By RK Sinha
Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for a very large percentage of population in the country. Even in the olden days which were golden days this sector had enjoyed a prime position. There is a very old saying in our country. “ Uttam Kheti…” It meant that there was nothing like farming. Business came next. Government or private job was not so important. However, during the Congress rule this sector suffered all kinds of neglect. Therefore, many people in the country switched over to other professions. Government jobs were highly in demand.
The present government has put the focus back on agriculture. This may bring smile on faces of farmers who have suffered the worst neglect in the past. To reverse the trend, the Modi government has come out with a new package which is aimed at making India self-reliant and local brands global brands. Allied sectors like fishery have been also given due importance. The farmers who were not cared much are back at the centrestage.
Details of the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme were provided by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman who also recalled some of the problems faced by farmers in the past.She said,briefing the media,that the first problem was marketing.During Indira Gandhi era Agricultural Produce Market Committees were formed all over the country. These market committees might have been formed with good intentions , but ,they had soon become a den of corruption .Farmers were asked to sell their produces in a particular area.
It was not possible for all the farmers to sell the entire quantity in one block or one division.The plan was flawed.But it helped officials earn more through manipulation or use of loopholes.It has gone on for nearly 70 years.A travel by road from Ranchi to Daltonganj in Jharkhand could tell all.Hundreds of trucks could be seen every morning.Poor tribal farmers would bring their farm produces in sacks and load them on the vehicles after collecting paltry sums.Tomato selling at Rs 50 a kilo would be available there for five or ten rupees.The trucks will carry them to as far as Kolkata and make a big earning.
The farmers avoided going to the market committees because of hassles.Perishable goods could not be held for long and,therefore,they sold them outside for whatever prices could be collected. Tomato,radish and spinach are some of the vegetables which have to be sold quickly.The Committees members knew it and therefore made extra demands for early purchases and payments.Waiting for them or returning empty handed was more painful.Money collected from the sales was to be used for some other purchases.So they used to agree to sell at lower prices.Whatever remained unsold used to be left on the streets. From 6 am to 10 am one could see a number of trucks and animals on the road.They used to feed on the left-outs.
Coldstorages were not many and storing them at home had the risk of damage.All these officials and their saviours often talked about farmers and claimed that they had love and regard for them.But in reality they were the ones who were being exploited by one and all.Most of the ministers knew what was going on but did not act.There was,thus,no end to this practice.
Here is another example of the suffering and corruption because of the old law which was not amended by the Congress and Congress -supported governments. Samastipur in Bihar produces a large quantity of raw tobacco which is being supplied to different parts of the country.The entire stock cannot be sold in the same district and the same entity.It could not be entirely consumed there.
Similarly, Makhana or fox nut, is produced in large parts Madhubani and Darbhanga districts of Bihar. That was also not largely sold to Agricultural Produce Market Committees.Some influential farmers sent the snack to Patna,the state capital or remote Kolkata through middle men and collect good amounts.Small producers who had no where to go suffered badly.They cannot carry 10 or 20 quintals to far away places and so sold locally at cheaper rates.The brokers made merry.
The other group which affected the farmers were supply officials.The Essential Commodities Act allowed to keep some grains but not all.Farmers could keep rice and wheat but not oil ,oilseeds ,lentils ,onions and potatoes beyond a limit. This was unhelpful. They could not wait for the prices to rise and sell at appropriate time.Mainly for this reason oilseeds and other such cash crops were not grown in plenty.They feared that a supply inspector could come any day and take action or leave after the purse is loosened.
Now the government has announced that all the produces such as maize,pulses and oilseeds will remain out of this Act. This will give another blow to the inspectors and and their Raj. Now,I wonder why this was not done during the Congress rule and why the party leaders’ attention was not drawn to these flaws in the Act.Preserving the perishable goods was another challenge.The present government has also paid attention to that and has proposed to set up a chain of cold-storages. A hefty amount has been earmarked for it.Infrastructure is the key and the government has paid more attention to this sector which should be welcomed. Agricultural producers’ committees ,farmers’ cartels and such initiatives will go a long way in helping them.
The Prime Minister last week had asked everyone to be “vocal ” about the ” local “products.That way the local products can attract global attention and may become global brands.Many big international brands were also local brands at some point of time. Makhana or Sattu can join the big league.Thousands of local entrepreneurs may rub shoulders with big one.Thousands of entrepreneurs will get loans at cheap interest rates, without any guarantee.Each one of them can give direct employment to five to ten people and indirect employment to many more.
The Government has planned to encourage specific product or a specific area.For example, lucious Lichee and Makhana in Bihar,saffron in Kashmir, bamboos in northeastern state and chillies in Andhra Pradesh. Another big announcement made was a Rs 20 ,000-crore scheme for fishermen which will benefit the the coastal areas .They can buy small or big boats on which the government will spend Rs 11000 crore.Islands will be declared as fish production islands.Cold storage for their fish will also be set up at the islands. With this, the government hopes that it will be possible to produce seven million tonnes of fish in the country in the next five years, which will boost export.Additional fish production will provide employment to about twenty five lakh people.
There is a big plan also for animals and bees.Most of the animals were not vaccinated because of which they suffered several foot and mouth diseases .Adequate vaccine will be made available for buffaloes,cows ,sheep,goats and pigs.Out of these 53 crore animals,only 1.5 crore animals have been given vaccine till date because the cattle farmers are poor who cannot buy the vaccine.Now the government will bear the expenses which is a big relief for the cattle growers.
The government has announcement that a new fund, Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund will be created for the purpose. It has been said that there are many areas where milk production can be raised and where private entrepreneurs want to invest in dairy sector. But it has not been made possible because of lack of processing units and infrastructure.
Many herbal plants grow in India which can be used in producing medicine.The National Plants Board has been asked to grow organic medicinal plants in ten million hectares of land on which four thousand crore rupees will be spent in two years .This will provide additional income of about Rs five thousand crores to farmers.The National Medical Plant Board Has also been asked to develop these organic medicinal plants in the Gangetic basin.
A provision of Rs.500 crore has been made for beekeeping. Beekeeping business can be taken up even small male farmers and Women.Production can be increased by 15 to 25 per cent .There are plans to create new bee-keeping centers. With the collection of honey, processing, right marketing and other measures the farmers can benefit much. It is also expected to provide employment to millions of people.
The biggest problem faced by farmers producing fruits and vegetables was shortage of coldstorages and a large the market. Papaya, melon and other such fruits used to rot .The previous governments did not pay much attention to it.The Modi government has addressed concern of this sector as well as others.Several new measures and schemes have been announced by the government to benefit farmers.Different ministries will make detailed plans in the light of these announcements.The Reserve Bank will prepare guidelines for banks for loans and the related issues.The intention is good.It will bear fruit.
(The writer is a senior editor columnist and former MP )