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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Niti Aayog member sparks farm income debate

How can farmers’ income be hiked through new laws when govt has no control over private players, ask farm experts

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
April 7, 2021 9:53:46 am
Farmer Jaspreet Singh with a worker checks the wheat crop that is ready for harvesting at village Noorpur in Ludhiana on Tuesday. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Amid ongoing standoff over the agri laws, a Niti Aayog member’s remarks that the target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 will not be fulfilled if the three new legislations are not implemented immediately, has sparked a fresh debate.

Farmers and farm experts termed the statement as an excuse to protect the central government — which had announced in 2017-18 its target to double farmers’ income by 2022 — and asked how these laws can double their income when there is no provision of even assured Minimum Support Price (MSP) in these laws.

The debate began when Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand, said, “I will say that if these three farm laws are not adopted immediately, then I don’t see that goal (of doubling farmers’ income by 2022) getting fulfilled”.

He was replying to a question on whether the government is still confident of doubling farm income by 2022.

Expert on farm issues and retired economics professor from Punjabi University Patiala Professor Gian Singh said that even if these laws are implemented today, they can never double farmers’ income by 2022. “These laws lay more stress on privatisation and private mandis. Can the private player pay farmers so much that their income would be doubled?” he asked.

He further said that per capita income of a farmer’s family was Rs 54 per day in 2015-16 and even if it is increased to double, that is Rs 108 per capita, it cannot meet their basic needs including food, shelter, education, health etc.

“The pandemic has also proved that a human being can survive without cars, airplanes, big houses but cannot survive without food. Government must realise the contribution of farmers and should seriously do something to increase their income rather implementing these laws which have no guarantee of even getting a price equal to the current MSP,” said Prof Gian Singh, adding that during the pandemic, India and particularly Punjab farmers have procured record paddy and even India has exported more rice this year to other countries.

“But our government, instead of rewarding them, is punishing them by running from government purchase.To double their income we need a farmer-friendly model not the corporate-friendly model,” he added.

“In Punjab, wheat and paddy are the two main crops which are procured at MSP by the government and now the government is running from it giving several excuses in the name of direct payment, providing land record of the farmers etc. When around 68 per cent farmers have less than five acres and government is running from MSP purchase, how these laws can double the income of farmers?” asked Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda).

“We had length and breadth discussions on every clause of these laws with the government but government could not explain how the income of farmers can be enhanced by adopting these laws when government has no control on private players,” he said, adding that farmers’ income can be increased only if the MSP of every crop is given as per recommendations of the Swaminathan report.

“Our demand for legal status of MSP for every crop is only because this is the only way to double farmers’ income,” he said.

Another expert from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) Ludhiana, said that the Ramesh Chand committee 2014-15 had several good recommendations according to which he had recommended MSP of the crops, but as per these three laws the government is not talking about MSP, but about private mandis and players, which mean minimising the government purchase which would result in no purchase at MSP.

“The Niti Aayog member is thinking from the point of view of the private players, not from the farmers’ point of view and assuming that private players are paying much more to the farmers than the government’s price. How can things be assumed when everyone is aware that a businessman (private players) is much more worried about his own profit not about the welfare of the farmers?”

“Only the state can think about the welfare of farmers but the state is running from its responsibility,” said BKU (Ugrahan) General Secretary, Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan.

“If the government is saying it wants to double the income of farmers, it should take such steps, not the steps it has taken in the form of these three laws which are more suitable to private players,” he added.

“The lives of small and marginal farmers are already in a miserable state and now these laws will push them further into more poverty as they are not in a position to bargain with private players and sell their crop going one place to another,” said Kokrikalan, and asked whether the Niti Aayog member convince farmers in layman language how these laws would double their income.

“Can he quote even a single such model where small and marginal farmers are earning a respectable income without the support of the government,” he asked.

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