Sunday, January 24, 2021
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Death of the farmer vote bank

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The last several months because of the pandemic and travel restrictions, there wasn’t much that could be done. So as a change I decided to spend some quiet time in the farms of some of my friends in and around Bangalore while following the stipulated regulatory and safety guidelines.

Because of ample and undisturbed time at the farms I got a chance to speak to actual farmers and understand some of the issues affecting our agricultural sector. Though this article is not about transformation of our agricultural economy but I just want to touch upon the recent agricultural reform that was brought in by the central government.

One of the farmers who I spoke to has largely taken to the mango plantation, as it is something that is easy to take care of and the soil is conducive for the mango plantation. He has several varieties of mangoes that he grows in his farm along with a few other produce in lesser quantity largely for self-consumption.

So after this recent farm reform that was brought in by the central government, I asked him as to what he thought about it. Here is what he said.

Mentioning a variety of a mango from his farm he said, he had to go to the local APMC yard to sell his produce as per the APMC act. He was offered Rs. 16 per Kg for that particular variety of mango. He further mentioned, by just moving a few kilometers away from the APMC yard the same mango is sold in retail at Rs. 75. So the price that a consumer pays for the produce is about 5 times that of what a farmer actually gets. The farmer barely makes his expenses with that kind of money he receives while as the consumer still ends up paying a high price. He told me that with this reform he is extremely thrilled and can now sell the same produce to whoever gives him a better price.

Basically this reform brings in a kind of freedom for a farmer who was bound by the shackles of the old system that was built around subservience to a few that would decide how much he earns. With no option at his disposal he was forced to sell his produce at whatever the price APMC mafia decided. The result has been that farmers have always remained at the margins to even meet their basic living needs.

If you just enquire around you will realize that it does not take a genius to find out that most of the APMC yards are controlled by politicians. With the result the farmer was always beholden to a politician or a political party that had control over his earning. It would help the politician to keep the farmer always at fringes so that with the lure of announcing some sops and doles like farm loan waiver he can in exchange receive a vote for himself. It is another topic as to who actually benefits from these farm loans and maybe for another article on another day.

With this new reform Modi government has freed the farmer from the servileness to the middlemen by giving them an option to sell directly to anyone be it a Mandi , a trader, a wholesaler or even a retailer at the price point of his choice.

In effect the government has achieved dual goal of removing the clutch like control of the political class over farmer’s livelihood and secondly ensuring the farmer’s earnings moves towards doubling as per the stated objective of the Modi government.

Farmer community and their dependents are one of the single largest population groupings in this country whose condition has remained impoverished through the decades since independence. They have been tirelessly feeding India even while facing hardships themselves. They don’t need doles announced in their name that actually never reach them, but they need the pride and dignity to take their decisions on their own and for their own benefit.

And this single reform has done just that, if our farmers are empowered it will change the country’s overall wellbeing vastly. Once the farmer knows that for a better produce he can get even better prices, naturally he will work for improving the quality and the quantity of his agricultural produce. It will ensure a much better productivity in our agricultural sector. Which further feeds into improving the country’s GDP and also the average incomes of the people.

Therefore it is not very difficult to understand why some politicians and groups are opposed to this reform. While in the case of a farmer the reform delivered double benefit but the political class faces double whammy, that of losing its captive vote bank that was dependent on its sops and secondly losing the massive income they earned as middlemen between the farmer and the consumer. You will be shocked to know the amount of income some political families used to earn from just being a middleman that should have rightfully gone to the toiling farmer.

Finally the violent protests seem to be the handiwork of these politicians and middlemen who have been rendered powerless by these reforms. I am worried seeing the way they are being organized like the violent CAA protests, these may also be the handiwork of elements that are inimical to India’s betterment, growth and development.

Either the farmer is misinformed or wrongly instigated, otherwise it is impossible to conceive that any farmer should be actually unhappy or opposed for being given more choices, as to whom to sell their produce.

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