For the last 13 years, farmers around the country, especially in Punjab and Haryana – the highest producers of wheat and paddy acquired through Minimum Support Price – have been demanding the implementation of the MS Swaminathan Report.
However, this season the demand has been to roll back the three Ordinances brought in June by the incumbent Bhartiya Janata Party government. The BJP, a vast majority in the Lok Sabha, has recently introduced the Ordinances in the Lok Sabha and got the overwhelming nod.
However, the sad fact is most of media and urban middle class is quite unaware of what are the real issues in agriculture, what was the Swaminathan Report, and what do the Ordinances entail. Most public opinion in media and discourse by leading economists is that these farmer and labour protests and strikes disrupt the economy and urban lives.
Some numbers: more than 50 per cent of the nation is dependent on agriculture. Given the neo-liberal thrust of the economy the last three decades, agriculture still contributes 15 percent of the GDP, while industry contributes 26 percent of the GDP. During the Coronavirus pandemic, while every sector fell into a negative GDP, it was only agriculture that contributed +3 percent to the economy.
Surely, there is some merit then in looking at the farm sector. Looking at the sector involves a multi-pronged gaze beyond the scope of this piece but let us again get some numbers in front of us.
Leading agrarian thinker Devinder Sharma states: Per the 2016 Economic Survey Report, the average income of a farming family in Punjab was Rs 3,500 per month. In 1971, in the earlier days of the Green Revolution, the MSP of wheat was Rs 76 per quintal and the paddy price was Rs 21 per quintal. In 2015, the MSP on wheat was Rs 1,450 per quintal—nineteen times the price in 1971.
The MSP on paddy was Rs 1,400—sixty-seven times the price. In the same period, the basic salary plus dearness allowance of government employees had gone up 120-150 times, of college teachers 150-170 times, of school teachers 280-320 times, of corporate employees of the general manager rank 300 times, of a vice-president and above, 1,000 times.
If we were to create income parity between farming and any other trade, the wheat price should be Rs 7,600 per quintal and paddy should be Rs 5,100 per quintal. This explains why the farmers and labour of the nation have been asking for the implementation of the Swaminathan Report – it promises doubling of MSP by 2022.
However, the Report in five volumes talks not only about MSP but also about other reforms: land reforms by redistributing ceiling-surplus land, substantial investment in irrigation through canals, drainage and the million well scheme, soil testing laboratories, a cap on interest rates levied on farm loans, primary health centres and suicide prevention facilities, and a food guarantee programme through local self-help groups, and so on.
Instead of doing all that, really working to make the agrarian sector Atam Nirbhar, self-reliant, the Ordinances propose a vast array of changes which will disenfranchise the farmer and aid the traders and businesses which already exploit the farmers.
1. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, amends the existing act to remove all agricultural commodities from the list of essential commodities. This is a move which will deprioritise food grains and foreclose the government’s responsibility to provide MSP for essential food items.
2. The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, promotes barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce outside the physical premises of markets – Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee – notified under State Agricultural Produce Marketing legislations. This will lead to vast disparities in rates of goods and reduce the state’s income leading to shrinking of capacity to maintain rural infrastructure notably link roads, smaller mandis, grain markets and so on.
3. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, provides for a national framework for agreements with the farmer by any third party. It is an enabling legal framework for contract farming.
Given that in Punjab there are around eighteen and a half lakh farming families and around 65 per cent of them are small and marginal farmers, it is anybody’s guess what will happen to these farmer and labour. Big companies will move into the space, lease out and later buy these bits of land, and eventually owners will become labour on their own land.
Parallel to the struggle for freedom of the nation from the British, there was also a huge land movement by tenant farmers and serfs – the Praja Mandal Movement. In British India, tenant farmers from around 600 princely states had joined the movement.
In the 1920s, when the movement started, the Congress Party had realised that it was in the party’s interest to support the tenant farmers. Soon after, the Akali Dal in Punjab – flush with success in the Gurdwara Movement – too had thrown its might with the tenant farmers.
The Malwa region of Punjab had seen a major extended Muzhara Movement in those days. However, in the second half of 1930s, seeing that they were not making much headway, both the Congress and Akali Dal withdrew from the movement. It fell upon the marginal tenant farmer to fight for their rights.
Exactly the same situation is unfolding now. A century later, the farmers of Punjab who saved the nation from hunger during the food grain crises in the 1960s-70s are on the brink of losing their sovereignty on their land. Sadly, the Shiromani Akali Dal is partner with BJP in the crime. It does not matter that Sukhbir Badal yesterday voted against the Ordinances.
His wife is part of the Central Cabinet of Ministers. His father Prakash Singh Badal who was once considered the ‘saviour of farmers’ has backed off. Even the Congress leader Maharajah Captain Amarinder Singh who has now been making noises against the Ordinances was part of the High Power Committee that made the recommendation for the Ordinances. After all, the Muzhara Movement was against his grandfather Maharaja Bhupinder Singh and father Maharaja Yadwinder Singh.
It is naive and foolish on the part of farmers and labour to expect anything different from Sukhbir Badal and Amarinder Singh.
Also Read: Another fraud with farmers of Punjab
Disclaimer : PunjabTodayTV.com and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors’ right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabTodayTV.com or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.
Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.
— Team PT