From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Essential Services Maintenance Act.
Mains level : Paper 3- Managing the agriculture and livestock sector.
Amid lockdown, we need an action plan to manage our agriculture, livestock sectors.
Need for an immediate action plan to manage the agriculture and livestock sector
- The country produces around 52 crore litres of milk daily.
- There are also 80 crore-odd live poultry, both broilers and layers, at any given time, supplying meat and eggs to consumers.
- Link with the other producers: These birds and animals, in turn, support the livelihoods of poultry and dairy farmers, as well as those producing maize, soybean, mustard, groundnut, cotton and other coarse grains that are ingredients for livestock feed.
- It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that farmers are able to keep their animals alive and market the crop that has been, or will be, harvested during the lockdown period.
- We need an immediate action plan to manage our agriculture and livestock sectors in the interest of both producers and consumers.
Issue of implementation
- Ensuring free movements: The first thing is to ensure free movement of farm produce, livestock feed and veterinary medicines.
- Implementing the already taken decision: It is obvious that not all issues can be addressed overnight. But the minimum the government can do is to ensure ground-level implementation of already-taken decisions.
- The problem of implementation: Many essential services, for instance, were kept out of the purview of the lockdown. Food, feed and agricultural inputs have been specifically notified as essential services.
- But there are several problems at the level of implementation that are coming to notice.
- The Centre has issued various directives/notifications, many of them brief and general in nature.
- Many of these have either not reached the local authorities and police personnel or are not clearly worded. As a result, the smooth movement of essential items has been affected.
- There are also reports of conflict between the police and citizens, including people involved in the transportation and delivery of food as well as inputs to farms.
- Why good food supply line matters? The government must do to ensure that people don’t go hungry and the measures it must take to make sure people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.
- The government has announced that the beneficiaries of the public distribution system can avail three months’ ration at one go.
- The challenge of delivery: The challenge is to ensure that fair price shops deliver the provisions in an orderly manner and their supply lines remain intact.
Issue of poultry and maize farmers
- Sharp fall in poultry items: In such times, prices of essential food items are known to shoot up. But in India, prices of food items like chicken meat and eggs have registered a sharp fall.
- In Delhi’s Gazipur Mandi, for example, the price of broiler chicken has fallen from Rs 55/kg in January 2020 to Rs 24/kg in March.
- This has also pushed the maize prices down as poultry is largely fed packaged maize.
- The government may have to think of compensating poultry and maize farmers in due course.
Suggestions for improving the implementation issue
- Issue a single notification: The Centre must issue a single notification relating to food items in a standard format and uniform language so that all ambiguities are removed.
- This needs to be finalised after consultations with the stakeholders and the state governments can release it to officials working at the grassroots.
- The focus should be to address the problems arising from restrictions on the transport — between and within states — of agri-produce and inputs related to them.
- Invoke the ESMA: Another suggestion is that the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) be invoked for the delivery of all essential services relating to food to prevent disruption of supplies.
- Home delivery option: Home (street) delivery of these provisions, to avoid crowding, is a good option.
- Roping in civil society: This is also an occasion to rope in civil society. NGOs, resident welfare associations, religious organisations and paramilitary forces can be engaged for orderly and safe distribution of food — both pre-cooked and fresh.
- NGOs with experience in food preparation and distribution, such as Akshaya Patra, could guide local authorities.
- People involved in this endeavour should be provided with safety gears.
- The challenge of supplying perishables: These perishables-like fruits, vegetables and milk- must be sold in a packaged form in mobile vans. The weekly markets need to be temporarily suspended lest they spread the virus.
- Vegetable vendors can work with civil society organisations as well as e-commerce players to do this job in a safe manner.
- Retail distribution lines: Retail distribution lines need to be seamlessly linked to wholesale supply lines.
- How to manage rabi season procurement? Procurement operations for rabi crops are around the corner.
- Training and safety measures: The FCI and other procuring agencies need to be trained about safety measures and supplied safety gear.
- Providing incentives to farmers for staggered selling: Farmers could be given Rs 50/quintal per month as an incentive to stagger bringing their produce to the market — say after May 10.
- They will also need to be screened, given training and equipped with safety gear.
Suggestions to prevent post-lockdown chaos
- What will happen after the lockdown ends? Many plants are now shut or working at low capacity utilisation. Consumption by hotels and other institutions, too, is low. Nor is any export or import happening. But once the lockdown ends, there will be a rush to procure raw material, trucks and rail rakes.
- Smooth recovery: Smooth recovery from the lockdown is as important as managing supplies during the lockdown.
- Here are a few suggestions to ensure that the common man does not have to suffer hardships during and after the lockdown:
- First– Place all food items, agri-inputs, packaging material and transport services under ESMA for a six-month period to prevent profiteering.
- The MRP that was applicable in February should remain till October.
- In the case of farm produce, it helps that we are looking at a bumper crop, which makes it all the more necessary to ensure its smooth marketing.
- Second-Suspend APMC (agricultural produce market committee) laws for the next six months.
- Traders with APMC licence are bound to act as cartels during rush hour, which will hurt both farmers and consumers.
- Third-ESMA should apply to all utilities and transport services. State governments can make exemptions on a case to case basis: These exemptions should be subject to public scrutiny under the Right to Information Act.
- The government should announce the above measures well in advance.
The government must start planning now to prevent post-lockdown chaos, especially profiteering in the event of shortages. Smooth recovery from the lockdown is as important as managing supplies during the lockdown.