‘New Agri Acts catalysts for doubling farmers’ income’ (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, Dec 18 : Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs Anurag Thakur, who comes from Himachal Pradesh, has an understanding of farm issues. In an exhaustive conversation with IANS, he provides the government’s point of view on the contentious farm laws which have seen farmers laying siege to Delhi.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Farmers are apprehensive that the government will withdraw completely from purchasing farm produce and leave it entirely open to the private sector. The corporates, n turn, will purchase a small portion of the total produce “as per the high standards which can be manipulated” and the remaining crop will get paid only a pittance…

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A: The government is not going to withdraw purchasing farm produce and we are not doing away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) scheme. This has rightly been called as the 1991 moment for the agricultural sector in India.

Under The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, farmers will be freed from the grip of the middleman, and they will be able to sell their produce to the buyers from across the country at a price they deem to be fair and at a time of their choosing.

Meanwhile, under The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, farmers can opt for contract farming with agriculture trade firms, wholesalers, big retailers and exporters. The provision of market linkages at the sowing stage itself will insulate them from production and price vagaries.

Through these Acts, we are enabling the farmers to produce as per their will and convenience and that they should not be bound by selling only to the APMCs. The farmer should have the control over his crop and he should have the right to decide the price of the crop. These Acts will be the catalysts to the promise we made to the nation of doubling farmer’s income by 2022.

Q: The sugarcane farmers particularly were upset, thousands committed suicide and successive governments have promised assistance, but nothing happened. Is Modi government simply doing lip service?

A: The Modi government is not only committed to increasing farmers’ incomes, but also their welfare. The last Cabinet Committee headed by the Prime Minister approved an assistance of about Rs 3,500 crore for sugarcane farmers. This will benefit five crore sugarcane farmers and their dependents.

In addition to this, there are about five lakh workers employed in the sugar mills and ancillary activities; and their livelihoods depend on the sugar industry.

Farmers sell their sugarcane to the sugar mills. However, the farmers are not getting their dues from the sugar mill owners as they have surplus sugar stock. To address this concern, the government is facilitating the evacuation of surplus sugar stock. This will enable payment of dues of the sugarcane farmers. The government will incur about Rs 3,500 crore for this purpose, and this assistance would be directly credited into the farmers’ accounts on behalf of the sugar mills against cane price dues and the subsequent balance, if any, would be credited to the mill’s account.

This subsidy aims at covering expenses on marketing costs including handling, upgrading and other processing costs and costs of international and internal transport and freight charges on export of up to 60 LMT of sugar limited to Maximum Admissible Export Quota (MAEQ) allocated to the sugar mills for sugar season 2020-21.

Q: You claim to ensure farmers’ welfare, yet farmers are on the streets. Either they are misled or your schemes and assurances are like hollow promises. What do you have to say?

A: A few farmers have been misled by the opposition parties. The majority of the farmers have benefited and understand our various initiatives. Since 2014, Soil Health Card has increased productivity levels, provided e-NAM facility to sell produce and set up cold storage facilities apart from opening mega food parks.

We have also provided PM Kisan Maandhan Yojana with an assured monthly pension of Rs 3,000. This is a voluntary pension scheme, where the government will match the monthly contribution and it will also be payable to the farmer’s spouse in case of death. Already over 21 lakh farmers have registered for this.

PM KISAN is another flagship initiative that has already benefited around 11 crore farmers with a disbursement of over Rs 95,000 crore. Besides this, the Fasal Beema Yojana, increase in MSP rates and procurement — all these have immensely increased farmers’ welfare, income and productivity. Will the opposition explain why they did not do any of these while in power or in the states they are in power? Clearly, facts speak louder than the opposition’s myth mongering.

Q: What was the hurry in introducing farmer-related issues as ordinances in the month of June? The issues concerning lakhs of farmers deserved to be brought in as bills for the opposition to debate them before they were passed. Why did you not allow questions to be raised on the ‘anti-farmer’ provisions in the bills?

A: Let’s go by hard facts. During 2009-2014, the budget allocation for agriculture increased by a meagre 8.5 per cent. From 2014-2019, the Modi government took it much higher – an increase of 38.8 per cent. Those people who accuse the BJP government of being anti-poor have no facts to back their rhetoric. We have been standing with our farmer brothers and sisters and these Acts are a watershed moment in India’s agricultural history.

After decades of toil and struggle, our farmers finally have the the option of choice; to choose what they produce, when they produce, whom to sell, at what price to sell. This all is in addition to the MSP scheme which will guarantee a minimum support price for their produce no matter what.

The Indian agricultural sector remained malnourished because of the archaic APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) Acts. The mandis which were meant to help and protect the farmers instead became monopolies and benefited only them and not the farmers.

By opposing the passing of these historic Agri Acts in the Parliament, the hypocrisy and the duplicitous nature of the Congress gets exposed. Why? Because in their 2019 manifesto, the Congress had clearly said they “will repeal the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and make trade in agricultural produce – including exports and inter-state trade – free from all restrictions”.

Lastly, on the issue of this Parliamentary session, it is a fact that this session witnessed 167 per cent productivity, with 60 hours of sittings, 2,300 questions and 370 zero hour mentions. In fact, the House on multiple occasions debated and sat late into the night. Why did the opposition parties not participate in the debates during the session? Why did they create disruption instead of having a democratic debate?

Q: Farmers apprehend that the government is making false claims about the provision for the continuance of the MSP system. Out of the listed 23 crops, in Punjab, MSP is paid only for wheat, paddy and cotton. Does the government guarantee that in case farmers do not get the MSP from traders, the government will buy all the listed crops at MSP?

A: The 70th round of NSSO on Key Indicators of Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households in India shows that only six per cent of farmers gain from MSPs. The archaic and regressive laws did not allow the markets to function and thereby only the rich farmers benefited from the earlier laws.

We had recently released the first instalment of over Rs 19,000 crore for paddy procurement in three states under the MSP scheme. We also announced the MSPs for six rabi crops of 2020-21 which are in line with the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.

Wheat MSP for the rabi crop of 2020-21 has been fixed at Rs 1,975 per quintal – 2.6 per cent higher than Rs 1,925 in 2019-20. MSP for lentil (masur) has been fixed at Rs 5,100 per quintal – 6.25 per cent or Rs 300 higher than in 2019-20.

The MSP for gram has been increased to Rs 5,100 per quintal – Rs 225 or 4.62 per cent higher than last year. MSP for safflower has been increased to Rs 5,327 per quintal – hiked by Rs 112 or 2.15 per cent over last year. MSP for barley has seen an increase of Rs 75 (4.92 per cent) from Rs 1,525 per quintal in 2019-20 to Rs 1,600 in 2020-21.

The increase in MSP for Rabi crops for marketing season 2021-22 is in line with the principle of fixing the MSPs at a level of at least 1.5 times of the all-India weighted average cost of production as announced in the Union Budget 2018-19.

Q: How will the government ensure that the private sector pays the MSP when even the government was not doing so in letter and spirit?

A: In spite of the rumour mongering and the underhanded tactics of the opposition to falsely portray fear, the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister have clarified that the system of MSP will remain and government procurement will continue.

These Acts, meanwhile, empower the farmers to do business with those private companies that they want and they have no compulsion to accept any contracts which they do not agree with. The imperfectness of the markets was a reason for the poor growth of the agricultural sector. We are giving options to the farmers, no one is compelling them to choose one or the other. If a farmer thinks the APMC mechanism is good, he can opt for it; if he wants to sell his produce to a private company, he should be free to do so. These Agri Acts have empowered the farmers with the power of choice.

By removing the barriers, farmers all across the country can sell their produce wherever they want. This will promote inter-state trade and the farmers will get the right price for their produce. We are also strengthening the agricultural infrastructure and we have announced a Rs 1 lakh crore fund for the same. This fund will facilitate the development of agricultural infrastructure, that includes collection centres, warehouses, storage centres, cold chains, and pre-processing facilities, among others. Funds for the development of the animal husbandry and fisheries sector have also been launched to diversify the sources of farmers’ income.

Q: Can the protests of the farmers all across the country be termed unjust? Shouldn’t the farmers be given a patient hearing?

A: Do not underestimate the intelligence of our farmers. We have had several rounds of discussions with the Agriculture Minister and we will clarify all the concerns being raised by the farmers.

We have our ears to the ground and have been listening to the farmers. Farmers across the nation are happy and pleased with these Acts. Visit any part of rural India and you will get the real picture.

These are Acts which will alter the agricultural sector as we know it and will bring a paradigm shift in the way the farmers have been doing their business. With the emergence of agri-tech startups and the government being committed to improving the infrastructure side by side, the focus is solely now on increasing the farmers’ income and improving their standard of living.

Our doors are always open for our farmer brothers and sisters and we will always pay heed to their concerns as these Acts are for their prosperity and for their benefits. They are the biggest stakeholders in our ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ vision and their interests are Modi government’s priority.

Q: Farmers feel that they have not been involved at any time during the decision-making process on an issue which affects their lives. They say before formulation of the policies, they were not consulted at all. Your comments?

A: Again, let’s go by facts. We have at every stage been in touch with the farmers. In fact, the Prime Minister has spoken about them around 25 times! The total number of training and webinar sessions conducted with farmers were over 1,30,000 reaching out to over 92,00,000 farmers between June and November 2020.

We have been in touch with the farmers across the nation. Moreover, as I shared already, the Acts were passed after hours of discussion in both the Houses of the Parliament. The farmers all across the country have suffered because of their inability to produce and sell independently. We have already created 2,000-plus Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) and 10,000 more are in the works with a budgetary allocation of Rs 5,000 crore.

Over 1,000 agri startups, driven by young technology graduates, have been created and over 20,000 agri clinics have been made possible by agriculture graduates. We need these reforms now more than ever before for these start ups to prosper which will benefit the farmers the most.

No amount of scare mongering will take away the fact that it is the government led by PM Narendra Modi that dismantled monopolies of the APMCs and began a new era for the farmers.

Q: Why are electricity and fertiliser subsidies being taken away and farmers being told that they will be compensated later? Can the government deny that the state and the Central finance departments struggle for funds? So, what is the guarantee for farmers getting refunded later? Many subsidies like those on polyhouses have not been cleared…

A: We have not taken away any electricity and fertiliser subsidies. Instead, since 2013-14, MSP for wheat and paddy has increased by 41 ore cent and 43 per cent, respectively, while there has been up to 65 per cent rise in MSP for pulses and oilseeds.

The quantity of wheat and paddy procured has also increased by 73 per cent and 114 per cent, respectively, compared to 2014. In the case of pulses, the increase has been a staggering 4,962 per cent.

Increased agriculture credit, higher loan subsidy, and soil health card to 16.38 crore farmers have benefited farmers across the nation. The Modi government has also provided security cover to 13.26 crore farmers under the PM crop insurance scheme and direct cash benefit of Rs 94,000 crore to 10.21 crore farmers through the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.

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