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Monday, October 19, 2020

Behind stir, fear of losing lifeline of Punjab’s socio-economic fibre

The prime reason for univocal opposition to the new laws is due to blatant attack on the institutional system of procurement of wheat and paddy at minimum support price (MSP), which is the lifeline of Punjab’s socio-economic fibre.

Chandigarh | Updated: October 12, 2020 4:54:58 am
Punjab farmers protest, farm laws, minimum support price, paddy procurement, Chandigarh news, Punjab news, Indian express newsLabourers spread the paddy for drying at Grain Market near village Dhablan in Patiala on Sunday. (Photo: Harmeet Sodhi)

(Written by Karamvir Singh Sidhu)

Farmers all over the country are protesting against the recently approved three laws on agriculture produce marketing. However these protests are more vociferous in Punjab, where the common people also support the cause of the farmers.

No doubt the central government has violated the constitutional provisions of federalism by enacting law on agriculture, which is a state subject. However, the prime reason for univocal opposition to the new laws is due to blatant attack on the institutional system of procurement of wheat and paddy at minimum support price (MSP), which is the lifeline of Punjab’s socio-economic fibre.

‘Force behind the Green Revolution’

The robust institutional system of procurement of wheat and paddy did not come up in a single day, it has emanated from a phenomenon known as Green Revolution. It was a holistic programme, conceived in the early sixties, to pull the teeming population from the ruthless jaws of hunger by achieving manifold increase in the yield of cereals grown in the Indian fields. The programme was conceptualised in two parts, first to increase the yield of grain by shifting from traditional agriculture to industrial agriculture by using high yielding varieties (HYV) of seeds, intensive chemical fertilizers and consistent irrigation. Second part of the programme was to create an institutional system to incentivise the farmers by providing them an assured and remunerative price of their produce so that they feel encouraged to invest in HYV seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to increase the productivity. Two significant institutions – Agriculture Prices Commission, now known as Commission for Agriculture Cost And Prices (CACP) and Food Corporation of India (FCI) – were established whose respective mandates were to fix remunerative support price and facilitate procurement of produce to be distributed amongst the poor of the country through public distribution system (PDS). Simultaneously, Punjab established it’s own infrastructure to regulate and streamline the procurement on behalf of FCI.

The farmers of Punjab, due to their entrepreneurial attitude and capability to adopt innovations, put their blood and sweat to make Green Revolution a success and in less than 10 years transformed the perception of India, in food production, from ship to mouth situation to a food surplus nation.

‘new Laws favour private players’

Unfortunately with a single stroke of pen, this historical edifice has been made redundant by the Union government. The law favours private players who will outclass the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) registered trades due to uneven playing field. The asymmetric competition between the private players and APMC registered trades are well defined in the provisions of “Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020”, which is the most controversial among the three Acts. As per this Act, farmers are not required to market their produce through APMC registered trades, they are free to sell it to any trader, company or an individual possessing a PAN. Farmers can create their own e-platform to market their produce anywhere in the country. States can neither check nor regulate intra-state or inter-state movement of farm produce. They can not levy any tax or duty outside the APMC markets. These provisions will create a parallel market of unregistered and unbridled individuals, traders and corporations who will open their shops anywhere in the state and will compete with the registered APMC traders who will have to pay the state taxes.

The most visible damage to Punjab will be the loss of revenue from Market Fees and Infrastructure Development Fund, which is approximately Rs 3600 crore per annum. This fund is dedicated to rural development such as construction and maintenance of village link roads, APMC markets, agriculture research and allied activities, due to which Punjab’s rural infrastructure is the best in the country.

‘More than 500,000 to be affected’

Livelihood of approximately 45,000 APMC traders, 500,000 casual workers who work in mandis during rabi and kharif seasons and transporters will also be threatened.

There are around 5,000 rice mills in MSME sector. In near future these mills will also be shut down under the monopoly of multinational companies (MNCs) who will establish their own mills of huge capacities. At present Punjab Mandi Board compiles all the data of daily wholesale price of cereals, fruits, vegetables and pulses traded in the state. Henceforth, there will be no agency to collect and tabulate such data because the transactions that will take place outside the APMC markets will not be recorded anywhere.

The provisions of contract Act known as “The farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020” are also disappointing. The farmer’s fundamental right to approach judicial courts, in case of dispute with the companies have been taken away by keeping this Act beyond the jurisdiction of legal frame work. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 will encourage hoarding and black-marketing. The chances of MNCs creating artificial scarcity of stocked produce also cannot be ruled out.

Strengthening agricultural supply chains is a welcome step. Bringing in multinational companies to integrate the produce of India with global supply chain is also a pro-active thinking. However, providing unbridled access to MNCs at the cost of APMC markets by branding them monopolistic and exploitative institution and putting the state’s entire supply chain in the lap of MNCs who have devoured more than 80% of national assets amount to throwing the farmers from frying pan into the fire.

Noble Laureate Joseph Stiglitz amply depicts the character of MNCs as “greedy and heartless entities who place their profits above all other values. They squelch their competitors and squeeze their suppliers and workers and put their costs on society ,without regulations and positive interventions markets on their own run the risk of reinforcing inequalities and create societies of haves and have nots.” Only those countries have taken the advantage of free market economy who have kept the greed of MNCs under control through institutional competition discipline and developmental taxes.

MNCs all over the world are eyeing to establish their hegemony on farm produce trade along with agriculture land, which is the biggest business as well as an asset in the world.

Farmers in developed countries are also pressurising their governments to bring in land protection laws to help save them from the corporate greed. Canadian government has started a process in this direction. Unfortunately the Indian government, through the new laws, has become an accomplice to fulfil the ambitions of the corporates. The high tech silos being constructed in Punjab by one of the Indian MNCs is part of a greater design as this company wishes to join the wheat cartel of the world where Australia, USA, Canada, European Unions and Japan are active partners. They are in pursuit of roping in the rest of the world to make consolidated cartel so that entire wheat production as well as the trade of wheat is fully controlled by them.

These reforms will push at least 70% small and marginal farmers out of agriculture to serve as a cheap labour to the industry. Even former RBI chairman Raghuram Rajan supports this view.

If the present laws are not amended they will prove the last straw to break the camel’s back and an era of serfdom may start in rural India, which is antithesis to the psyche of a Punjabi farmer.

Land foundation of farmer’s social life’

Land is the foundation of Punjabi farmer’s culture and social life, he locates his roots and existence in his land, he will never accept such law, which attacks his existence. It is therefore imperative for the central government to visualize psychological and financial implication of these laws on the social structure of the state.

The perception that political parties are behind the farmer’s agitation in Punjab is misconstrued and lack of intelligence regarding ground realities. The Centre must open a dialogue with the farmers to break this log jam because peaceful Punjab means strong India.

(The writer is president, Kissan Vikas Chamber, Punjab)

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