Niti Aayog

If Modi’s Centre agrees on MSP, it would be betrayal of India & its farmers

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Most of us know that the fate of farmers’ agitation depends if the Centre agrees to their guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP) demand on Thursday.

So what’s MSP?

MSP is the price at which the government purchases crops from the farmers. This was first announced way back in 1966-67. It was for wheat only which again is in the focus. Green Revolution had brought in surplus in the agriculture market and the farmers needed to be saved from falling profits. Now of course this MSP extends to two dozen crops, announced at the beginning of each season of Rabi and Kharif.

So, if the crops have had a bumper harvest, the government purchases at the MSP to make up for the farmers as the surplus drives the market price down. The government decides on MSP after recommendations from state governments, ministries and dedicated Commission. There are other factors like drought and floods which matter.

Sure, the MSPs are not static. In October 2019, the government had increased the MSP of rabi crops. In June this year, in order to help farmers, the Centre increased the MSP of 14 Kharif crops. (A week later though, thousands of maize farmers from Madhya Pradesh sat on a Satyagraha Andolan. They too wanted an MSP on their produce.)

Since 2009, the MSP on a crop is based on cost, demand, supply, changes in prices, market trend and international prices. The cost of labour, as per market rate, is also factored in.

So look at it this way: if the harvest is bumper, and the market price is low, the MSP would make up for the shortfall. Now keep this at the back of your mind: For the market price could be MANIPULATED.

And who manipulates market prices? Those who control market. In today’s India, the market is controlled by big mandis, who in turn is controlled by big farmers, who in turn are hand in gloves with the politicians and secessionist forces.

Here is the catch. There is only a certain percentage of crops which the government buys under the MSP. The farmers still have to go to mandis nearby for the rest of the crops which are controlled by middlemen at the behest of rich farmers and politicians. Invariably, that price is kept lower than MSP. A farmer still ends up as a loser.

An examples. MP farmers were on “Satyagraha” this June because the maize MSP was Rs 1,850 but in market it was Rs 900-1,000 per quintal. Now look at this double whammy in simpler terms: I am a farmer, the MSP on my crop is Rs 100 which the Centre has calculated on the basis of my costs which, say comes to Rs 80. But the market is selling it at Rs 60. So I am not only losing out on MSP even in market I am getting Rs 20 less even on my investment. Go figure that out.

Let’s take the reverse of this example. Let’s say the harvest is low on cereals. Now almost two-thirds of the total cereal production is through MSP. Only one-third is left for open market. So if the harvest is low, the farmer can’t make most from the rise in demand. He has to depend on the MSP which could be lower. He can’t make profit. So, if a farmer leaves producing cereals, it affects consumption pattern of citizens too.

Does one know what MSP does to India’s trade with other countries? Many have complained in the World Trade Organization (WTO) against India. Australia has complained on what, US and European Union have on sugarcane and pulses. These MSPs have been termed trade-distorting, breaching the 10 per cent norm for subsidy on farm production, set down by the WTO.

Sure, this piece is not enough to bring an entire White Paper on MSP but an additional point need be mentioned:

States could now intervene in the agricultural markets to ensure that the prices don’t fall steeply. The losses States suffer, 40 percent of it would be borne by the Centre. (In case of north-eastern states, it’s up to 50 percent).

Do you know that the Organisation of Economic Cooperation Development and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (OECD-ICAIR) reported that farmers lost Rs 45 lakh crores (phew!) due to manipulated pricing between Rs 2000-2017?

Do you know that the Shanta Kumar Committee in 2015 reported that only 6 per cent of the MSP could be received by the farmers, implying that 94 per cent of India’s farmers were deprived from the benefit of the MSP. That only a crore out of 14.5 crore farmers benefitted out of MSP?

Do you know that In 2016, NITI Aayog had revealed that only 10 percent of the farmers were aware of the right prices before the sowing season?

It would be a huge betrayal of India if the Centre was to agree to the agitating farmers’ demands of fixed MSP. The talks are bound to fail and must fail. If they don’t, BJP would lose support of majority of Indian farmers, not to say millions of Indians like me who want this caucus, this nexus of corrupt and secessionist forces driven into the Arabian Sea.

 

 

 

You may not love water but you surely do your kids, don’t you?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Chennai is parched dry but it’s too far. “Mann ki Baat”draws many a listener but you and I aren’t one of them. We even don’t know that President Ram Nath Kovind referred to water crisis in his address to the joint session of Parliament last month. Could you please stop shedding tears on water, please.

Let’s get a little closer to the truth. Say Jaipur. Part of the city ran out of water last year. It was because Bisalpur dam, the supplier of water to Jaipur, almost dried up. Imagine coolers–many times more than A/Cs—without water in the searing heat of the desert. Or supply of water restricted to an hour. A decade ago, five farmers who were protesting the diversion of water to Jaipur, were shot in Bisalpur.

Still far? Closer to any of these cities such as PuneNagpur or Mumbai? Click the links and you would know how close you were to use only toilet papers in the morning. Ever wondered why you see hundreds of water tankers darting to and fro in the Capital in summer? Or why violent clashes for waters among neighbours is so common? Delhi Police counted for three dead and many injured from last year. Cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai already ferry water as far as 200kms from their outskirts.

Still unconvinced? Niti Aayog has warned that India faces the worst long-term water crisis in its history. Millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk. Outbreak of water-borne diseases would swamp our hospitals. Burial grounds would be humming like fairs.

Ever thought that water could be the reason why our farmers commit suicide? Do you know that India uses more groundwater than collectively used by China and the United States? Or how much of our surface/groundwater is used up by multinationals such as Coca-Cola?

Let’s see if these facts make any difference to you: In most Indian cities, the difference in demand-supply is a yawning 70%. Imagine what happens when 500 million more people join our cities by 2025.

Ok, let these facts below sink in:

  • Water tariffs are lowest in India’s urban centres. In cities like Delhi and Mumbai, water is supplied at Rs 0.5 and Rs 1.6 per cubic metre.  However, marginal poor in cities of India—some 170 million—end up paying to water tankers etc through their nose. It’s up to 20 times to what the rich pay and that too from unreliable sources.
  • Almost 80 per cent of the water leaves cities as a waste of which less than 20 per cent is treated. The rest pollutes rivers, lakes and groundwater. Meanwhile, the government subsidy for water keeps accumulating at over a billion dollars a year. That’s a double whammy for poor. One, they don’t get water. Two, what they get is literally the untreated sewage flushed down by the rich.
  • 82 per cent of our villages rely on groundwater for domestic use.  Now, this groundwater is being extracted by water tanker economy which in six big cities itself is worth over Rs 100 crores. Then there are packaged-water companies; the soft drinks multinationals to suck it dry. For instance, there is a long-standing conflict between Coke and the Placimada village panchayat. Groundwater legislation in states such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh actually work against villagers’ access to groundwater. Over-extraction has left to “well-fields” around Indian cities.
  • Given the situation, the surface water would have to contribute no less than 65% of our total water requirement in decades ahead. This requirement is just not for residences. Your electricity supply and industries need water too. But where are the ponds and tanks? Marginal rivers have run dry due to encroachments by building mafia and conniving municipal administration. And have I forgotten the polluted major rivers?
  • On paper, mega cities like Delhi and Mumbai receive almost enough water today. But that’s on paper only. No account is made of leakage, faulty engineering and poor maintenance. Mumbai hardly harvests its water. Governments as usual wake up late. For example in Gurgaon, a major water supply network was only built 20 years after all those high-rise buildings had come up.
  • All this will leave a huge burden on our farms to produce enough food to meet demands by 2050. Since our cities take in a lot of cereals, our food output may have to rise 50% over present levels. Farmers are thus encouraged to grow crops that result in improved profits. But to grow rice and wheat, the water supply is grossly insufficient. According to an estimate, a whopping investment of Rs 560,000 crores would be required for irrigation networks in the next three decades.

Just imagine the scenario. Protests, riots, torching and bloodshed in our cities. Wildlife near extinction. So the likely fate of vegetation and rivers itself.

The irony is, India is one of the wettest countries in the world. Between Cherrapunji’s 11,000mm and Jaisalmer’s 200mm, India averages 1170mm of annual precipitation. Just half a century ago, India was acknowledged as a water-rich nation. Now several regions have turned into deserts.

So if you are moved to do your bit on water, read these two pieces. Both stress on water-harvesting. The first one deals with how lack of it has brought Chennai to its knees. The second one is a few noteworthy examples which could show you the light.

Do your bit and we could raise a glass to it! And don’t you tell me you don’t love your kids.

One Nation, One Poll: Why Maya, Akhilesh or Owaisi dread it

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

If you were to ask the majority of this country if they want “One Nation, One Poll” the answer would be an overwhelming yes.

People might not have the figures–Rs 6,000 crores on exchequer alone in recent Lok Sabha Polls and many times more by parties and candidates; Or  the numbers on manpower—one assembly seat in Lucknow alone has over 300 polling booths and engages 2000 men on polling day; Or the imagination to guess how many lakhs of police, para-military forces, bureaucracy are pressed into service. Yet, they can sense a gap in their daily lives like a drawn tooth.

The erudites amongst us offer debating points we exhale in the musty air of a bar amidst gathered gentry. So Akhilesh Mishra tells us in Indian Express how it affects Rajya Sabha; how parties can make outlandish promises (Like Arvind Kejriwal on free Metro for women); how at least 15 state elections anyway fall more within a year either side of a Lok Sabha poll.

So what’s the problem?

The likes of Congress, TMC, BSP, SP, AAP, DMK, RJD, AIMIM etc sure have a problem for they stayed away from the all-party meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon on Wednesday. They saw it as an attack on the Constitution, the “federal” character of our set-up; and blurring the local and national issues which could affect a voter’s judgment.

All this is humbug. Indian voters know how to choose in a state or in a Lok Sabha elections. Constitution is for people of India and any measure which is good for them, must come into force. Such Constitutional changes could be made between ad breaks on television. IT TAKES NOTHING. As for the scaremongering on President’s Rule by stealth; what-if-government-in-Centre falls, these are easily fixable issues: E.g get the no-confidence-motion out of the way at the start of a new Parliament. And if I may ask how it has helped democracy when sworn enemies—Congress and JD (S)—joined hands only to usurp Karnataka last year?

The reason likes of BSP or SP, Congress or RJD, TMC or DMK or AIMIM don’t want “One Nation, One Poll” is caste and religion. With national issues delinked, the ones of dalits vs suvarans (upper caste); Muslims vs Hindus; Tamil or Bengali asmita easily gain currency. Narrow parochial issues keep these parties relevant. The faces of Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Asaduddin Owaisi remain in circulation. The nation loses its steam on the tracks of targeted growth.

Just recall the incidents or speeches which happen around state polls. In Delhi, it was fake attack on churches in 2015, Una incident in Gujarat, Bheema Koregaon in Maharashtra: All were intended to sharpen the caste and religious divide. “Ramzaade” vs “haraamzaade” speeches surface. Quota politics come into play. What room is there left to discuss developmental issues threadbare?

In a paper to Niti Aayog last year, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai offered an easy way out to the cacophony of whether state assemblies could be dramatically reduced or enlarged so as it coincides with the Lok Sabha polls. They pointed out that 15 state elections anyway fall in and around Lok Sabha dates.  The remaining states could be bunched together around the mid-way mark of a Lok Sabha term. So, one Lok Sabha elections and two for state assemblies in a span of five years, is the way forward.

It’s not to say the road ahead is easy. For, there is also this matter of panchayat elections and its 30 lakh representatives. The matter of getting all political parties aboard.

But then so was the issue with GST. It’s a reality now. There are examples galore around the world where simultaneous elections are held, including in US where a voter not only chooses his President but also 20 different representatives on a single ballot. Sweden has one election and so is the case with South Africa.

The fact is, in early years of Republic of India, elections were held simultaneously in 1951, 1957, 1962 and 1967. It fell into abeyance because assemblies began getting dissolved due to Centre’s interference. The dissolution of Lok Sabha in 1970 was the final nail which broke up the elections in India.