IN AN unusually strongly worded letter, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to bail out the farming community of the state from an agrarian crisis and saying that the nation’s breadwinner has been “reduced to the plight of a beggar.”
The chief minister said the policies of successive governments at the Centre had led to Punjab going hungry. “This was largely because of the huge mismatch between the prices of agricultural produce like foodgrains on the one hand and costs of agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides, machinery, labour and so on. This is not even counting the cost of the farmer’s land as capital investment,” the CM says in the letter.
Badal said Punjab had been at the forefront of ensuring food security of the nation and has been contributing 40-50 per cent of wheat and 30-35 per cent of rice to the central pool for the past three decades.
The Chief Minister, however, said this had been achieved at a huge cost to the state and its farmers as the Punjab farmers have bartered away their only two natural resources, soil fertility and water. Badal said farmers have also suffered huge financial distress due to unviable and totally untenable prices of foodgrains because of efforts of the Centre to keep consumer prices affordable for the poor.
He said the state has been a witnessing a scenario in which prices of agricultural produce like food grains have been increasingly arithmetically while the hike in the costs of inputs has been geometrical. He said that the MSP of farm products, even where marketing has been assured, has been rising in terms of percentages while the costs of inputs have been galloping. Badal said accounting for inflation, the changes in MSP actually work out to be in the negative direction, which was that the real prices have actually been going down whereas costs of inputs have been mounting at alarmingly inflationary rates.
The CM, who has been facing the opposition of farmers in the state due to poor returns and less compensation for failed crops, further said the weather aberrations in the last two years coupled with failure of cotton crop have devastated small and the marginal farmers.
Cornering the Centre over outstanding payments, Badal pointed out that as per estimates by the Centre itself, Rs 52,438 crore of banks were outstanding towards farmers in March, 2013 ie Rs 38,700 crore of public sector banks and Rs 13,738 crore of cooperative banks. The chief minister said it was most urgent to provide a one-time loan waiver to small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers. “As a matter of fact, the problem can be neglected only the risk of playing havoc with the future of our national economy, completely endangering the country’s food security in the long run,” he added.
“Whereas the farmers on the whole have been expressing their grievance in a peaceful, democratic manner, there are also instances of their plight being politicised and exploited for goals which run contrary to the ideals of peace and social harmony. Instances of farmers’ problems being deliberately distorted and given a violent form by vested interests are not uncommon,” he stated.