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4 lessons that Modi govt and Twitter warriors should take from the farmers’ protest

Farmers of Punjab, Haryana and UP know that the wheat-rice cycle cannot continue forever. Anxiety over MSP is its result.

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As Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Narendra Singh Tomar meet at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence ahead of another round of talks, there are several lessons from the ongoing agitation at Delhi borders largely by farmers of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The first and the most important is that legislating through the ordinance route is fraught with risks, and not desirable in our federal polity especially on subjects that are substantially in the domain of states. The framers of the Constitution had treated agriculture as a local issue and given its jurisdiction to states under the scheme of distribution of powers. It is the state governments that are closer to people, and, therefore, there is a need for deep consultation with them on issues relating to agriculture. The model that was adopted to evolve consensus over the GST legislation would be a more desirable approach in future too.

Under Article 123 of the Constitution, the President can promulgate an ordinance when Parliament is not in session. Executive powers of making laws through ordinances are to be sparingly used only in emergency situations when circumstances justify taking ‘immediate action’. There is a view that the three agriculture legislations did not really warrant immediate action, that too during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Also read: Farmers’ problem is income, more than prices. Solution lies in setting up factories

The protests in Punjab, Haryana and other states could have been avoided had the normal process of legislation through Parliament been followed in the first place. That would have allowed wider consultation with the farmer organisations, state governments as well as other stakeholders.

In the past, there have been several examples of ordinances not becoming laws.  The Land Acquisition Ordinance was promulgated thrice before it was allowed to lapse in August 2015.

Also read: Thatcher or Anna moment? Why Modi’s choice on farmers’ protest will shape future politics

The procurement problem

The second lesson is that Twitter and social media warriors do not reflect India’s collective wisdom. Only the ignorant can question the contribution of the original Green Revolution states – Punjab, Haryana and western UP – in providing food security to India for four decades. Many in the urban middle classes have questioned the subsidies provided to agriculture in Punjab as if other states do not provide any support to their farmers. They may be unaware that Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu also provide free electricity to their farmers.

The third lesson is that various states are at different stages of development, and formulation of a pan-India policy for agriculture may not be desirable.

Punjab and Haryana have invested large sums of money in setting up a robust mandi infrastructure through Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), but several other states are lagging behind. Due to the efforts of Punjab and Haryana, almost all farmers enjoy the benefit of realising minimum support price (MSP) for their wheat and paddy. In several other states, even though the APMC mandi infrastructure exists, most trading takes place outside mandis. In these states, the farmers have given up any hope of realising a fair price for their produce. That is why they are not protesting actively.

However, it must be noted that there has been good progress in this direction since the global food crisis of 2006-07, and several states have created an effective procurement system, mostly through co-operatives, which has successfully enabled farmers to benefit from procurement at MSP. Punjab and Haryana contributed to 69.5 per cent of the wheat procured in 2009-10. Their share had come down to 51.6 per cent in 2020-21. Similarly, their share in rice procurement has come down from 34.6 per cent in 2009-10 to 29.7 per cent in 2019-20 (kharif marketing season). Madhya Pradesh has procured more wheat this year than Punjab and Odisha; Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have procured a record high quantity of rice this year.

In 2015-16, the Union government decided to create a buffer of two million tonne of pulses, and the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation of India (NAFED) was made the nodal agency for this. Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh have helped their pulse-growing farmers get MSP during the years when market prices were at record lows. This has substantially reduced India’s dependence on imported pulses.

Also read: No takers for govt’s offer to amend farm laws, farmers say nothing short of repeal acceptable

A 10-year plan

Finally, the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western UP also know that the wheat-rice cycle cannot continue indefinitely. Having seen the benefits of stable income through the sale of their produce at MSP, they are rightly anxious about the possibility of other crops not being procured by the government. They have the example of kharif crop maize this year that fetched them only Rs 1,000-1,200 per quintal while the MSP is Rs 1,850 per quintal. They are scared that a similar future awaits them for wheat and paddy.

After the talks with the farmers’ unions on 5 December 2020, it has to be seen if the farmers would be satisfied with just an assurance of the continuation of the current policy of MSP through an executive order, or would they stick to their demand for amendment in the law. What the farmers of Punjab, Haryana, western UP need is a 10-year plan to reduce the area under water-guzzling crops of paddy and sugarcane. But, coming from the original Green Revolution states, they need direct income support, shared equally by the Centre and the states, to compensate them for this switchover.

Punjab and Haryana are too precious for Indian agriculture and food security. The Modi government knows this and, therefore, it has shown wisdom in initiating negotiations and offering to make suitable amendments in legislation.

Hussain is retired Union Agriculture Secretary. Currently, he is Visiting Senior Fellow, ICRIER. Mohapatra retired as Union Fertiliser Secretary. Views are personal.

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  1. Correction: Farmers are not asking for an amendment in the laws. They are asking to abolish them all together.
    This article is saying Modi Government has initiated the talks for an amendment. First of all, Modi government didn’t initiated any talks untill farmers started to protest.
    Modi Government didn’t even consult any farmer organizations beforehand.
    Government is offering amendments only because amendments are still in favour of corporations. And can be manipulated once the laws are implemented.
    Looking at the other states where this system is implemented, farmers are struggling to sell their high crops.
    That is why these laws should be banished all together.

  2. I am a farmer and not in agreement with the writers. Since one of the authors is a retired Agriculture secretary, it would have been more honest if he explained why he failed to as an agriculture secretary to develop mandis in other parts of the country and why only a few crops of the green revolution are offered MSPs and he is not made a single comment on the corruption in FCI. Not a single case has been filed while manual labourers employed by FCI earn more than an MBBS pass doctor in government service. I have them as patients and there are many articles over the past two decades by genuine Indian investigative journalists outlining the corruption in FCI as well as licensed brokers of mandis collusion with politicians.
    And these two authors with all their wisdom and experience have the temerity to call the middle class of the country and a democratically elected central government as ignorant fools.
    They clearly state that most Indian states do not have adequate infrastructure for farmers and most states other than Punjab, Haryana & UP have developed far more than these 3 states despite not having MSP for many of their crops & not having perpetual year round rain or irrigation facilities and suffering from natural calamities like cyclones in the southern coasts.
    A farmer from Punjab need not worry about storing his grain while in Andhra, the harvest is precarious. Just this past month, there have been 2 cyclones that have destroyed a lot of crops, many which do not have MSP and those that have MSP will not be bought because they are damp now. Those who could harvest in time do not have warehouses to store them. What was this agriculture secretary doing then? And how did he get a post retirement government post for a job he failed to do while being secretary.
    Just goes to show the arrogance of IAS officers and journalists who believe that every other educated Indian is an idiot.
    And by the way, I am also a farmer with 10 acres of land across all family members which is far less than most of your Punjab & Haryana farmer union leaders despite my predominant earning from medical practise.
    Atleast name one state other than Punjab which has officially rejected the 3 central laws even though so much time has passed. You people are blind fools. Have you even asked the opinion of farmers from any other part of the country? What about the tamil farmers who protested a few years back in Delhi for a whole month without any support from the farmer unions?
    Maybe the Tamil farmers fault was that they did not indulge in violence and block roads & rails. No BJP minister spoke with them. No farmer union leader from Punjab or Haryana or UP joined their protests. They were not asking for MSP or loan waiver or free electricity. If the government APMC system run by this agriculture secretary was working so well, then why were they protesting in Delhi, eating rats and wearing underwear.
    Why were the Tamil farmers not criticised by the ignorant middle class twitter warriors as these authors call them?
    Please Sekhar Gupta sir, I am starting to regret making my first donation to THE PRINT just a week ago. Please, this is neither journalism nor expertise.
    It reeks of objective blindness, ideological slavery, opportunistic bullying by people who consider themselves the know all.

    • Straight from the heart comment Dr. Mahesh Docherla. You are spot-on about the lack of support for Tamil farmers. A publication headed by a journalist of Shekhar Gupta’s stature is supposed to keep out columnists who pursue their own agenda rather than do an objective analysis of issues. To earn more donations, The Print needs to smarten its act as far as the “Home” page is concerned. The “In-Depth” vertical column on that page has head four photos – Sanya Dhingra’s article on Vishwaguru, Sandhya Ramesh’s article on Immunity Boosters, Sandhya Ramesh’s article on Vaccine, and Manasi Phadke’s article on Parambir Singh. for more than 5 months. I pointed this out on Twitter too, but no modification undertaken. Uninspiring, to say the least.

  3. Even though Print has several writers, I refuse to call them journalists, as they are partisan and always blatantly pushing regressive leftist , aboveground jihadist and tukde tukde gang agenda agenda, Shekhar Gupta this time did the right thing to get an expert like Hussain sir to write this unbiased, factual, pragmatic article which acknowledges the contribution of farmers, especially jat belt farmers of Haryana, Punjab,, Western UP in India’s food security.. He also offers solution how to continue to secure India’s food security, while acknolwedging food security heroes of India the jat belt farmers, and how to reduce sowing of water guzzling sugercane and rice which is depleting our already depleted red zone water table. Thanks to Hussain sir.

    To Shekhar, banda ban ja, kick out leftists and Jihadists including Shivam Vij, Ms Yadav she needs a shrink and hinduphobe Ghazala,, etc.

  4. The post can be understood keeping the parable of blind men and elephant as they discuss the limits of perception and the importance of complete context.

    A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar-like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.

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