For three years in a row, wheat farmers have received a paltry increase of Rs 50 per quintal per year in the form of minimum support price (MSP), which translates to 50 paise per kg every year. This corresponds to an insignificant 3.6 per cent increase in the price being paid to wheat farmers.
Compare it with the 7 per cent additional installment of Dearness Allowance (DA) to Central government employees in September over the existing rate of 100 per cent of the basic pay/pension to compensate for price rise, you realize the step-motherly treatment being meted to the majority farming population in the unorganized sector. Employees are getting 107 per cent DA allowance today.
In addition, as per a Centre government notification, whenever the DA crosses 50 per cent, there will be an automatic increase by 25 per cent in allowance such as Children Education Allowance, Travelling Allowance, Conveyance Allowance, Cash Handling Allowance, Risk Allowance, Bad Climate Allowance, Hill Area Allowance, Remote Locality Allowance and Tribal Area Allowance, among others. Agreed, not all employees get all these allowances but they do get some of these. In other words, the Central and State government employees are completely insured against any and all kinds of price rise.
The private sector employees too get a guaranteed income which incorporates all these allowances plus they receive hefty bonuses and shares.
But when was the last time you heard of a Children Education Allowance, a Bad Climate Allowance or a leave travel allowance or for that matter any of the above mentioned allowances being given to farmers? They are expected to meet all their expenses, including children education, daughter’s marriage, bad weather etc from the MSP they get. And the MSP is being kept nearly frozen for all practical purposes by successive governments to keep food prices in check. In other words, the entire burden of rising prices is being very conveniently passed onto to the farmers. The farmers must live in poverty and hunger to keep the middle class happy.
No wonder, several studies show that more than 58 per cent of the 600 million farmers sleep empty stomach. Ironically, the people who produce food for the country themselves go hungry.
Several times in the past, Parliament has been informed that the average monthly income of a farming family (comprising 5 people plus) in the country stands at a paltry Rs 2,115. This includes about Rs 900 per month from non-farm activities like MNREGA. In many States, including the frontline agricultural States of Punjab and Haryana, the minimum wages for workers are higher than the daily farm income. Interestingly, while the Central Government Employees Federation is demanding a minimum monthly wage of Rs 15,000 for contract workers/other unorganized sector employees; and a minimum monthly salary of Rs 26,000 to the lowest aid employees of the Central Government, there is no talk at all of providing an enhanced minimum monthly package to the farmers.
In other words, it is the country farming population – comprising 600 million people -- that forms the neo-untouchable class.
An interesting analysis has been provided by the former Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. When it comes to farmers, there is hardly a difference between the UPA and NDA. Accordingly, while the average cumulative increase in the paddy and wheat MSP during the Congress-led UPA, between 2004 and2014, was Rs 70 per year. During the previous NDA regime 1998-2004, it was only Rs 11. What he says is a stark pointer to the continuous apathy and neglect of the farming sector under successive governments.
As of this is not enough, there is more worrisome news that awaits farmers. Ministry of Food has already directed State Governments to refrain from providing any additional bonus over the MSP announced the Centre. Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan governments, which provided a bonus of Rs 100-200 per quintal for the past few years, have been warned not to do so in future. In case they don’t stop the practice, the Centre will not undertake food procurement operations in those States.
What is however not being told is that the MSP benefits only 30 per cent of the farmers. Even in the case of wheat and rice, where the Food Corporation of India makes procurement from the mandis at the support price, the network of mandis is only available in 30 per cent farmers. In the remaining 70 per cent of the cultivable areas, there are no mandis as a result of which farmers have to resort to distress sale year after year. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are in the privilege category considering the he network of mandis and procurement centres as a result of which they at least get the assured price for their produce.
Even in western Uttar Pradesh, the lack of mandis and procurement centres forces farmers to transport wheat and paddy to the nearest mandis across the border in Haryana. Like the previous Congress regime, the new BJP government in Haryana has also banned the entry of paddy flowing in from Uttar Pradesh. The plight of the UP farmers who now face the prospects of distress can well be ascertained.
Let us not forget that while MSP is announced for some 24 crops, in effect it benefits only wheat and rice farmers for it is only in these two crops that procurement is made every year. In a case filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Gurnam Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Haryana) has petitioned how lack of procurement hits farmers. Last year, while the MSP for sunflower was fixed at Rs 3,700 per quintal, but it was purchased for Rs 2,600-2,900 per quintal. It was added that while 48,000 quintals of sunflower arrived at the Shahbad mandi for sale, and considering the average loss of Rs 500 per quintal, it resulted in Rs 4 crores loss to farmers.
The same holds true for all crops, including sugarcane for which the State governments fix a fair price. The industry has been demanding market prices for sugarcane, which means lower prices in effect, to sustain the industry. Similarly, a strong lobby of economists is demanding the withdrawal of procurement operations in wheat and rice which effectively means doing away with MSP. The argument is that it is because of MSP that the government is forced to buy and stock huge quantities of food grains. These economists are telling that the farmers would benefit if the markets are allowed to make purchases. But what is not being told is that already 70 per cent of India’s farmers are dependent on private markets, and it is in these areas that bulk of the farm suicides take place.
Withdrawing the MSP would only force farmers to abandon agriculture in big numbers and migrate to the cities looking for menial jobs. Modi government therefore must take a realistic view of agriculture sector and makes efforts to bring prosperity in the countryside. Grow in India is no less important than Make in India. #
Why "Grow in India" too is important... Deccan Herald, Nov 11, 2014.