Those who feed the country are being fed. Farmers getting food as part of a campaign by Dainik Bhaskar group to help the drought affected in Maharashtra.
A newspaper chain -- Dainik Bhaskar -- has launched a campaign to feed the farmers in the drought affected Marathwada region of Maharashtra. There can be nothing more telling than this. A day prior to Diwali, 260 tonnes of food was distributed among 15,000 farming families in 125 villages. For these poor farming families, there could be nothing better than getting food on the eve of Diwali. A morsel of food is what they desperately needed. Not only in Marathwada, the plight of a large section of the farming community elsewhere is no different.
There is something terribly going wrong with agriculture. In the midst of reports of serial death dance on the farm continuing unabated, with Maharashtra alone reporting more than 2,200 farmer suicides recorded till September this year, there is not even a semblance of an effort to rescue the beleaguered farming community. Acche din for farmers remain elusive.
After a devastating drought that afflicted 39 per cent of the cultivated area in 18 States, and with reports of delayed sowing of the rabi crop on account of deficient soil moisture, all that the government has done is to raise the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat by a paltry Rs 75 per quintal. This is roughly an increase of 5.2 per cent over the price offered last year. Put together, the increase in rice and wheat MSP this year totals not more than 8.5 per cent. This is not even comparable to the 13 per cent increase in DA installments for the government employees. I am not counting the mandatory 10 per cent annual increment in basic salary for employees.
While the inherent disparity against agriculture continues, cold-shouldering of farming sector vis a vis other sections of the society remains at the heart of the agrarian crisis that is sweeping through the country. For the past three years, wheat and rice price have been raised by Rs 50 per quintal every year, which was not even enough to offset the rise in household expenditure resulting from a spike in food inflation witnessed in the past few years. Although many mainline economists and business writers have time and again stressed on the need to freeze MSP so as to contain food inflation, I haven’t seen any concern being voiced at the negative impact such efforts to keep farm incomes deliberately will have on farm livelihoods.
After all, a farmer also has a family to support. His children also need to go to school, and he has also to fend for their health and living expenses.
Following the hue and cry over the skyrocketing dal prices, the government has been forced to raise the MSP for the two major rabi pulses -- chana and masur – by Rs 250 per quintal each and in addition provided a bonus of Rs 75/quintal. Interestingly, what may seem to be an adequate economic price for both the rabi crops, the fact remains that it is much below the ruling market prices. In the case of chana, Rs 4,800 to Rs 5,000 per quintal is the price ruling in commodity trading against which the MSP stands at a low of Rs 3,500 per quintal. Similarly for masur, wholesale prices are prevailing around Rs 6,000 per quintal whereas the MSP being offered to farmers is Rs 3,400 per quintal, a low of almost 40 per cent to the prevailing market prices. How will the enhanced MSP offered this year, an increase of 10.5 per cent over the previous year, become an incentive to farmers to shift to pulses is something that has not been explained.
What makes it worse is the government’s reluctance to procure the entire crop of pulses at the announced prices. In the absence of any assured procurement, the advantage of announcing a higher price for pulses is therefore lost. The government is only committed to procure 40,000 tonnes of pulses from farmers at the announced MSP for the buffer stocking it plans to do. This is not even a drop in the ocean considering the anticipated pulse production in the range of 18-19 million tonnes. In other words, after making the required procurement, the government will very conveniently leave farmers at the mercy of the traders.
The failure therefore to provide an assured income (linked to assured procurement) to farmers comes at a time when farmers have faced a traumatic crop season this year. With only 5 State governments – Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka – partly declaring drought, the rest of the 13 State Governments have simply evaded giving a comprehensive compensation package to the affected farmers. Considering that millions of farmers had faced the fury of two consecutive drought years, I see no reason why the government should not be announcing a substantive economic bailout package for the drought-hit farmers.
This brings me back to the equity dimension. While the debate around One Rank One Pension (OROP) revolves around bringing parity in income for retired soldiers within the armed services, I wonder when will the nation begin talking about income parity among jawan and kisan and for that matter with other government employees. Agriculture continues to be in the Dark Age because successive governments have simply turned its back towards the farming community. Successive governments have never looked beyond making rhetorical statements like agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy. That backbone is being systematically weakened. #
Beyond lip-service, govt does precious little for farmers' development. ABPNewstv.in Nov 14, 2015