mandi in operation.
Further , the government has to realise the fact that growth of all the sectors is dependent on demand for goods and services and rural areas contributes to nearly half of that . With increase in the income of rural population which is mainly dependent on agriculture, the growth targets of the economy will be easy to achieve. This can be easily accomplished by ensuring increase in the farmer’s income by facilitating reasonable farm produce price payments to farmers through a law on MSP, as demanded by the farmers. Nobody is demanding that the government should procure all that is being produced, instead the government should keep procuring only that much which is required to ensure the smooth running of our public distribution system. Today also most of the farm produce is handled by private players who exploit the poor farmers leading to vicious indebtedness and poverty. This has to stop.
Wisdom lies in admitting one’s mistake and adopting course correction. The time has come for the national government to undo the mistakes committed by successive governments in the past and present, listen to farmers, repeal the three laws which has put them at war with the government, pass a law to ensure MSP for all the agricultural products. These steps will enable the country to not only solve the problem of rural poverty to a great extent but also solve myriad problems plaguing rural India.
(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary to Government of India)