Being from Madhya Pradesh, a state in the heart of India where agriculture forms the mainstay of the economy, has proved to be quite an instructive experience for me. Born in the family of a farmer, my background and the time I spent on the fields offered me an opportunity to learn and observe from close quarters the problems a vast majority of farmers face. The big mismatch between months of labour and poor returns on their produce and the suffering of farmers made it obvious that farming is a losing proposition for most. Later, as a public representative for more than three decades, I closely interacted with farmers and others who depend on agriculture as a source of livelihood, and it became increasingly clear to me that all is not well with our farm sector. Something needed to be done to fix the problems if our annadata is to be lifted out of the morass of poverty.
From chance meetings to scheduled interactions with farmers in the last two months, their experiences around produce purchase serve as a beacon of hope. Their thoughts delighted me and impelled me to do some plain-talking, particularly in the wake of voices trying to paint an incorrect picture about the new farm laws. I feel it is high time we set the record straight to silence elements babbling misinformation as facts.
It saddens me deeply to see farmers staging a dharna in the cold at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on. It makes one angry upon learning that certain elements are trying to sow mistrust among our hard-working farmers by spreading canards and distorting facts. Divisive elements are egging them on to take the path of agitation. By resorting to such lowly tactics, the fissiparous elements are doing a great disservice to the society and innocent farmers.
Ever-conscious of the important role farmers play in the overall progress of the society, the BJP-led government in its 15-year rule in Madhya Pradesh reached out to farmers and stood with them in times of need and was always quick to offer them relief, be it for crop damage due to a natural calamity or some other reason. The BJP government spared no effort to ensure that the benefits of welfare policies reach them. The positive results of the aggressive push in terms of welfare schemes are visible in Madhya Pradesh. To quote a few examples, 42.05 lakh farmers were paid their claims for the financial year 2018-19 and 2019-20 under the Pradhanmantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Farmers of the state were paid Rs 5,348 crore under the Pradhanmantri Kisan Samman Nidhi and Rs 3,500 crore by the state government. In Hoshangabad district, action was taken against the company, Fortune Rice Ltd, for breach of contract. Farmers were given justice in 24 hours. The company was instructed to purchase and pay Rs 3,000 per quintal (Rs 2,950 and Rs 50 as a bonus).
The new farm laws are bold in many ways. The laws will have a far-reaching effect and help augment farmers’ income. The initiatives taken by our far-sighted prime minister, Narendra Modi, will prove to be a major turning point in the history of the agriculture sector. The laws will go a long way in redefining the future course of agriculture and millions of those associated with it in one way or the other. The laws, with enough provisions, will cushion farmers and farm growers from any adverse impacts of price fluctuations. Unlike in the past, now the annadata will enjoy the freedom to sell his produce wherever he wants to do so. Simply put, there will be no curbs of state boundaries or choice of traders. So, farmers will be free from stifling, monopolistic trading practices and cartels.
For years, one political party after another had espoused the need to give our farmers a better deal. It is ironic that when an opportunity presented itself after the passage of the bills, the Congress and some other parties with vested interests are instigating farmers to oppose the farm laws, which promise to improve the economic condition of our farmers.
The new farm laws have many positive points, like contract farming. Here, the contract is for farming, not the land. So, it is grossly erroneous, when those opposed to these laws say the changes are against the interests of farmers. They will in no way affect the functioning of mandis and there is no attempt to do away with minimum support price (MSP). On the contrary, in-built reforms in the farm laws will offer farmers more options and improve the farm-income-growth trajectory.
Let me assure farmers, once they begin to reap the benefits, we will be proved right. A word of suggestion to the sceptic and those resisting such laws — misleading farmers won’t pay political dividends.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 18, 2020 under the title ‘In reform lies the farmer’s interest’. The writer is the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.
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