Editorial: No Surrender To Punjab Farmers

Editorial: No Surrender To Punjab Farmers

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Thursday, February 15, 2024, 01:53 PM IST
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Farm law protesters in 2021 | File/ANI

Come elections, the Punjab farmers have yet again resumed their highly disruptive protest for a statutory guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) for not just wheat and rice but for twenty-one other crops. This is hard to implement. Of course, Rahul Gandhi and the nominee-Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge have said that if they are voted to power they would immediately implement the demand for statutory guarantee. It is a different matter that the M S Swaminathan Committee report on which the farmers base their demand for guaranteed MSP was presented to the then UPA Government in 2006. Manmohan Singh, with roots in Punjab, was the prime minister. But till May 2014, when the UPA was voted out of power neither he nor Rahul Gandhi nor, for that matter, Kharge had moved their little finger to implement the guaranteed MSP for 23 crops. Clearly, the intention of Gandhi and Kharge is to fish in troubled waters in the hope it would earn them some electoral capital on the eve of the General Election. Given that Punjab farmers are among the richest in the country, thanks also to one hundred percent irrigated land, free power and highly subsidised fertilisers, and, on top of it all, an assured procurement of all their produce of wheat and rice by the central Food Corporation of India, they should have little reason to complain. Even when the FCI godowns are full, it feels obliged to procure far above the minimum buffer stock limits only to appease the Punjab farmers. Yet, they nurse a grievance against the State, as if the rest of the country must forgo infrastructural development, expenditure on health, education, defence et al so that they can have their pocketfuls of taxpayers’ funds. It will be ruinous for any government to be legally bound to procure all agricultural produce at the MSP rate. Nobody can deny that our agriculture is still labour-intensive, saddled with small holdings and rudimentary ways of farming. Also, that despite incentives the Punjab farmer remains reluctant to switch away from wheat and paddy to cash crops. Nor is he willing to diversify into horticulture and animal husbandry. He is stuck with wheat and paddy knowing well that whatever the quality of the produce the FCI is bound to procure it at the MSP rates. The argument against the ban on export of foodgrains too is fallacious. For free import and export of agriculture produce will not only pinch the rest of the population, especially in the urban areas, but it will hurt the farmers as well since they are consumers too and cascading effect of higher food prices will be felt on the general price-line.

A few months after the end of their previous agitation, which had led to the withdrawal of the farm sector reforms, a government committee was set up to examine their demands, including making MSP more effective and transparent. Representatives of various unions of farmers were members of the committee which is headed by a retired Secretary of the Union Agriculture Ministry. Aside from MSP, the committee’s remit included a change in the cropping pattern given the changing food habits of the people. Thus far, sadly nothing has come out of this committee. Meanwhile, the Punjab farmers’ unions have yet again sought to disrupt normalcy in the capital by laying siege to the main entry points to the national capital. A Punjab High Court judge who rhetorically asked on Tuesday if the barricading of various roads into Delhi from Punjab was not the denial of farmers’ right to protest peacefully, ought to know that this right cannot be absolute. And has to be exercised by not infringing the rights of all others to move freely from home to work and back without man-made obstructions. Surely, the honourable judge would not like if the road from his house to the court, and to the school where his children may study, was to be blocked by the protesting farmers exercising their Constitutional right to dissent and to protest peacefully. Igniting passions with such ill-considered remarks from a high judicial perch ought to be avoided. Meanwhile, a number of central ministers were deputed to hold talks with the farmers’ representatives. Thus far, these have not yielded any result. The Centre should not close the door on negotiation with the farmers. Also, at no cost should it surrender to the blackmail.

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