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Krishi Utthan Bill: On The Need For More Practicality In The Promised Process

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The situation of farm distress and the miserable condition of our farmers is something nobody is oblivious to. Almost every year, we come across numerous instances of farmers committing suicides in different regions, with reasons ranging from huge debt to massive production failures. 

The biggest issues that the agro-industry has encountered are ecological adversities and economic imbalance. Even after introducing a great number of schemes and policies that were meant to reform the condition of the farmers, there hasn’t been a remarkable change affected by any of them. 

In the Financial Budget 2019, nothing substantial in terms of combating these adversities have been discussed. At the same time, the allocation of funds and resources remain unclear. For instance, major steps such as farm loan waivers make sense for only a certain category of farmers, who have subscriptions to institutional loans. The marginalised farmers, however, gain nothing from it. 

If we analyse the situation carefully, we see that economically, agriculture still makes a very high contribution to the GDP. And yet farmers are going through this series of distress and misery. 

The issue here is that the GDP calculates the produce and overall income and consequently, the remuneration of many farmers remains extremely low, despite high output. This is mainly due to the widening gap between demand and supply, which has increased due to a lack of proper procurement of commodities, storage, and logistical facilities. 

In the past, the government has failed to open purchase centres in substantial numbers and on time, which has led to distressed sales. Over the past two years it has been observed that while the prices of certain products such as vegetables including potatoes and onion touch 30-40 rupees per kg and 50-70 rupees per kg respectively, the farmers had to sell these at merely a rupee or two per kg.

Another major issue comes with the storage of perishable and semi-perishable products during floods or excessive rain. Various regions in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh go through dire situations of drought, which severely impact production and income. Providing aid to increase production cannot solely assure high income in such situations. New strategies are required to relieve the pressure on farmers.

The newly introduced Krishi Uthhan Bill that has been proposed by MP Ninong Ering to deal with the issue of farmers’ distress in a more effective way, capably addresses primary issues concerning the Indian farmers today and gives an assurance of fetching due benefits to them.

The prominent provisions of the bill include :

  • Setting up a ‘National Agriculture Council’ to deliberate on the determination of necessary provisions of this Bill.
  • Levying of ‘profit-sharing’ cess at first PoS during an inter-state/intra-state sale for further value addition. 
  • Distribution of cess collected in ‘agriculture risk fund’ to the distressed farmers. 
  • Compensation by the centre and states to farmers who have sold their produce below the Minimum Support Price (MSP) or any such price determined by the ‘National Agriculture Council’. 

All these points cater to the immediate remedial needs for the crisis and if carried on well, can prove extremely beneficial. 

However, one can not discount the fact that the bill still takes the most conventional route of setting up a council with the joint authority of state and centre. If we go with the present scenario of political disparity, the centre, and the state governments do not work in cooperation and tend to indulge in playing the ‘blame game’. Hence, effective and transparent functioning of the ‘National Agriculture Council’ proposed in the bill remains questionable. In this case, the NAC must be a non-political and independent body supervised by a group of experts who are not politically acclaimed.

The next point is of a profit-sharing model for inter and intrastate sales. But the bill fails to define who gets to share the profit. Will the share be valid for every level of purchase that happens? For example, will a company that produces tomato ketchup readily share the profit earned with the farmers from whom the tomatoes were purchased? In that case, what is the assurance that buyers at different levels will play fair with the farmers when it is common knowledge that the farmers incur huge losses in a flawed distribution channel? The bill needs to have a clear provision under which the farmers will be trained well to fix their price and procure the same towards the latter part of the entire transaction. 

The bill, though promising, has not clearly stated how the demand-supply gap can be prohibited from being the biggest menace in the whole juncture. When the selling price of products is set at a low figure for farmers, it ensures that the purchase price remains moderate in cities. This, in turn, affects farmers heavily. So how is this issue going to be dealt with? The price deficit compensation can work in part, but then it doesn’t look like a permanent solution. Moreover, marginalised or extremely poor farmers may not be able to avail this.

While the provisions of the bill have covered the issue of fund allocation and profit distribution, there are no concrete measures for more effective storage procedures. As comprehensive as it is, the bill’s focus on being fund-based can readily be exploited, and the intended beneficiaries might end up getting nothing. Along with attempting to increase the income of farmers, it is important to put a check on the fallacies of the system. 

Income can be sound only if ‘loss’ is prevented, and the practices are made fair enough to ensure streamlined execution of the entire crop cycle, starting from growth to sale in markets. The question is, what is the assurance of adequate funding by the centre or states for the execution of each of these pointers? There has to be more practicality in the process that’s promised.

Krishi Utthan or upliftment of the farmers has to be the prime concern of the country, which means that any bill or act passed in this category should not stay limited to documentation of strong pointers only. The results must be clearly visible.

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