Will Punjab and Haryana HC's recommendations reduce farmers' burden? -Rajeev Khanna

-Down to Earth

The court’s suggestions, like making MSP a legal right and increasing it to thrice the cost of production, are practical but need effort in implementation, say experts

The Punjab and Haryana high court recently recommended that minimum support price (MSP) be made farmers’ legal right and it be set at three times the cost of production. But will these or a slew of other measures the court suggested address the agrarian crisis?

There are many important implications of and concerns regarding the judicial notice, said experts. The court issued these directions while considering the Punjab State Cooperative Agricultural Development Bank’s move to discontinue a pension scheme citing lack of funds owing to loan waivers.

The two-member HC bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Harinder Singh Sidhu also took up the all-important issue of non-implementation of Prohibition of Private Money Lending Act, 2007 and that small and marginal farmers are compelled to raise loans from non-institutional sources.

“As far as the agriculture is concerned, the MSP should be three times above the cost of production of major crops to save farmers from distress and also to procure the food grains for public distribution considering the cost including actual expenses in cash and kind, the loan on lease land, impeding the cost of labour, own capital assets, interest on valuable capital etc,” read the HC order.

The MSP, which is being announced since 1965, has failed to boost farmers’ income, said the court. “Time has come when the MSP should be given legal force by granting legal rights to farmers to get fair value for their crops,” the court added.

Also, the HC emphasised that enforcement must not be left with the bureaucratic setup as they “thrive at the cost of poor farmers”. “The state government is directed to device methods to reduce the role of middlemen in procuring food grains,” read the court directive.

These are very welcome and important interventions, but the governments have, till now, failed to give even half of the MSP the court has suggested, say experts.

“Although MSP is announced for 23 crops, including Rabi and Kharif crops and sugarcane, the procurement on MSP is only done for wheat and paddy. If the farmer is given legal cover with regards to MSP, the onus will be on the government to procure all the crops for which MSP is announced,” said Gian Singh, expert in agricultural economics.

Regarding the MSP being three times the cost of production, he said there needs to be a mechanism to contain the disparity over land holdings. The principle that the greater the farm size, the greater the remuneration does not work in favour of small land holders, Singh added.

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Down to Earth, 1 August, 2019, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/will-punjab-and-haryana-hc-s-recommendations-reduce-farmers-burden--65959

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