Special Article By Keshav Chand Yadav
What has been the contribution of NDA regime towards farming community of India in last five years especially when it commanded a complete majority in central government and in majority of state assemblies. We cannot imagine an agricultural country where farmers continuously keep struggling with the state machinery and eventually commit suicide. The NDA government offered no alternatives to farmers but to shelve farming as an occupation. This is primarily because the central government and its machinery adopted a hands-off policy towards farmers and their legitimate demands. It became a trend that farmers of the country for every minute issue, had to rise up in arms against the government thereby challenging the federal structure of the country bypassing their respective state governments. Farmers from Tamilnadu organized long and continuous protests under All India Kisan Coordination Committee in Delhi towards the end of previous year. Farmers marching from Uttar Pradesh under Bhartiya Kisan Union broke into scuffles with paramilitary and police forces at Delhi-UP border in October last year. A number of other similar episodes in Indian political economy posed a relentless challenge to the constitutional machinery of the country.
Minimum Support Price has been one of the basic and fundamental demands of farmers. Agriculture is a state subject, primarily governed by Agricultural Produce Market Committees Act since 1950s. The nature and character of the act does not really allow farmers to gain substantial benefits of their production. APMC Act also falls under State subject and any change in the policy requires legislative approval of respective states. Modification in APMC seems unachievable considering the political patronage it possesses and other structural challenges.
Evaluating all these structural difficulties, UPA-2 government towards the end of its reign in March 2014, in its endeavor to empower farmers of the country, conceptualized Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act. The act would have recognized the street vendors as businessmen. Farmers would have been recognized as legitimate vendors and would have gained the rights to bring their produce directly to mandis thereby removing the ill effects of APMC Act. The act would have well removed middle layer from the structure. It was a landmark step towards transparency, farmer’s freedom to judge or plan crops, reduced hoardings, knowing actual consumer and prices by the farmer.
NDA government after succeeding UPA-2 with a thumping clear majority in 2014, sought to bring in changes in APMC Act but the outcome has not been satisfactory especially when it claims to have control over majority of legislative assemblies in the country. UPA-2 earlier, with the help of Street Vendors Act sought to empower the backbone of this agricultural country, in its endeavor to empower farming community.
The current BJP government under Prime Minister Modi instead in its typically rhetorical approach launched electronic National Agricultural Market (eNAM) policy in April 2016 with fanfare but with little or no substantive impact on real issues of farmer. The government aims to double the farmer’s income as well as double India’s farm exports by 2022. Marketing Reforms, role of private players in Agri-Marketing, strengthening Food Processing Industry along with Agriculture Export Policy were thoroughly discussed on various platforms such as Niti Ayog and Department of Commerce of the NDA government.
The government later geared up to facilitate Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market (Promotion & Facilitation) Committees Act (APLMC Act), a clear indication of the fact that the government had accepted its failure in aligning state governments on the same platform when it came to offering relief to farmers.
The Annual Plan 2014-15 which was the third year of the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017) was diverse due to the general assembly elections held in April 2014. During the interim budget of January 2014, Planning Commission had advised ministries to draft the Annual Plan proposals for 2014-15. Only few major changes in the agricultural sector were introduced during the 2014-15 regular budget as compared to 2013-14 budget.
Budget allocation on Agriculture and Allied Activities in the regular budget of 2014-15 was reduced from Rs. 18781.28 Crore (2013-14) to Rs. 11530.90 Crore (2014-15) and budget allocation on Rural Development was reduced from Rs. 42772.55 Crore (2013-14) to Rs. 3060 Crore (2014-15). Hence there were major reductions in budget allocation of sectors such as Crop Husbandry, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, Forestry and Wild Life, Plantations, Food, Storage and Warehousing. In the Rural Development sector, there were major reductions in budget allocation of Special Programs for Rural Development, Rural Employment and Land Reforms.
In the plan year 2018, NDA government was continuously criticized for not fulfilling the promises made to farmers during its 2014 parliamentary election manifesto which had maintained the minimum support price (MSP) valued at 1.5 times the production cost. The government however claimed that MSP for 2017/18 rabi crops as well as for 2018/19 Kharif crops had been maintained successfully.
The rural economy however in reality had been on the receiving end since the advent of the NDA government. First two years 2014/15 and 2015/16 were declared as drought years and the agricultural growth rate declined by 0.2 percent. Agricultural growth rate was merely 0.6 percent in the subsequent year. A good monsoon in 2016/17 drove it to 6.7 percent followed by a slow growth rate of 3.0 percent in 2017/18. Agricultural growth rate under four years of NDA government has experienced an average of 2.4 percent as compared to 4.3 percent growth during 2010/11 and 2014/15 UPA regimes.
The National Commission on Farmers (NCF) popularly known as Swaminathan Commission, constituted in November 2004, had submitted its first report in December 2004 and its fifth final report in October 2006. Substantive observations of Swaminathan Commission were to the tunes of offering basic resources under specific categories of Water, Land, Bio resources, Technology, Knowledge Management, Credit & Insurance and markets.
One of the important observations of the commission was to include agricultural sector in the concurrent list, which would help agricultural sector benefit from both the Union and the State governments. The commission further recommended major steps forward towards Land Reforms, Irrigation Reforms, Credit & Insurance, Food Security, Prevention of Farmer Suicides and Productivity Growth. Complete implementation of the recommendations of the commission spell major improvements in the agricultural sector of the country.
The previous jhoot-moot ki sarkar had nothing to offer to the farmers of the country but to offer biggest of lies and greatest of rhetoric. It was the greatest of tragedies when some of the ministers of the NDA government repeatedly declared farmers protests as ‘publicity gimmicks’ and ‘kham-a-kha ki baatein’. The insensitivity of NDA government towards farmers was comprehensively tracked by the Congress party and declared a provision of offering separate agricultural budget in manifesto. Indian farmers understood the duplicity of NDA government and poll results will reflect the sentiments of farmers, one of the most powerful democratic forces of the country.
(Keshav Chand Yadav- the writer is a young scholar and Indian Youth Congress National President)