Gains uncertain, but losses are assured
THE Malout farmers’ rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first after raising minimum support prices (MSPs) of Kharif crops, has indeed been a success. Farmers greeted PM Modi with enthusiasm because his decision would get them an additional income of Rs 5,000-6,000 per acre on paddy cultivation. There is, however, no guarantee that farmers of Punjab will be equally benevolent in voting for the BJP-Akali alliance in 2019 because of the 13 per cent hike. The electoral history of the state suggests that seldom doles and subsidies have resulted in electoral conversion. The Congress government in the state announced free power ahead of the 1997 Assembly polls, but the people of Punjab elected the SAD to power. The Congress returned to power in 2002, and decided to withdraw the power subsidy, only to restore it ahead of the 2007 Assembly election. Again, the populist measure could not save the then Capt Amarinder Singh government.
Poor farmers cannot think beyond immediate subsistence, which becomes the reason for their being happy over the MSP increase. However, any incentive promoting paddy only pushes the state towards degradation of its farmland, hasten the groundwater depletion, and jeopardise the future of its agro-economy, on which a vast section of the population is dependent. Knowing well that raised MSP will encourage paddy cultivation, which has become unsustainable in Punjab, the Centre and the state governments have done disservice to the cause of crop diversification.
Farmers know that the announcement of MSP for crops other than wheat and paddy is meaningless as they are neither supported by the procurement infrastructure nor by political will. PM Modi needs to rise above the politics of MSP and look into its wider economics. Instead of a pan-India policy, the country’s farm plan needs to be region-specific. Different MSPs and subsidies should be offered to different regions, based on their specific requirements, along with assured procurement. Also, MSPs should be announced well in advance so that the farmer can take an informed decision on the choice of crop.
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