Maharashtra Agriculture Price Commission chairman Pasha Patel believes the higher Minimum Support Price policy will have to be adequately backed by infrastructure, which is lacking at present. In an interview to The Indian Express, he says we have to focus on greater planning and monitoring of schemes for farmers.
Why is the Centre’s ambitious policy on higher Minimum Support Price (MSP) not helping states to tackle the agrarian crisis?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has, for the first time in seven decades, enforced the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission on MSP, which not only factors in the production cost but also gives 50 per cent higher profit. I believe implementation of this policy will require a strong mechanism in every state, which is now inadequate. Had the policy come into force two-three years ago, we would have surely seen better results. The Prime Minister has emphasised that the double-income target for farmers would be fully realised by 2022. Unfortunately, critics are judging the policies in the short term and overlooking its long-term benefits.
In states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the farm crisis is being seen as a primary reason for the BJP’s debacle?
I don’t want to comment on politics. The Congress’s promise to procure paddy from farmers at Rs 2,500 per quintal irrespective of the MSP may have helped it win the support of farmers. Similarly, populist policies in Madhya Pradesh helped the Congress. In case of Madhya Pradesh, the state government’s “bhavantar” subsidy to farmers proved detrimental. The subsidy did not work when it came to regulating the price mechanism. Farmers availed the subsidies. But once their crops were procured, prices in markets increased. Farmers could not take advantage. It was well-intentioned but got complicated. If we reflect on the Assembly poll results and the farm crisis, I feel the Telengana pattern is gaining greater popularity and acceptability among farmers. In Telengana, the TRS government credited Rs 4,000 per acre per crop in farmers’ accounts. In a year, farmers take two crops. Which means, it credited Rs 8,000 per acre in individual farmers’ accounts. This is a scheme which is being discussed across the country.
What are the lessons for Maharashtra?
In Maharashtra, cotton farmers got Rs 6,000 per quintal. Soyabean farmers fetch Rs 3,000 per quintal. Now, cotton and soyabean are the main crops, which constitute up to 80-82 lakh hectares of the total 149 lakh hectares of agriculture area. So, 65-70 per cent of farmers are content because they got rates at par or higher than the MSP. For the first time, a Rs 5,500-crore package has been given to the sugar sector. It will help sugarcane farmers and mills.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has initiated sweeping reforms in the agriculture sector. Unlike Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh, the Maharashtra government has been working on a sustainable price mechanism module, which is the right method.
Along with record procurement of foodgrain worth Rs 8,000 crore, efforts are to strengthen and promote open markets, where farmers can fetch higher remunerations. The Maharashtra government has tied up with China and Iran for deoiled soya cake. This will open up a huge market for farmers growing soyabean.
What has been the impact of the Rs 23,000-crore loan waiver?
Apart from the Rs 23,000-crore loan waiver, the state government gives huge subsidies on water, power and other infrastructure to farmers. The loan waiver helped farmers wipe off debt and seek fresh loans. It’s a massive budget. The Fadnavis government has given the highest priority to farmers in the last four years.
Yet, the government’s role should be that of a fire brigade. Lend a helping hand to the farmers in a crisis. The government cannot become a primary buyer. Instead, it will have to facilitate markets, where farmers can get higher rates for their produce.
What course corrections are necessary?
The government should take measures to check manipulations in the commodities market by vested operators. Secondly, states which cultivate same crops should have, by and large, uniform policy to ensure markets are not manipulated. When Madhya Pradesh announced subsidies on soyabean, farmers from neighbouring states also rushed to take advantage. This leads to financial stress on a state.
Fifty per cent of the state is facing severe drought…
We have to reconcile to the fact that drought is going to be a recurring phenomenon. The biggest challenge for Maharashtra is to cope with climate changes. During drought, the government can employ the services of agriculture workers for water conservation and tree plantation works for the next five months under MNEREGA. The Centre and state are working closely to find solutions to this vexed problem.