Raining heavy criticism on the three agriculture Bills forcefully passed by the Centre, members of Opposition and Trade Unions chalked out all the flaws in the Bills with a special focus on the system of Minimum Support Price (MSP.)
Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said in an Indian Express Op-Ed that MSP is one nomenclature in farming laws that farmers have always understood. He called it the lifeline of poor farmers and the key to their and the nation’s agricultural sector’s survival. He also mentioned that this system has not been mentioned anywhere in the new Bills.
What is MSP?
According to a press release by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Minimum Support Prices are supposed to be the minimum level of prices at which any farmer should have to sell the crop. The government announces MSP for 23 crops. Moreover, the government also buys the produce and provides support if a farmer is not getting the MSP at the market. However, MSP at 1.5 times the cost of production has never been a legal right of farmers despite repeated demands and recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. As a result, the implementation process proves to be grossly inadequate.
Moreover, as Singh points out, the new legislations make no mention of MSPs. The new laws do not assure retention of original MSP laws either. Singh pointed out that the farming community might have reacted better to the new laws if the government had made MSPs applicable to the private players. Additionally, farmers should have been assured MSP on crops other than wheat and rice as an encouragement to diversify in current times.
Incidentally, there is no system of procurement for a large number of crops. Even the limited quantity of rice and wheat bought by the government is procured in areas that enjoy State-level procurement agencies.
“These State-level agencies were established much before the NDA government came to power. It is because of the statutory framework that provides the rights to these State-level procurement agencies to procure grain on behalf of the Central government that rice and wheat get procured from States such as Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Little or no procurement takes place in States that do not have such agencies and depend on Central government agencies such as the Food Corporation of India for the procurement,” said the AIKS.
As per AIKS data, about one-third of rice and wheat are procured by the government in any year. Similarly, miniscule quantities of a few pulse and oilseed crops are procured.
Rajya Sabha on MSP payment:
On September 18, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said that the number of wheat farmers who benefitted from MSPs doubled in the last four years while paddy farmer beneficiaries increased by roughly 70 percent.
To these optimistic numbers, the AIKS said, “The total procurement in the kharif and rabi marketing seasons increased by only about 15 percent each. This entire increase was on account of increased procurement by State-level agencies and that too in just one or two States. In the rabi season, procurement by FCI, the Central Government agency actually fell by 4 percent. The Government is resorting to misleading data in the Parliament.”
The organisation went on to say that recent open market prices of many crops have been significantly lower than the MSP. However, the government has offered no support by way of procurement to farmers. Drawing from Agmarknet data, they said that average market prices of chana were 25 percent lower than the MSP in the last week of April. Similarly, prices of Mustard were 15 percent lower, wheat prices were 6 percent lower, safflower prices were 30 percent lower, and masur prices were 1.3 percent lower in the last week of April. Moreover, average prices of summer paddy in the same week were 17 percent lower than the MSP. A regionally disaggregated picture showed that States where the government does not procure crops saw an even greater fall in prices.
“Farmers who are suffering from increasing input costs, crop losses and low market prices, are not going to fall for such false propaganda. It is foolhardy if the government thinks that it can satisfy farmers and rural workers facing distress and hunger with false statistics. False statistics cannot feed empty stomachs,” said the AIKS.
The three anti-farmer Bills
Ever since their introduction in early June, the three agriculture Bills – the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill – have been vehemently condemned by farmers, trade Unions and MPs alike.
In narrating the proceedings of the Upper Parliament on September 20, the Punjab Chief said the Bills were “virtually railroaded through Parliament.”
He said that if these laws come to fruition, market forces will henceforth control pricing, procurement and marketing mechanisms. Farmers will be forced to relay between traders, desperate to sell their little produce with no bargaining power to demand deserved prices. He also criticised the fact that farmers were not consulted at any stage of these legislations.
“It is a travesty that, at a time of such a deep agrarian crisis, this government is only interested in bulldozing these anti-farmer Bills in the parliament to appease its corporate masters. Government needs to realise that the food security of this country rests on the shoulders of its kisans and not on the shoulder of big agri-business corporations,” said the AIKS.
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