In­dia’s farm­ers need a new deal be­yond clichéd pol­i­tics of MSP

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION -

ple us­ing the old ar­range­ment of ra­tion shops to ac­cess sub­sidised grains. This means even with­out cash trans­fers, the abil­ity of MSP­type poli­cies to sup­port farm in­comes will shrink in days to come.

All this is not to say Msp-based PDS is not needed any­more. Star­va­tion deaths have been re­ported be­cause peo­ple could not get their ra­tion due to Aad­haar-re­lated prob­lems. The ab­so­lute num­ber of very poor peo­ple is still very high. Msp-based pro­cure­ment is an im­por­tant an­chor of agri­cul­tural prices in In­dia. It also pro­tects coun­try’s food se­cu­rity. Many farm­ers could switch from food crops to com­mer­cial crops if there were no pro­cure­ment.

What all this does sug­gest is the fact that agri­cul­tural pol­icy mak­ing has got it­self into a cul-de­sac. The tested method of in­cen­tivis­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion – Msp-based pro­cure­ment – is reach­ing its lim­its. Uncer­tainty in farm in­comes is only in­creas­ing with grow­ing weight of per­ish­ables in to­tal agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. Chal­lenges such as cli­mate change re­lated ad­verse ef­fects on farm pro­duc­tion would be here much sooner. Farm­ers are feel­ing the pinch of all this, but they have no agency. Farmer politi­cians do not hold much clout in In­dia’s game of thrones.

Those who do not earn their liv­ing from farm­ing are not both­ered for the mo­ment. In­dia’s ur­ban mid­dle class prob­a­bly never had it so good when it comes to con­sump­tion of food prod­ucts. A large va­ri­ety of food items are be­ing de­liv­ered to their doorsteps at dis­counted rates. The more farm­ers’ in­comes are squeezed, the cheaper they get th­ese things. Although much smaller in num­ber than farm­ers, this class ex­er­cises a dis­pro­por­tion­ate sway in opin­ion build­ing.

The po­lit­i­cal class has by and large chick­ened out from han­dling this fun­da­men­tal po­lit­i­cal econ­omy di­vide. It’s happy to pla­cate one class at a time. Lower in­fla­tion for large part of the term, fol­lowed by a tac­ti­cal MSP hike to­wards the end.

The con­se­quences can be dis­as­trous in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture. A deep rooted cri­sis in farm­ing can end the sup­ply glut largely taken for granted. Signs of grow­ing so­cial un­rest are al­ready vis­i­ble. Any new deal to farm­ers would re­quire res­o­lu­tion of this con­tra­dic­tion rather than fraud­u­lent prom­ises of MSP hikes.

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