Friday, December 23, 2011

It’s all about the Bill- Neither Food Nor Security!

The 23rd of December every year is observed as the National Farmer’s day. Satire it might be, but until we earmark a day for a cause, we hardly give attention to it. Farming which today has become the last chosen profession in our country, explains the plunge of the collective intellect of the man on the street and the man in the parliament alike. There was a time, not to far ago where in a father would be proud to send his son to his farm and teach him the art of sowing and reaping. Today, with the blind imitation of the west and the mindless populist schemes of the perpetual governments the “farmer” is on the verge of extinction. In a country where in agriculture contributed to more than 25% of its GDP, it has now come down to 15%. On the contrary the food consuming capacity is increasing by 2% every year. Do the alarm bells ring?

After falling to its own trap, the government has now passed the Food security Bill (FSB) proposed by the National Advisory Council (NAC), which is a non-governmental body reporting to Sonia Gandhi. It proposes to give the basic food grains like Rice, Wheat and coarse grains at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 respectively to the rural and urban poor and aims at covering 65% of the country’s population.  It is estimated that it would cost the government a whopping 2 lakh crore rupees every year in subsidies. It is expected to be a bonanza to the farmer, on a day that is marked red on the calendar in his name. Riding on the empty think-tanks and a socialist mask, the government has grand plans to make India another Greece or another Portugal where in there is a debt of more than 1000$ on the shoulder of every citizen because the policies of the government just went awry! This article aims at throwing some light on the foolishness of the government and how it will ruin the farmer further with an example of farming in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region.

Why does the FSB provide neither food nor security?

The bill primarily aims at the poor, of which there is no clear definition or understanding in the country. The Aadhar project is getting derailed in the parliament and it now faces the risk of complete scrapping down. With no identity established, it is impossible for the government to distribute its freebies effectively. Rather than taking the bottom-up approach, the government always takes the top-down route. The poor, to whom the government wants to reach, are mostly illiterate and unaware of the populist schemes. This makes the middlemen in the supply chain process make merry. The Public Distribution Process [PDS] has got innumerable leaks in it, to which the government has admitted more than once. Rather than fixing this, the government which sees Uttar Pradesh elections as its stepping stone for the third consecutive term at the Centre comes up with a brain-less idea.

With the economy in tatters, where in the fiscal deficit is overshooting targets, Sensex and rupee at an all-time low, the government has come up with a debatable 2 lakh crore subsidy in the form of FSB. The total union budget on 2010-2011 was of 11 lakh crore. You don’t need a mathematics degree to calculate the FSB will eat close to 20% of our annual budget! It robs the nation of its financial security. The poor should be fed, but they should be made capable of winning their bread first. As the Chinese say- “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”  Buying the farmer’s produce at a higher price in the form of Minimum Support Price [MSP] and selling it to the same farmer at rupees 1, the government thinks can feed 70 million stomachs and make them happy. When people slip into complacency because the government is poll bound to provide them food, there will absolutely be no increase in agricultural produce. If for one year the Rain God tried to play a prank, we will be a destitute nation!

Farming in the Hyderabad- Karnataka Region

The northern eastern part of Karnataka is called Hyderabad-Karnataka because it has a large influence from the Nizam rule of Hyderabad. The region is mostly arid and falls under the rain-shadow area. The Western Ghats due to their enormous heights block the dark clouds from the Arabian Sea entering the region. The primary produce of the region which encompasses 5 districts of Gulbarga, Bidar, Yadgir, Raichur and Koppal are Tur Dal and Jowar. FSB being a central government scheme aims at providing Rice, Wheat and other coarse grains. If it has to be implemented efficiently in this region, the centre has to procure these grains from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana or Nagpur. There are innumerable such geographies in the country where in the primary produce neither are Rice and Wheat nor are they consumed primarily. Just the money and the space required to transport these grains would leave the nation with an empty pocket. The problems the farmer faces are different in different regions. Till today, according to the District Commissioner’s report more than 70% farmers in Gulbarga district depend primarily on rainfall for their produce. The average rainfall in the region in the month of June 2011 was just 48mm against the national average of 180mm. You can read the newspaper report here.

What needs to be done?

What requires immediate attention is research in the agricultural sector.  Instead of blindly protesting against genetic engineering and genetically modified crops, we need to create the right kind of awareness amongst the farmers. It comes from a genuine interest and the quest to know deeper into what is happening in the eco-system around us.  The article “Ten pills for a healthy farmer” by Srinidhi lists out 10 reforms that needs immediate attention. You can read it here.

So, if you happen to meet a farmer any day, any time, talk to him about his difficulty. Let him know about the various schemes of the government from which he can be benefitted. He will surely be grateful to you for that.

PS: The greatest asset we possess is our future. Let’s not risk it with ignorance.

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