Perception of leading economists on farmers’ movement

Radhakanta Barik

All most all leading economists of India are in support of the farmers’ protest against the agricultural laws passed by Modi government. The most outspoken economist is Kaushik Basu who worked with the government of India as an economic advisor and a leading Professor in American University salutes the farmers leading the movement. He thinks the path of development pursued by Modi has a dramatic impact on Indian economy. An economy with plus ten percentages of growth in 2010 today is having minus ten percentages of growth. In all sectors of economy are doing badly except the agriculture which is having plus three percentages of growth. Modi as magician  has destroyed Indian economy from demonitisation to making of the farm laws.

India Today held a discussion on the agricultural laws passed by Modi government by inviting the former economic advisor Panagariya and Abhijit Banerjee the Nobel Laureate in Economics both having contrasting views on the agriculture in India and Farmers protest. Abhijit clearly said that in an open market economy by shifting risk to the poor farmer is doing a great harm. It is better to remove their anxieties by ensuring procurement price and grains to be procured by the state. This will ensure stability in agricultural economy which has proved to be in a better position during the Covid 19 when Indian economy is facing severe crisis. Dr Panagariya is a free trader who supports the present laws of Modi government and the private trading in agricultural commodities. It is going to improve the economy in the long run. He has provided a wrong picture of Bihar as the state under NDA government abolished the APMC which allowed to trade grains in an open market which has resulted in twenty percentages less than procurement price fixed by the government. The farmers of Bihar are forced to sell their grains by half the price fixed by the government which results in hundred percentages loss. This brings out truth that farmers need protection and a law for procurement of their grains by the government.

Ashok Gulati a supporter of three agricultural laws has changed his stand in his article in Indian Express on 30-12 20 that the laws are sacrosanct which cannot be repealed but there can be a financial package which can support the farmers when the price in the open market falls by ten percentages below the MSP. Who is going to tell that there is a lower price in the open market? This is a hundred dollar question? As officers will support the government at the centre and then the question of MSP cannot be realised from the private players. He has brought the bag of tricks that MSP has benefited only farmers of Punjaba and Haryana but it is not true. That introduction of MSP in Odisha in 2004 has benefited the small farmers who sell their grains at the MSP. A poorer state has improved its economic status because of its implementation. Bihar and Odisha were both cousins on the poverty level but Bihar has gone done in the scale per farmer's family around Rs3000 whereas Odisha farmer's family gets on average more than Rs4000. Gulati needs to know the agricultural map of various states rather than blame Punjab and Haryana. Among the members, Anil Ghanawat is the president of Shetkari Sanghatan (SS), a farmers' organisation in Maharashtra. Ghanawat is a strong advocate of farm reforms brought in by the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre. Thus, when the majority of the farmers’ movement came out in support of the Punjab and Haryana farmers’ demand for repeal of the three farm laws, Ghanwat, who is the president of Shetkari Sanghatana, welcomed the move and threatened to hit the streets if they were repealed. Ghanwat said his decision was based on the ideological position for which Joshi had stood. He is leading the organization founded by Joshi working in the World Bank supporting the free trade in agricultural market.  Another representative of farmers in the committee, Bhupinder Singh Mann, the ex-Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab and national president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Mann), had written to the PM Narendra Modi suggesting amendments in the farm laws to address concerns of the farmers in September last year. Superannuated Director (South Asia) of International Food Policy Research Institute, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi is a renowned agri scientist and is a strong supporter of farm reforms. He is the supporter of the supply side economics which can answer the problems of food shortage in India. This ignores the demand side for which the APMC plays an important role as Mandis provide the space for farmers to sell their products at minimum price fixed by the experts and accepted by the government of India. The government of India has created storage capacity for storing the suruplus grains and distributes at the cheaper price to the poor and needy people in the Public Distribution system.   Out of four nominees of the Supreme Court one Shri Bhupinder Dingh Mann has already resigned from the committee while pleading for the farmers as he stands with the farmers not with the government. All three are supposed to meet the farmers in the coming days and they would produce the report within two months. But the farmers are adamant regarding their position as they claim: ‘bill wapasi and Ghar wapasi”. On 19of January the first meeting was called by these economists but the farmers boycotted the meeting.

Role of journalists
Journalists have exposed Modi by showing that before the agricultural laws have been enacted Modi has allowed Ambani and Adani to enter into agricultural business by building the warehouses in various parts of India including Haryana. Modi has ruined the Food Corporation of India which used to buy grains from the farmers from 1965. It started by Lal Bahadur Shastri the Prime Minister to buy the grains from the farmers and keep it in the storage provided by the government. But after Modi came to power no budgetary support has been provided to FCI which has ruined the organisation. It is interesting to note here that FCI allowed the Adani gowdans to store the grains and FCI used to pay per year Rs700 crores. This is the startling information to public as the agricultural laws have provision for the private players. But already the private players are active during the Modi's tenure. At the cost of FCI the private players like Ambani and Adani were allowed to function in storing the grains. Private space for storage without legally approved by the government of India has destroyed the FCI. The majority of journalists working in the Electronic media are supporting the government regarding the agricultural laws. They do not report the facts regarding the movement.  But some are doing good work by reporting the truth.

Law Making process
A young girl has raised a question regarding agricultural laws that these are not made by Modi but by Ambani and Adani. There is an element of truth as unfolded in an article by Harish Damdoran Editor Indian Express.(Dec29,2020) That in 2017 a law passed by the parliament to give incentives to the states to enact a law against the APMC but it has been overruled in 2020 during Covid 19 to pass three laws which are against the Constitution as agriculture is a state subject has been overruled by Modi in the plea of Ministry of Commerce which can trade some agricultural commodities if states desire. It comes under the concurrent law. The business families are over smart by using this clause they have pushed these agricultural laws during covid 19 when people cannot protest against these laws.

 Massive protest organised by the farmers of India against such laws show that Modi's smartness is having a very limited result. Prime Minister always talks without any logic but for the first time he uses the concept " issues, Logic and facts" In country like ours issues are many but at present issues are related to agriculture. Logic of agricultural laws has come from the WTO which says that there should be no subsidy which compels him to open the agriculture into open market and let market forces take care of the agriculture. Facts are clearly coming to forefront that Indian agriculture has evolved in a different way which requires a special treatment. That farmers need both procurement price and grains to be procured otherwise there is no logic behind their agitation. Furthermore they are truly nationalistic which compels them that it is self sufficiency in food production helps a nation's sovereignty otherwise it is going to be pushed in international market by any force like America to Australia. It is farmers movement where political parties have no role or less role. They may provide moral support but it is farmers playing their role against the agricultural laws which Modi underestimates and blames the opposition. He is like a fascist does not want the presence of opposition in India. The rulers of India specifically Modi and Shah do not have any reading of history. During the colonial period they introduced the free trade policy in agricultural goods specifically grain market. During the 1866 famine the traders from Madras bought the rice from Odisha from Balesore port when Odisha was experiencing the shortage of rice. The Commissioner Ravenshaw did not stop it as he was a free trader which resulted in the great famine which killed ten millions of people of Odisha. Today Modi is dismantling the Essential services act which controls the grains and food in a province by making a slogan a single market which will result in killing people in different parts of India.

 Economic and Political Weekly  held a discussion on the issues related to agricultural laws and they invited experts from various fields such as Professors working on agriculture explained the point that the laws are going to affect the farming community in India. They are sixty percentages of people of India. They are small and marginal farmers who depend on procurement price of the government to realise their price to some extent. The freedom of selling anywhere has been given to farmers of Bihar who suffer worst as they sell two important grains like rice and wheat at Rs 1200 in free market whereas procurement price is much higher. Average farmer's income is the lowest in Bihar it is somewhere Rs three thousand five hundred fifty eight. This government wants to reduce all farmers of India from Punjab (18059)   to Rs three thousand income. (Monthly Income of Agricultural household in India)

Prof Radhakanta Barik (retd), Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi

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Jan 23, 2020

Prof. Radhakanta Barik

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