After the recent upsurge of farmers in the capital city Delhi, and the brutal repression by the government, the three farm laws have again made the headlines. I have already written a piece covering the legality and practicality of these laws. This time I am trying to offer some solutions, given that the government and farmer unions haven’t come to any settlement even after their 5th meeting today. Let’s look at it point wise:
1.The biggest demand by farmers is that of the MSP. They are arguing that the private players will take over the markets and the government will stop the procurement through MSP. I don’t feel something like this would happen because procurement is only the supply side of it. The crops procured by the government are sold in the Public Distribution System or the ration shops at a subsidized rate. So, stopping procurement would mean stopping the ration shops which is too big a political risk for any party. But, as I previously wrote, the government will most probably reduce the amount of wheat and rice procured.
There are two reasons for it. One, government procures crops through the Food Corporation of India, which has been excessively doing it for many years now. Every year the FCI is compensated as they are buying at higher rates from the farmers and selling it at the subsidized rate in the PDS, but from the last few years the govt. is not able to do so because of the economic slowdown and loss in revenue. Second reason is because of the disproportionate procurement. FCI takes rice from about 95% of Punjab farmers, and only 7.3% of farmers in West Bengal (the largest producer of rice). Since, Punjab and Haryana are semi-arid areas; they should not grow much wheat and rice. This causes water depletion and pollution because of stubble burning.
Therefore the solution to this problem can be to decentralize the procurement. We need to frame rules on how much a state can procure the crops depending on the climate and amount of production, and leave it to the state government for procuring the crops. This way MSP will get into the official documents of the Government which will also satisfy the farmers.
2. Second solution is creating incentives for the farmers to grow other crops. As the Kharif Price Policy Report for the year 2020-21 by the Commission For Agricultural Costs and Prices points out,
“Major policy changes are also required for pricing, procurement and utilization of maize, pulses and oilseeds, which have great potential for crop diversification in the region.”
Procurement of these crops will have several implications. First, farmers have chances of doing anything with these crops, from selling it in the market to selling it for the production of ethanol. Second, it will solve problems like water depletion and pollution in Punjab and Delhi respectively. Third, it will give confidence to the farmers. Fourth, it has potential to increase their incomes.
3. The room for private investment is must for the agriculture to prosper in India. Thus, laws have to be made to encourage the investors. Some good steps were taken in the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, but as Vivek Kaul writes in his article Are ache Din here For Onion Farmers?, “In an ideal world, these are things that should have started in May 2014… It would have been best to carry out small experiments in states and see how they go, before a nationwide plan was unleashed. There is always a gap between theory and practice and it’s best to correct that gap at a smaller level.”
4. Technology will play its role too. From Pusa Decomposer which decomposes the stubble to Happy Seeder machine which takes out the stubble while sowing the seeds simultaneously, solutions can come only with innovations. Centre can provide a subsidy to small and marginal farmers for these machines. Furthermore, investment in R&D will be important in the long term.
5. The new contract farming law states that the civil court can’t interfere if an issue arises between farmer and the company. The farmer has to go to the SDM and if he gives any judgment, then he can’t further approach the court. I think this law should be taken back.
As for the contract farming, many experts have different opinions. Amitabh Pandey head of the Punjab Agro Industries Corporation tells Newslaundry, “I don’t think any law is required to practice contract farming because a law scares not only the farmer but the company as well, The farmer is wary of paperwork because he’s afraid of facing a complaint if something happens in the future. The company also holds back because it knows that if it complains against farmers, the public would go against it. There has to be trust between farmers and companies. It’s a matter of mutual trust and not of law.”
6. The last point I would like to suggest is to implement all of these properly. The record of this government in doing so is pretty bad.
The current dispensation, who either ignores or suppresses protests like these, is in back foot right now. This clearly shows the intensity of the farmer agitation. While many leaders and media houses have been trying to say that farmers are ‘misled’, but surely they would have no answer to why RSS affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh is protesting. To conclude, government should let go of their ego and start reading the reports of their own ministry. By the way, most of the solutions I gave are from the government reports itself.