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Poor farmers fight to remain poor and vocal minority support in the guise of activism, democracy, politics, and hypocrisy

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I join many in imploring and appealing to the farmers to come to an agreement and government to be big hearted to arrive at such a resolution asap. Others who claim this is a right to dissent you are doing a great disservice to the farmers in pandemic period as well as the country in the grab of activism, democracy and for some of you it is shear politics and hypocrisy. We will get into the details and getting the exact data is such a challenge, but order of magnitude is accurate.

We will get into the facts first.

a) India is 94th country in world hunger Index. Though we produce twice the amount of wheat, rice and chenna than what we consume, we have less than one tenth of other nutrients like fruits, vegetables, and others. The lack of nutrients is pervasive across the population including middle class and rich and every region.

b) India has close to 50+ crore people dependent upon $450billion dollar (15% of GDP) (2.25 Lakh crore rupees) agriculture economy that mainly focusses on the wheat, rice and chenna. Though we produce more wheat and rice, sadly, we import $80 B agricultural products from outside for a sparse nutrient we get. For example, India import pulses from Canada to the extent of $6B and unlike India this 6B worth pulses is produced in a single season by less than 20000 farmers. Same goes for 4000 farmers producing cheese for 700M worth of business for New Zealand. Same story goes for  palm oil imports from Malaysia.

c)Now if we can produce all we need to improve the hunger Index as good as China, the Agri business will be of the order of $1 Trillion (~5 Lakh crore) and doubling of Indian formers income as well as improving the hunger index.

d) Improving the hunger index improves health index and reduces the co-morbidities and overall wellbeing of the country

e) The small agricultural economy, the government subsidises, and support prises various ways and means at least 100B and that will continue irrespective of the laws. This is a worldwide phenomenon and India is not alone.

Committee after committee have explained the details and by the time, they are even read the numbers become stale. So, my research cannot produce a single paper that can summarise this after peer review but give or take these numbers are of the ballpark.

We even to reach the reasonable food index, we need to produce twice what we produce and if we can do it internally the opportunity for farming is of the order of 600B for farmers at field level and another 200 B for storage, distribution, and sales. The farming will always be done by farmers and distribution which is now spotty will be picked up the corporates.

Then why we are not going in for it? One of the main structural reason for the failure to achieve this growth is that agri business is it steeped in market practices that were set by Ala-ui-din Khilji for his garrisons to be paid cheap, carried by British for its soldiers and hardened during the famine in 1960. What the current laws makes is like what was in 1980s for the BSNL (then department of telephone) service to get a telephone and buy Vespa scooter. We waited for 10 years to get a scooter and telephone line. The current structure in various ways control the production, distribution to produce more of what we do not need and where do not want. Less than 0.0001% of the farmers benefit from this and incidentally 20% of them are in Punjab as they garner most of the subsidies /support. So, we can understand the reason for the opposition from Punjab.

Most of our political parties understand this and that is the reason the Congress, DMK, NCP all called out in their political manifesto though they oppose the laws. Let us investigate the specific of the laws and see why protest is three-fold

  1. The changes introduced will take away the comfort of well entrenched Mandis, farmers as it will introduce competition. Many of the 40 thousand Mandi based Punjab will lose their pro-eminent position exactly same way the Vespa dealer lost their pre-eminence. However, they will survive this and use the new opportunity to flourish by doing what they do best – being entrepreneurial. These new law provides a liberation that is similar to 1992 liberalisation of PV Narasima Roa. Imagine a young farmer can produce corn in Ramanathapuram then he can displace the canola import from Canada or Malaysia. He becomes powerful in the locality than say most likely a mandi owner from an entrenched political party.  The real benefit is that  most farmers and consumers will have diversity of products and services at a much cheaper rate.  To give a personal anecdote my own house is built where once cashew tree used to be and our policies led to import of the cashew than producing it locally in Pondicherry. Same goes for a piece of barren land where we had produced peanuts is no longer used.
  2. The laws will shake up a bit from the comfort zone, but the opportunities will arise like what happened after the 1992 liberalisation. This uncertainty is a concern for the farmers and as far as I can read the laws it has better market and government controls than the farmers wants us to believe.
  3. The farmers who protest needs to be protected against the change in short term and  be assured that they will be taken care until they ease into the new system well – however agreeing to their demands like repealing are great disservice to the 50 Crore farmers. These 50 thousand do not represent the 50-crore people and entire nation.
    1. The repeal of laws benefits these protesters in a narrow sense for the day but not the country’s 50 crore people as well as public and economic growth.
    1. The other ask is their need to repeal the stubble burning. Ask a Delhi person how they feel? Realise the Punjab has 3 crore people and Delhi has 1 crore – so the best approach is to use it for biogas or something like UP where the government buys to feed cows. UP produces 10 times (due to sugarcane) the stubble but they do not burn it.
    1. Electricity reform- Electricity is free for the agriculturalist and will continue as such. However, the government want to reimburse the amount after they pay it EB so that the pilferage is avoided as well as the farmers use it with reasonably.
    1. The corporate buying directly is not going to harm the farmer as they can produce what is sold and needed than what the Mandis want. Also, it is extremely unlikely the current farmers can create cold storage and distribution that TATAs can do.

So, based on the analysis I think the protest is justified to the extend that its immediate impact needs to be eased and supported. But for the greater good we need these reforms to move it from archaic practice from the days of Sultanate to a protected but market economy.

As to the vociferous support that the protest gets from many can be ascribed to unfortunate trend to be activist and even anarchist for many. I saw a photo of a young woman who did candle vigil in Jalander saying do not sell to corporate ironically in GAP sweater, latest iPhone and UK imported Louis Phillipe dress.

Opposition politicians have political reasons to play into anti-Modi, anti-corporate jingoism but that is greater hypocrisy opposing what is in their manifesto. Also, some of the politicians are beneficiary of the current structural inadequacies and that is a personal interest subverting the greater good. Media take the position to inflame for breaking news TRP than true analysis of the issue as well they tend to be left leaning and anti-government by nature in democracy. Someone like Canadian PM who leaves no opportunity to call India out in subsidiary battle in WTO plays to his Sikh ridings as well as the need to protect the pulse export from his country. So, everyone is fighting to keep farmer poor in the guise of democracy, activism, and sheer hypocritic.

You can review some of the videos of Shekar Gupta of ThePrint for more insights, Swarajya, Swaminathan committee reports, UN hunger index, WTO proceedings, GOI import details and GDP figures and review the law itself. Another source our revered president Abdul Kalam in his various books where he calls out on some of the practices.

As far as I can see it is good for the country with minor discomfort. I again implore everyone including the protesters to see the basic truth of the issue and resolve this peacefully. Please know we recognise you were instrumental in green revolution and entrepreneurial and you can bring another change.

Government should work towards peace by providing short term assistance in easing into the new law. It is a duty of all of us to see this as an opportunity it provides to country as a whole and stand up for what is good for the country and millions of poor farmers and country. If there are factual demerit that can be highlighted but blinding supporting protesters is just hypocrisy.

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