Why "Grow in India" too is important

For three years in a row, wheat farmers have received a paltry increase of Rs 50 per quintal per year in the form of minimum support price (MSP), which translates to 50 paise per kg every year. This corresponds to an insignificant 3.6 per cent increase in the price being paid to wheat farmers.

Compare it with the 7 per cent additional installment of Dearness Allowance (DA) to Central government employees in September over the existing rate of 100 per cent of the basic pay/pension to compensate for price rise, you realise the step-motherly treatment being meted to the majority farming population in the unorganised sector. Employees are getting 107 per cent DA allowance today.

In addition, as per a Central government notification, whenever the DA crosses 50 per cent, there will be an automatic increase by 25 per cent in allowance such as Children Education Allowance, Travelling Allowance, Conveyance Allowance, Cash Handling Allowance, Risk Allowance, Bad Climate Allowance, Hill Area Allowance, Remote Locality Allowance and Tribal Area Allowance, among others. Agreed, not all employees get all these allowances but they do get some of these.

In other words, the Central and State government employees are completely insured against any and all kinds of price rise. The private sector employees too get a guaranteed income which incorporates all these allowances plus they receive hefty bonuses and shares.

But when was the last time you heard of a Children Education Allowance, a Bad Climate Allowance or a leave travel allowance or for that matter any of the above mentioned allowances being given to farmers?

They are expected to meet all their expenses, including children’s education, daughter’s marriage, bad weather etc from the MSP they get. And the MSP is being kept nearly frozen for all practical purposes by successive governments to keep food prices in check. In other words, the entire burden of rising prices is being very conveniently passed on to the farmers. No wonder, several studies show that more than 58 per cent of the 600 million farmers sleep with empty stomach. Ironically, the people who produce food for the country themselves go hungry.

Several times in the past, Parliament was informed that the average monthly income of a farming family (comprising 5 people plus) in the country stands at a paltry Rs 2,115. This includes about Rs 900 per month from non-farm activities like MNREGA. In many States, including the frontline agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, the minimum wages for workers are higher than the daily farm income.

Interestingly, while the Central Government Employees Federation is demanding a minimum monthly wage of Rs 15,000 for contract workers/other unorganised sector employees; and a minimum monthly salary of Rs 26,000 to the lowest aid employees of the Central Government, there is no talk at all of providing an enhanced minimum monthly package to the farmers. In other words, it is the country farming population – comprising 600 million people -- that forms the neo-untouchable class.

NDA no different

An interesting analysis has been provided by the former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. When it comes to farmers, there is hardly a difference between the UPA and NDA.

According to him, while the average cumulative increase in the paddy and wheat MSP
during the Congress-led UPA, between 2004 and 2014, was Rs 70 per year, during the previous NDA regime 1998-2004, it was only Rs 11. What he says is a stark pointer to the continuous apathy and neglect of the farming sector under successive governments.

As though this is not enough, there is more worrisome news that awaits farmers. The food ministry has already directed state governments to refrain from providing any additional bonus over the MSP announced by the Centre. Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan governments, which provided a bonus of Rs 100-200 per quintal for the past few years, have been warned not to do so in future. In case they don’t stop the practice, the Centre will not undertake food procurement operations in those states.

What is however not being told is that the MSP benefits only 30 per cent of the farmers. Even in the case of wheat and rice, where the Food Corporation of India makes procurement from the mandis at the support price, the network of mandis is only available in 30 per cent farmers. In the remaining 70 per cent of the cultivable areas, there are no mandis as a result of which farmers have to resort to distress sale year after year.

Let us not forget that while MSP is announced for some 24 crops, in effect, it benefits only wheat and rice farmers for it is only in these two crops that procurement is made every year. Unless the procurement operations are expanded to include most crops for which the prices are announced and a network of mandis is opened throughout the country, farmers would continue to be exploited. The Modi government, therefore, must take a realistic view of the agriculture sector and create necessary infrastructure to help farmers. “Grow in India” is no less important than “Make in India.”

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