Ruchika M Khanna
Chandigarh, January 20
Punjab had seen progress in agricultural reforms under the chief ministry of Capt Amarinder Singh between 2002 and 2007. It was then that diversification towards horticulture, promotion of food processing industry, obtaining retail agriculture giants for contract farming and the famous “farm to fork”. Projects have been conceived and some of them have taken off.
When he returned to power in March 2017, the same dynamism was expected of him to restore the agricultural sector at half mast. After all, the agricultural economy of the Malwa region was still recovering from the debacle of the whitefly attack and the blunder to deal with it by the previous policy dispensation. Congress had returned to power promising to change the agricultural sector – the mainstay of the state’s economy. “Karza maafi” (waiver of debt) for all farmers and “Punjab da panni Punjab vaaste” (state water for state use) were the slogans that everyone believed the government would fill.
Having inherited nearly empty coffers and lacking both the will and the vision to raise resources, the government failed to deliver on any of these promises. Debt cancellation was extended to only a fraction of farm households, and farm suicides continued unabated as farm debts grew. It became a hot potato for the government, rather than the trophy it had hoped for.
The state’s antiquated irrigation system has gone unheeded – almost no effort has been made to reline the canal systems, wherever little work has been done (such as in Fazilka late last year) , they were of inferior quality.
There was no great effort to diversify, the state’s groundwater continued to deplete, and there were no attempts to develop environmentally sensitive, high-yielding crop varieties. Even in stubble management, the government cannot claim much success as the problem persists, despite thousands of crores of investment in machinery.
Gurbakshish Singh, a farmer from Bimbar village near Nabha, said the government had done nothing to boost the declining agrarian economy. “Environmentally sensitive and economically viable agriculture are the two main necessities to give a boost to the agricultural sector in Punjab, but no policy intervention in this regard has been made,” he lamented, adding that farmers who grew oilseeds like mustard or other cash crops suffered. financially, as no income support was provided and these continued to sell below MSP.
what was promised
- Full debt forgiveness for farmers
- Improved mandis, purchase mechanism
- Direct transfer of subsidies to prevent corruption
- Total exemption from input tax for agro-food industries
- Deficiency Pricing for Alternative Crops
- Establishment of a price stabilization fund
- Increase in crop compensation to Rs20,000 per acre
- Provision of plot-based health, life and crop insurance
- Farmers’ Pension Scheme; Rs10L ex gratia for a suicide relative
What was delivered
- Debt waiver of Rs4,603 cr to farmers of 5.61L
- Exemption of Rs440 cr workers
- Slightly improved scientific thatch management
- Hassle-free shopping for food grains, including during lockdown
- Congress government backed farmers in year-long turmoil
It is not that the current state government has done nothing for farmers. The Farm Loan Waiver Scheme benefited 5.61 lakh farmers, whose one-time crop loans amounting to Rs 4,600 crore were waived. Fortunately for the government, each food supply season has ended successfully, without major problems. Even during the lockdown period of April 2020, the Congress government ensured the good supply of wheat. In 2017-18, he successfully controlled the whitefly infestation on cotton crops in the southern region of Malwa.
The government has more or less streamlined the process of compensating farm families who have died by suicide due to high farm debt. Jobs were also given to close relatives of those farmers who died during the year-long unrest.
A “political” ace up the sleeve of congressional governments would be their initial support for the farmers’ fight against the Three Central Farm Bills.
It was at the insistence of Captain Amarinder that a multi-party meeting against the Farm Bills was called and the Punjab Vidhan Sabha rejected them outright. The state government also played an important role in negotiations between the Center and the state to resolve the struggle.
However, the fact remains that the Congress government has failed to deliver on most of its pre-election promises. During the last year of its rule, the government also proved unable to ensure a timely supply of urea and DAP during the rabi and kharif seasons.
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