Favourable package

A number of recommendations made by a four-member chief ministers’ panel, appointed by the Centre to study agricultural productivity, output and marketing practices, are specific and need to be considered favourably for implementation. The panel was headed by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and comprise the chief ministers of Punjab, Bihar and West Bengal. Some of the proposals are not new, but taken together, they present a comprehensive package of ideas to reform the agricultural sector and improve the lot of farmers. Reforms are not easy in the sector because many of the problems are very complex and deeply entrenched. The steps needed to solve them sometimes come into conflict with policies that promote other sectors like industry. In an ideal economy, the interests of different sectors should complement one another but historical reasons, uneven development and politicisation of interests have made that difficult in India.

The major recommendations include loans to farmers at  4 per cent interest, fixing the minimum support price at 50 per cent higher than the actual cost of production, lifting controls on movement, trading, stocking and export of agricultural products, opening up marketing infrastructure for the private sector, encouraging contract farming and creating a godown network for storage. The panel has also suggested setting up dedicated power feeder systems for farmers and economic pricing of power, water and fertilisers. Extension of green revolution practices to agriculturally backward areas is yet another proposal. Each of the proposals addresses a specific problem in the sector, some are controversial and many would need major shifts in policy and large investments. Increasing productivity and output, reducing the number of intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer, warehousing and avoiding wastage and structural changes to facilitate these goals are the basic aims of the package.

Many of these and other suggestions made in the report are sensible. Feudal relations of production that exist in many parts of the country are a major constraint. Obstacles to farm sector growth are different in different parts of the country and separate strategies will have to be formulated for various regions and even for different crops. Many commissions, including the National Commission on Farmers headed by M S Swaminathan, have made similar recommendations. It is time to act on them because without robust growth of the farm sector economic development will not be real and sustainable.

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