Punjab

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.

 

 

 

“Farce of Farmers”: No Indian could be neutral at this hour; which side are you on?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Let there be no doubt that it’s not about farmers. Think of all the reasons you could and I would demolish it clinically.

MSP? “Farmers” are worried that Minimum Support Price is not guaranteed. That private players would manipulate them in future. Now when the prime minister Narendra Modi has assured MSP in the Parliament; and the Centre needs free foodgrains for 80-crore citizens, there is no way “farmers” wouldn’t get the MSP.

Unconvinced? Let’s look at the figures.The agitation is about wheat and paddy, right? Now between Punjab (69%) and Haryana (25%), some 94 percent of all wheat and paddy is procured. It’s only going up. In 2019, the wheat bought was 34.1 million tonnes. This year it’s already 38.9 million tonnes. In 2019, the Centre had bought 26.6 million tonnes of paddy. This year, it’s 31.6 million.

So, if the agitation is only about wheat and paddy, and MSP on it, what’s the problem here?

APMC? The “fear” that mandis would be bypassed. Really? Does the Farm Acts say so? Is allowing farmers to sell anywhere they want under APMC is doing away with APMC? How is more freedom spun into less freedom narrative? Who else dominates APMC but rich farmers, powerful traders and entrenched politicians?

Unconvinced? Let’s pour over statistics released only this September. Punjab has 31 percent Scheduled Caste population. Yet only 22 Dalits received aid under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna. Why? Because this set doesn’t own much of land. The land is owned by rich farmers. In Punjab, only 3.5% of private farm land belong to Dalits. As against, Punjab has the richest of all farmers in India—classified as owning more than 10 hectares of land among all non-mountainous states of India. While the national average is 0.57% of total land in the hands of the rich, in Punjab it scales up to 5.28%.

There is no third argument in this farce. You would ask me if this is so why thousands of farmers have gathered at the gate of Delhi and choked the entrance to the Capital? All I know is that this mob is made up of all kinds: Rich-elite farmers, the people-towing trucks which the politicians are so adept at harnessing. When you have tell-tale evidence of Khalistanis popping up their banners; Popular Front of India (PFI) shouting their support; Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal opening his “langar” for them; Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh not picking up phone of his counterpart from Haryana, you know this is anything but farmers.

So, if this is not about farmers what is this all about? This is about controlling India. About usurping the power. To be the handmaidens of those who are upset at the national narrative of last six years. Those who are frustrated that neither voters nor judiciary is being swayed by their propaganda. The last resort of these losers is to unleash anarchy on the street. To keep drumming Bad Police whenever the cops push back. Police freezes, judiciary is dumbstruck—so what option Centre really has?

The Centre has called the farmers for a 3 p.m meeting on Tuesday. If it takes place, it would fail. It should. Centre has more than Punjab to worry about. It can’t guarantee MSP. It can’t handover a template in the hands of anarchists. If you guarantee MSP, you are dissuading private players from improving the agriculture sector which is in shambles. It needs big investment in tech, seeds, water-capacity. Do you think state governments like Punjab could do so? A state government which even can’t solve the stubble-burning problem? Which levies 8.6 percent tax on farm proceeds so it could offer free electricity and free water? Is it concerned that chemicals in water are now producing Cancer Villages of Punjab?

Let me make another prediction. You would have “farmers” rally in support around India, hogging your newspapers in coming days. At least in Kerala, Telangana, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc who would also pass resolutions in assembly that they wouldn’t implement Farm Acts 2020. Brussels and Washington would be deeply concerned.

Somehow the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia or Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) would seek “Azaadi” for the farmers. Our Swara Bhaskars and filmi set of Bhatts and Akhtars and Kashyaps would join voices. Our Asaduddin Owaisi would be worrying about India’s democracy in front of cameras. “Award Waapsi” has already begun.

That’s why I say this is not about farmers.

Now let’s look at the other side. What options the Modi government really has to stop this recurrence of anarchy? It has seen anti-CAA protests and now this Farmers’ Stir which has been whipped up on misinformation, propaganda and the agenda to destabilize India. All in one year. Many more would occur.

Where does Modi government go from here?

Farmers’ stir: Analysing the situation from two sides of the barricades; Who’s wrong?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Farmers on foot, tractors, trucks have marched from Punjab towards Haryana and Delhi. Along the way, they have faced barricades, police resistance which morphed into tear gas, water canons and arguably some baton wielding. It’s not a pretty picture and the typical hubris of Modi government is painted in our newspapers. The stand off has refused to die down two months after the three Farmers’ Acts were passed by the Parliament in September.

Emotions are running high. So I would cut out the flourish and engage the readers in the simplest of language possible.

So, let’s first work out what the farmers want and what the Centre is loathe to give it to them. The essence of these Farm Acts is that (a) it’s now One Nation, One Agriculture market; (b) that farmers could engage with private players; and (c) No need to hoard the grains.

ONE NATION ONE AGRICULTRE MARKET: It implies that a farmer could sell his produce anywhere in the country. So, if I am a Punjab farmer, and couldn’t look beyond the mandis of the state (read Agriculture Produce Market Committee—APMC) thus far, I could now scan the neighbouring states of Himachal, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh and get the best price on my produce;

FARMERS COULD ENGAGE WITH PRIVATE PLAYERS: Farmers in Punjab are hampered on water and technological issues. The water tables of the state are so depleted that there are “Cancer Villages in Punjab” due to all the chemicals and pesticides. The simplest example on technological issue is the stubble-burning which makes Delhi a gas chamber and which the farmers’ can’t attend to because of the cost involved. Now farmers could engage private players for redemption on these fronts, including seeds.

NO STOCKPILING: The Centre says we have enough food. Farmers’ don’t need to stockpile but for exceptional circumstances. The State government wants to have it say. It’s not a major point in the present confrontation.

xxx

Once these three Farm bills were moved, Shiromani Akali Dal walked out of the alliance with the BJP. The Punjab state government of Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, moved a resolution which was passed by the state assembly to override these Farm Acts of the Centre. Yet, the agitation has refused to die down because the President of India hasn’t given his assent to the state assembly’s resolution.

The arguments from the other side, backed by the Punjab state government and passed by the assembly, are these:

(a)    The State government could notify the fee on any private or electronic transaction. So if you go to Punjab, as a private, player, the state government could actually levy tax on you (So whither Ease of Doing Business?)

(b)    Instead of a few hundred mandis, the whole Punjab state would thus become a mandi over which the writ of the state government would run large;

(c)     The Punjab state government says that the procurement of wheat and paddy should happen only on the Minimum Support Price (MSP). If it is bought for less, the state would have the right to punish the private player. The State say we are doing so to protect the future of farmers: What happens if the Centre changes its mind and does away the MSP for wheat and paddy?

It’s the MSP which is the stickiest of all points. The contention that private players in future could hold the farmers at their mercy is unfounded. As of last year, the total procurement by private players in the State was a mere 0.58 per cent. Further, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, some 80 crores of the 150-crore population are being given free foodgrains. The Centre would always need to procure foodgrains. The incitement to farmers that their future would be held to ransom is fallacious.

Sure, the MSP is not just important for the farmers. It’s also important for the Punjab state government. It taxes farmers to the tune of 8.5 per cent. Last year, the Punjab state government made 3600 crore revenue out of this exercise. This money, they claim, they spend on the welfare of farmers which includes free electricity and free water.

Naturally, MSP suits both farmers and the Punjab state government. Farmers get free subsidies. The State government affords it through taxation, most of which comes from the revenue that the Centre gives by procuring the foodgrains.

The Centre is loathe to guarantee MSP. One, there is little logic as outlined since the government would always need foodgrains. Two, as said, private players are miniscule in this game. Besides, wheat and paddy are not the only produce from Punjab. There is a flourishing dairy industry too. All could benefit if the market is allowed to take its own course.

Arguing in favour of farmers for “free” subsidies is the same if I go to my bank tomorrow and say I can’t pay my loan back because it pinches my pocket. That’s no argument. You can’t run a nation on this premise. Further private players, as said, could provide solution to a lot of lingering farm issues in this country. If the threat of a punitive State action is around, nobody would come forward. The farm situation would only worsen. E-commerce players like Grofers and Big Basket, a win-win for all, would suffer.

Now look at it from another perspective. This issue seems only to concern Punjab. The farmers in the rest of the country have no issue with these three Farm Acts. Wheat and Paddy and that too of Punjab farmers isn’t the entire India and its produce. Could a state hold to ransom which is good for farmers and sectors all across?

Now let’s delve on the political aspect of it. Captain Amarinder Singh and Congress know that the election is only a year and a half away in 2022. This is the right time to make a capital investment. Shrimoni Akali Dal too want to recover its lost ground. It’s BJP, who would fight all 117 seats alone. Who stands to lose the most? One should give BJP credit for persisting in face of such adverse poll logic.

There is also this question of middlemen. It’s not an inconsiderable number in Punjab: At the last count it was 36,000. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) gave them Rs 1,600 crores at 2.5 percent commission last year. They stand to lose the most if the monopoly of mandis (APMC) is done with. They also flourish under the political patronage. Both won’t like the new measures to kick in.

 

Why Indian Express doesn’t want to stay on the Tablighi story?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

 

Yes. That’s the charge. A charge its’ readers like me are levelling: Why Indian Express doesn’t want to stay on the Tablighi story?

Express has opted for a banner headline (see the image) today which can’t get bigger even if World War 3 breaks out.

Only, this is not about Corona: It’s about four states “knocking” on Centre for extra funds.

Now,

(a)    Who are the states in question? Anti-Modi governments of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab of course.

(b)   Have they already asked for funds? Not yet.

(c) What’s the source of Indian Express story? An unknown official.

(d)   And why states could be asking for funds? Now hold your breath: For returning migrants. Not for Corona victims but for migrants.

(e)   And who are the states who should be in the forefront of seeking help even on migrants? Of course Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Indian Express conveniently doesn’t seek these two states out.

So, no funds have been asked, no written or spoken request made, questionable states, questionable source, and that too for migrants and not Corona!!! And yet Indian Express gives a kind of banner headline which most editors don’t give in their entire careers.

This when Tablighi Jamaat fiasco threatens to drown the country in the misery of Corona Virus.

The cases have doubled and crossed 2000 figures overnight.

One single person testing positive could potentially infect 10,000 people.

Many Tablighi Jamaat attendees have gone in hiding.

Official request is making no difference to them.

Could they be bio bombers?

But none of these thoughts prick the conscience of our “newspaper of courage.”

It doesn’t ponder if it could be “infiltrators” and perhaps justify CAA-NPR-NRC

It wants its readers to concentrate on funds a few anti-Modi states “could” ask. This when the Centre is constantly in touch with states to seek out remedial measures. Modi is holding meeting with states regularly.

This is not the sole reason for a reader like me to believe Indian Express is doing its best to bury the Tablighi Jamaat complicity in spreading the Corona Virus. When this news hit the Indians like scalding oil on Tuesday, Express chose to almost bury the story.

That sensational story was not even front page lead in Indian Express that day. Worse, it chose to put a “Delhi area” in the headline (see image), instead of squarely blaming Tablighi Jamaat for the distress it has plunged the nation into. And this I am talking about the Delhi edition of Indian Express.

Don’t you think readers of the city needed a more frontal, and not ambiguous, coverage from its newspaper about its own city? About a story which could put their lives in danger? And what about the residents of the area? They wouldn’t even have an inkling of human bio bombs exploding in their neighbourhood and their chosen newspaper trying to keep them in dark.

I may sound angry. But I am angry. It’s a gross betrayal of readers, if not country, from a national newspaper. It puts doubt in my mind for what could be behind such Indian Express’ coverage. If it’s only about their journalistic competence, it needs to shut its shop. If there is more to it, if there is an interest in spiking this sensational story, then not just Press Council of India but even law agencies need to move in. Tablighi Jamaat has not only cost 10 lives thus far, It has put thousands on the line as well. It could submerge India in political and economic tsunami.

Indian Express would be under my lens for the remaining days of this Corona misery. Forget about Express exploring the Al Qaeda angle of Tablighi Jamaat about which I wrote yesterday; I would look carefully if Express is even reporting the mishap truthfully. As should be their thousands of readers. And authorities.

 

 

There is a way out for this gas chamber called Delhi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India’s capital Delhi is gasping for breath and the fact that schools have been shut, flights diverted, construction work halted and public health emergency declared should tell a thing or two about the dire air-pollution blanketing world’s second most populous city of 30 million people.

Man and nature outdo each other every winter in producing a gas chamber which irreversibly damages the lungs of millions of children and makes air-pollution the fifth biggest killer of all–bigger than diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and malnutrition.

The megalopolis lies lower than its surrounding areas which has dust blown in from the deserts (Rajasthan) and smoke from burning farms (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab) that remains trapped due to stagnant air of cold winter. Tens of thousands of industries on its periphery, snarling trucks with construction materials which inject dust in air and at least 10 million vehicles on its artery of roads further choke the lungs of its residents.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi registered a high of 484 this week which is in severe category, way above the 0-100 considered “good” and “satisfactory”.  Half of this problem is due to stubble burning of crops in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Yet, twice as trickier is the solution than the problem would appear at first sight.

Every year, after the paddy harvest, farmers are left with stubble which has grown progressively stubborn over the years due to increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. It doesn’t interest cattle. It blunts the cutting instruments. Pulling it out is time and money-consuming. Transporting it further involves expense. With a fresh crop season beckoning, farmers opt for burning the stubble as an easy way out.

India is a federal nation and states and Centre often run at cross-purpose to each other. They haven’t found a way to incentivize the farmers to pull out the stubble and transport it, say to private power producers who in turn could be incentivized to use the stubble and its valuable biomass fuel into renewable electricity. Big players have already invested $42 billion in India’s renewable energy sector since 2014 and could lap up to this opportunity which would end the stubble menace. Thailand took a similar route to tackle rice husk issue and overcame it in five years.

One of the measures being tried by Delhi government presently is odd-even scheme for cars which is odd-numbered cars run on odd dates and even-numbered vehicles on even dates. However, since vehicles measure up to only 2% of the problem, this at best is a band-aid to what is a badly-infected body.

To be sure, Delhi isn’t the only Indian city grappling with clean air issue. Indeed, 22 of world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. Population is one issue which makes India’s cities highly congested and reduce traffic to a crawl, filling the air with toxic smoke. Nearly 100 million Indians still use fuelwood and biomass cakes for cooking and general heating needs which World Health Organization (WHO) reckons leads to death of 400,000 people each year due to indoor carbon monoxide poisoning. India burns ten times more fuelwood every year than the United States. Most Indian cab drivers use adulterated fuel blends of gasoline and diesel to reduce their gas expenses but at a great cost to environment. India, lest we forget, is also the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind China and the United States.

India has woken up late to air-pollution but frankly so did the world–only around the turn of the 21st century. Humanity lived with bad air for centuries before realizing that air pollution is causing unimaginable health disasters. Today it accounts for one in nine deaths worldwide. It kills 7 million people a year, more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Every single city in Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO markers as does 99% of South Asian cities and 89% in East Asia. Even in Europe it accounts for 500,000 deaths per year.

In India, the air pollution act was passed in 1981. Since then India has formed its own National Air Quality Index. This year it has launched the National Clean Air Programme with 20-30 per cent pollution reduction target by 2024.  This plan is specifically meant for 102 cities which are considered to have worse air quality than the national standards. After all, life can’t do without breathing.

 

 

Jan Dhan accounts to get Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000

Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared it in a public rally that so far Rs 5 lakh crore have been collected since the introduction of demonetization on November 8, 2016—that our mainstream newspapers chose to underplay this report is another matter.

NewsBred has reasons to believe that Rs 5,000 to Rs10,000 could be deposited in 25 crore Jan Dhan accounts in the country. It would cost the exchequer between Rs 58,000 to Rs 1.25 lakh crore.

The freebie could either be uniform or staggered given the balance in these Jan Dhan accounts. For example, the accounts with zero balance could receive a bigger free cash inflow than those with some balance in it.

This would be a politically astute move and could redress the grievance/frustration/anger of those citizens who have faced hardships and inconveinece in money transactions since the demonetization scheme was launched earlier this month.

The BJP is prepared to alienate even their traditional vote bank of traders and businessmen as long as they could secure the affection of poor and deprived. They are also prepared to drag down economy temporarily as “India Shining” is no guarantee to winning elections as former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee found out to his dismay on 2004.

The free cash deposits in Jan Dhan accounts are likely to happen as soon as the Demonetization window closes on December 31, 2016. The introduction of it early next year in January would surely take care of UP Assembly Polls.

As many as five state assembly polls are lined up in 2017 — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. But for Uttar Pradesh, all other assembly polls are in the month of March. The one in UP would take place in May.