For readers, it may be revealing to know that bigger States like Punjab and Haryana pay the middle men (arthiyas) rather than paying the farmers. This inverses the logic on which the concept of MSP is based on, writes Akun Sabharwal, Commissioner of Civil Supplies, Ex-Officio Secretary to Government, Vice Chairman & Managing Director (FAC), Consumer Affairs, Food and Civil Supplies Department, Government of Telangana, in this insightful article.
“Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more service to his country.”
– Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, 1726
The farmer plays a strategic role in the process of economic development of a country. The history of the world is evidence that agriculture revolution preceded the industrial revolution. Increased agriculture output and productivity tend to contribute substantially to an overall economic development. Thus, it is rational and appropriate to place greater emphasis on further development of this sector – a role that the young state of Telangana has and is performing sincerely.
Telangana has seen a bountiful harvest this year. The toil and hard work of the farmers have produced 108 lakh tonnes of paddy; 56,000 tonnes of jowar and 27 lakh tonnes of maize. The bumper harvest can be attributable to a number of reasons. The region has received good rainfall; this along with better and improved irrigation facilities has led to an increase in area under cultivation. The farmer support scheme Rythu Bandhu has had a dual effect: It gave money in the hands of the farmer before the season was to start so as to invest in better seeds, fertilizers and implements. Another factor, which is not commonly discussed, is the effect on the mindset of the farmers. In India, all parties— political, social or otherwise, claim to be pro-farmer.
However, farmers look at small indications and signs of the way the wind is blowing. Cash in the accounts of the farmers and better land revenue management were clear indications to the farmers in Telangana that the government is with them. Thus there was a favorable move towards better agricultural practices; better variety of seeds, fertilizers, implements; higher production and higher productivity.
It has, in the past, been seen that whenever the crop is bumper the farmers suffer and the middle men prosper. Why is that so? It is simple economics. Due to a bumper crop, the price of the commodity in the open market comes down. A small or a medium farmer has to sell his produce as early as possible. He has to re-pay his loans; purchase essentials and plan for the next cropping season. He doesn’t have the financial ability or the storage space to hold the grain with him for a long duration.
Concept of MSP
The Minimum Support Price (MSP) for a crop goes a long way in countering this narrative. However, in a large number of instances, what is found lacking is the seriousness in implementation and ensuring that the farmer gets the support price promised. For readers, it may be revealing to know that bigger States like Punjab and Haryana pay the middle men (arthiyas) rather than paying the farmers. This inverses the logic on which the concept of MSP is based on.
In States in our own neighbourhood, the millers have been declared as the procurement centres thus making a mockery of the whole concept. In such a scenario, opening of 3,500 centres by the Telangana Government across the state to procure paddy led to the ease and ability to sell the crop in a nearby place. The farmer did not have to travel or carry his crop over longer distances.
The paddy procurement centres themselves are a unique feature — a seamless integration of technology and simple procedures. A large number of these centres are operated by the Primary Agricultural Co-operative Societies or the Women SHGs. On his arrival at a procurement centre, a farmer is issued a token; his crop tested for quality and gunnies issued on the spot. Subsequent to this, the crop is weighed and loaded onto the trucks. It is record of sort that from the time of the loading of the crop on to the truck, it takes about 48 hours for the payment to be received in the account of the farmer.
The linkage of land revenue data, farmer details and bank account using technology in the form of hand-held devices and State-wide database details ensured that the operations at the paddy procurement centres was smooth and hassle free.
In the last nine months, I have gone around the country and studied the procurement practices in Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. We have incorporated the best that we saw. During the recent visits of senior Government of India functionaries, it is evident that our hard work in incorporating the best systems in Telangana has paid its dividends. We are one of the few States that ensures an early payment of MSP directly into the account of the farmers unlike even my own home, Punjab, where the money is paid by the government to the middlemen and the farmers are left at the mercy of these middlemen.
The procurement season for kharif has come to an end. During these three months the Telangana government has transferred Rs 7,122 crores into the accounts of 8.05 lakh farmers. The whole procurement process was pro-farmer and without any glitches, which is evident from the fact that there were just a few complaints to the helpline set up by the State government; there were no protests regarding delay. This reflects directly on the efficiency and effectiveness of the operation.
We have covered sizeable ground. However, there is a lot to be done to ensure that the faith of the farmer in the government continues. There is a need to do an advance planning directly based on land records and the sowing pattern well ahead of the marketing season. This will ensure that the State machinery is geared up to prepare for heavy arrivals of crop. Satellite imagery data is within the reach of the Government. Studying the cropping pattern, productivity and area data over the past few seasons and linking it up with improved irrigation facilities will result in the Government making proper estimates and planning in advance.
As the irrigation potential keeps growing power is provided round- the-clock to the farmer; God is kind with timely rains; If this, along with and far-sighted schemes that provide money in the hands of farmer before the start of the season continue, I am sure that the smile on the face of the farmer and the spring in his step will continue.