Dr. Swaminathan's Diagnosis, Prescription & Gentle Reminder

Raman Swamy

When political parties take the name of Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar – which they do all of the time and every single day - they know one thing for sure.   That neither Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi nor Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is in any position to correct them for selective misquotations or to chide them for not following their teaching and preaching.

The reason is that both the Father of the Nation and the Messiah of Dalit Empowerment are no longer in this world – only the memory of their ideas and actions still remain, in form of writings, speeches and historical records.

Not so in the case of Dr M S Swaminathan.  The Father of the Green Revolution may be 93 years old (August 7, incidentally, was his birthday).  But he is still alive and active and rather pained that his name is being bandied about with gay abandon by all and sundry day after day inside Parliament and outside. 

At a time when the agrarian situation in India has escalated from a crisis to a near-catastrophe, not a day goes by without someone somewhere singing the praises of the M. S. Swaminathan Report on Agriculture and distorting the recommendations of the actual report in the same breath.

Everybody from the Prime Minister downwards swears by the proposals of the National Commission on Farmers and pledges to implements them faithfully in letter and spirit.   But no one does.   

The Commission, headed by Dr. Swaminathan, had seven distinguished experts as fulltime or part-time Members - Ram Badan Singh, Y.C. Nanda, R. L. Pitale, Jagadish Pradhan, Chanda Nimbkar, Atul Kumar Anjan and Atul Sinha.  Some of them were farm scientists, some were from academia and some were mere activists-turned-politicians.   But together they prepared a comprehensive blueprint in five volumes for the betterment of Indian agriculture in all its dimensions.  

All five parts of the Report were submitted within a three years span between 2004 and 2006.   Hailed as the Bible of Farm Policy, the Report won acclaim and approval from all sides of the political spectrum.  

That was a decade ago. In the intervening years since then, the UPA government implemented some of the recommendations and the NDA too incorporated some of the prescriptions in its own farm policy.

Somewhere along the line, however, there have been delays, distortions, breaches and half-heartedness.   In effect, the Swaminathan Report has been put into practice only selectively and insincerely.   As a result, the agrarian crisis has deepened instead of being tackled.  Cultivators are still not getting a fair price for their produce.   The food chain has not been streamlined.  Food security is still existing only on paper.  Farmers are still committing suicide. 

On the contrary, things seem to be going from bad to worse.  Farmers have reached the end of their tether and the limits of their patience.   Farmers unions and associations are going on the warpath adopting novel methods of expressing their anguish by embarking on long marches and wholesale market boycotts. 

Since he is very much alive, Dr. M S Swaminathan has been watching all that has been going on with increasing disappointment and alarm.  While policy makers continue to extol the virtues of his recommendations, they tend to toss the key proposals from side to side with careless disregard for the specifics and deliberate doctoring of the mathematics of agricultural reform. 

Not being a politician, Dr. Swaminathan still attempts to politely nudge and gently guide the government with a blend of encouragement and flattery in the hope that greater urgency will be injected into the effort to save the agricultural sector from calamity.

On Wednesday, therefore, the Father of the Green Revolution sent out a strong reminder of the unfinished tasks and the original goals of the Report that carries his name. 

As a former Member of the Rajya Sabha, he said in an open letter, I would like to re-state the most important goals of the National Policy for Farmers.   These goals are all the more relevant because the Kisan Mukti Bills are being introduced in the Lok Sabha in the fag-end of the Monsoon session of Parliament.

He then goes on to summarize the main objectives in bullet points, so that Ministers and parliamentarians alike would be able to grasp their meaning and significance more easily.

• To improve the economic viability of farming by ensuring that farmers earn a “minimum net income”, and ensure that agricultural progress is measured by the advance made in improving that income.

• To ensure that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production, that is, to implement the formula of “C2+50 per cent” for the computation of the minimum support price. Such a policy would provide income security to farmers and some protection to them.

• To mainstream the human and gender dimension in all farm policies and programmes and give explicit attention to sustainable rural livelihoods.

• To complete the unfinished agenda in land reforms and to initiate comprehensive asset and agrarian reforms.

• To develop and introduce a social security system and support services for farmers.

• To protect and improve the land, water, biodiversity and climate resources essential for sustained advances in the productivity, profitability, and stability of major farming systems by creating an economic stake in conservation.

• To foster community-centred food, water and energy security systems in rural India and to ensure nutrition security at the level of every child, woman and man.

• To introduce measures which can help to attract and retain youth in farming by making it both intellectually stimulating and economically rewarding, by conferring the power andeconomy of scale to small and marginal farmers both in the production and post-harvest phases of farming.

• To strengthen the bio-security of crops, farm animals, fish and forest trees for safeguarding both the work and income security of farmer families, and the health and trade security of the nation.

Significantly, he expresses support to the farmers agitation sweeping through the country.   Farmers are launching movements “justly demanding the implementation of the recommendations of the Report”. 

While endorsing the demands he also stresses that the time has come to ensure a “genuine implementation” of the recommendations”. 

He also spells out three components of the immediate priorities:

• a minimum support price or MSP based on the formula of C2+50% ;

• a favourable procurement policy to ensure that farmers actually receive the MSP; and

• increasing mass consumption through the effective implementation of the Food Security Act, school noon meal programmes, etc.

Just in case those at the helm have not understood where he stands on the matter, he makes it a point to add this concluding sentence: “I support the demands of the farmers and request the Government to listen to them”.

The question is – is anyone in the government listening to the Father of the Green Revolution let alone the agitating farmers?

Aug 23, 2018

Raman Swamy

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