It is instructive that the only two ‘No Confidence’ motions in the Indian Lower House of Parliament in the new millennium were against the NDA governments – in 2003 and in 2018. There was lot of theatre but far less substance, one can see. Rhetoric in place of rigour.
As the Congress President continues to hammer away at his theme of the Modi government, it is important to remind ourselves who the real ‘Suit boot ki Sarcar’ was. Pl. read this blog post from 18th March 2018. It is data driven.
It also appears that the French Government has backed the claim of the Defence Minister that there was indeed a confidentality agreement signed between the Governments of India and France in 2008 when UPA was in office! Homework, gentlemen, please!
AS for the real issues concerning farmers, as I checked into my room at the Della Resorts in Lonavala on Saturday (here to give a speech at the SEBI offsite later in the day), I turned on the TV and watched a fairly civilised discussion in CNBC TV 18 on the farmers’ situation featuring three people inculding a former Agriculture Secretary Siraj Husain, a farmer’s representative (did not catch his name) and a former journalist who has been covering the farming sector. Very civilised debate. Towards the end, Mr. Siraj Husain referred to the piece by Mr. Ajay Jakhar (may be, he was the farmers’ representative on the panel) in ‘Indian Express’. I immediately searched for it and located it. Two sentences towards the end of the article make it an eminently worthwhile read.
The time has finally come for the PM to declare: “I am confident Indian farmers can feed the nation, I annul the Essential Commodities Act”.
A brilliant idea. True demonstration of commitment to farmers and elimination of urban bias in policymaking. I will personally agree with this and support it.
Between inflation management and enhancing farmer’s incomes, for now and at least for a few years, it is better to err in faovur of the latter. Put the inflation target at 5% and the range as 4% to 7%. These can be revisted, re-examined and revised if necesssary, once in 3 years.
The impact on the urban poor can be attenuated if the resulting fiscal space – from having to waive loans at exchequer cost – is used to target urban poor distress pockets. Who knows, it may not happen, if rural prosperity reverse feeds into demand for goods produced in urban centres and results in a rise in urban employment (casual, informal
and formal) and incomes.
The system lacks the skill to diagnose its own incompetence.
That is an indictment worth reflecting upon. Where is the accountability for non-performance? Well, where are the criteria and where are the appraisal systems? Indeed, who defines the expectations for senior bureaucrats and how? Pity such things do not discussed in the ‘No Confidence debates’.
Lately, I have always found revisiting articles from a few years ago to be very useful. It gives us a far better grip on the rigour and logic of the arguments made. If they still made sense, then the author/writer has done well.
An article by Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar written in July 2014 falls in that category. It is on the Minimum Export Price (MEP) slapped on potatoes. The idea of bureaucrats deciding what the MEP should be is risible to me. It is utter nonsense.
Only recently, the Government of India decided to abolish MEP for onions. I hope it endures. In January, the Ministry of Commerce, under Mr. Suresh Prabhu, made a plea to the Government to abolish MEP altogether. It has not been heeded yet.
Now, fast forward to January 2018 when Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar wrote one more article on how much the Government of India policies on potatoes were badly mashed up:
Logically, a farmer allowed to make money in one year, would be better prepared to bear the losses on the farm in the next. If not, the farmer gets into a perpetual debt cycle and is compelled to seek “financial sops”. Consequently, most farmer organisations are content to limiting themselves to what the farmer understands — “farm loan waiver” and venture no further into the policymaking quagmire….
… The solutions to the farm crises aren’t limited to budget allocations but rooted in a system where interventions to control food inflation are not harmonised with crop-price compensation. As far as the farmer livelihoods are concerned, state governments and the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmer Welfare are becoming less relevant, as decisions of the Ministry of Food, Public Distribution & Consumer Affairs are demolishing the prime minister’s grand plan for doubling farmer incomes.
Frankly, to some extent, avoiding such big anti-farmer blunders (knee-jerk invoking of ECA and MEP) is not all that difficult. They constitute low-hanging fruits with big multiplier effects for farmers. Potatoes and onions have become such sacred cows that farmers’ lives and fortunes are so easily tossed aside. It is going to be politically very costly too.
Successive governments in India have done the input parts to farmers reasonably well – free pricing of power, water, susbidised fertiliser and no agricultural income tax. It has not done much work in relieving stress in production – monsoon vagaries. Irrigation potential remains high and actual irrigation cover has stagnated. Farmer education through agricultural extension workers used to be a big thing but I am not sure it is pursed with the same vigour as it used to be in the days of the ‘Green Revolution’.
It is in the front-end, the marketing end, where governments have failed through utter lack of sensitivity to and understanding of farmer issues, crop-price cycles as he put it. Allowing markets to work for farmers, not interfering with market signals and expending some political capital in tackling intermediaries and their commissions that gnaw away at the final price for farmers are the things to be done at the front end.
Simultaneously, India’s inflation target has to be tweaked. Urban media will squeal when prices rise. Most have no perspective or comprehension of issues, of costs-benefits and of feedback loops. Let them protest and holler. The government has to focus and prioritise. Perhaps, it is all too late for 2019. As Ajay Jakhar writes,
Farmers could change fortunes in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, allowing the Opposition to bask in the farmers’ misery.
I think the PM has to worry deeply about how badly they have let themselves down by letting down farmers by not tackling the institutional memory, history and inertia in the in the bureaucracy and the entrenched urban bias in policymaking.
(p.s: Came across this interesting article about Mr. Siraj Hussain’s wife and her brother too. Nice stuff)