A report on Punjab’s economic revival by a Group of Experts headed by noted economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia has been criticised by experts on farm issues in the state for being far from ground realities and for seeing privatisation and corporatisation as the only cure for the ailing economy. Several experts that The Indian Express spoke to said that only positive recommendations were ‘houses for migrant labourers’ and ‘rationalisation of power subsidy’. “The purpose of this committee was to revive the economy of the state but this committee has not studied the losses suffered by farmers, poor labourers during lockdown. It was prepared on the basis of the inputs provided by the bureaucrats and the representatives of industry. This does not represent any ground reality. Rather several useless things have been included in it like recommending not to filling vacant posts,” said noted Economist Sucha Singh Gill. He added that the report does not suggest how to save small and marginal farmers from increasing debt, and how to tackle unemployment. This committee is pro-corporate and has no programme for micro and small units, he claimed.
Prof Gian Singh, former Economics Professor at Punjabi University, Patiala, and an expert on farm issues, said that this committee was promoting Centre’s controversial farm ordinances. In line with Farming Produce Trade and Commerce and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Ordinances, this committee too is recommending ‘open market’ and ‘contract farming’, he said.
“In history several economic disasters were the result of the open markets. Both open market and contract farming will promote privatisation, while there is a need of enhancing the scope of the public sector,” said Prof Gian Singh. He added: “This committee is promoting leasing out land for longer period and liberalising laws for conversion of agri-land for non-agri uses….the committee is saying that Punjab can be developed as seed capital of the country on the basis of contract farming but we have examples of tomato, floriculture etc. where farmers are being looted by the big companies in the name of growing seeds.”
“I could see that the only positive recommendations of this group are ‘houses to the migrant labourers’, and ‘rationalisation of power subsidy’ but I feel that poor and needy farmers must get subsidy,” he stressed.
Coming down heavily on the report, Prof Singh said: “When Punjab has 68 per cent small and marginal farmers with an average debt of Rs 2,30,700 and Rs 4,94,051 on marginal and small farmers, respectively, what solution does this report suggest? When farmers cannot afford to take their crop to a mandi 10 km away on their own, what is the point of open market for them?”
Another Expert on the farm issues, Prof Kesar Singh Bhangu termed this report as being based on imported policies from World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). He said that the report was far from reality and Punjab’s problems can be solved if the experts who live in Punjab and know its rural hinterland are taken from here to do the study of Punjab’s actual problems and their solutions.
Farm outfits, meanwhile, called the report anti-farmer and asked CM Amarinder Singh to trash it.
“This committee considers power subsidy to stressed farming community a burden on the state exchequer, it is in favour of increasing professional tax from Rs 200 to Rs 1650, cutting DA of the government employees, and it is against filling the vacant posts. But the committee has no problem with huge telephone allowance, and multiple pensions to MLAs and MPs,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Dakaunda, adding that for this committee sees the alleviation of all the miseries of the state lies in the privatisation.
He added: “Why it is silent over assured MSP for all crops, giving employment to the youth.”
He demanded that in the proposed Vidhan Sabha session government should pass a resolution against this report.