Published: March 28, 2020 1:15:24 am
April is upon us. The Indian summer will soon sear the land and the wheat harvest will commence in full measure in Punjab and Haryana, while it has already begun in other parts of the country. Other than that, we do not yet know what will come next. As wheat is procured under the Centre’s MSP programme, the onus lies with the government to assuage the unease among the states and the farmers that harvest will begin on time, procurement will happen, stocks will be lifted and payments received as in the past. In case the process is delayed, the government must assure farmers it will, if required, compensate them and extend the wheat procurement season.
Closure of markets has created anxiety amongst farmers as cereals, fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest across the country. The poultry industry, in particular, is severely hit. They need to be permitted to transport goods to functioning mandis. The lockdown has hindered the supply chain. Allowing the movement of tractors and labour between villages will ensure that harvesting isn’t impacted and supply chains can resume.
Over the past two days, it’s evident that standard operating procedures for the continuity of supply chains and farm operations in the National Disaster Management Authority framework are missing for ground-level administrators to fall back upon. A lack of clarity results in multiple notifications from the establishment and a lack of credible communication by the Centre and states is making farmers anxious. The hue and cry by farmers resulted in seeds and pesticide sales being added to the list of essential commodities and rightly so. Other issues too are slowly being resolved. But these recently notified changes are not reflected on the ground.
A black swan event like the coronavirus could not have come at a worse time. India’s economy was already decelerating. Understandably, India’s arsenal to respond economically stood depleted because of past policies, but the present relief package is wanting in greater depth.
The Rs 70 lakh crore stimulus is not what it appears to be, it’s possibly half the size of the announced quantum. Even though the price of crude has halved since October 2019, the common man is paying an extra Rs 35 per LPG cylinder. Consumers are being forced to pay higher prices for essential commodities, as profiteers begin to cash in on the supply chain disruption. This negates the benefits of cash transfers or free gas cylinders to BPL families.
The average annual days of employment provided per household under the MGNREGA is about 45 and not 100 as claimed. Like Punjab which gives Rs 240 per day wages under MGNREGA, more than half the states were already committed to giving more than the hiked wages of Rs 202. Further, due to the lockdown, work under the scheme has come to a standstill. Instead of ensuring the availability of 100 days of work and that farmers will receive the promised MSP for once, the bureaucracy hoodwinked the Union Cabinet to get assurances of timely release of their own salaries.
Unprecedented circumstances require bold and swift decisions. The announcement under PM Kisan is only about releasing outstanding dues. The government should double the PM Kisan payments to Rs 12,000 for this year. Distribution of grains to 80 crore people is commendable but it will remain a mystery as to why it wasn’t announced and distributed in February when the crisis was on the horizon. Transferring three monthly instalments of Rs 500 each to 20 crore women in Jan Dhan accounts is a good targeting of resources but amounts to less than two days of minimum wages per month. Providing Rs 2,000 to three crore senior citizens and socially marginalised sections is a compassionate step.
The RBI has to create money and directly provide people with purchasing power. It should waive interest on farm loans and reschedule loan payments. Now, the hope is that the government will quickly transfer money to the beneficiaries. Issues of red tape have to be overcome. This is not the time to fear errors of inclusion, but errors of exclusion. Farmers have wholeheartedly voted for the PM twice, it is time he returned the favour. Every season has an end for a harvest to begin.
The writer is chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj
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