From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Concerns of farmers other than MSP
With most farming land held by only 20% of its cultivators in Assam, there is a perception that agriculture is unimportant. However, the new farm laws are equally detrimental to small and marginal farmers in the state.
Muted response from the state’s farming community
- With more than 70% of Assam’s population directly or indirectly dependent for their livelihood on the agricultural sector, it is surprising that the state has only seen sporadic protests against the farm laws passed by the Central government.
- Reformists would like to read this muted response from the state’s farming community as the voice of the silent majority who expect to benefit from the new farm laws.
- The real answer lies in the political economy of the state’s rural sector, which has its origins in the colonial handling of its agrarian possibilities.
Q. Farmers agitations in India are often region-specific. Discuss
Ungrounded and uncultivated
- The pre-Independence British administration had invested substantially in the agriculture in what today constitutes Punjab and Haryana, building dams and irrigation facilities and creating conditions that allowed farmers to benefit from the post-independence Green Revolution.
- This gave rise to the capitalist class among them.
- However, at the same time, peasants in Assam were arbitrarily taxed by the British Raj to make them voluntarily give up farming in favour of joining the labour forces of the tea industry in the region.
- Its policies did result in the transfer of land from the peasantry to mid-level revenue officials, leading to a highly unequal land distribution that has persisted since that time.
- Since the landed class tended to support the Indian National Congress-led freedom struggle, no land reform programme has ever been pursued seriously in the post-independence period.
Unequal land distribution
- Seven decades after independence, Assam’s agrarian setting is still characterized by a very high level of unequal land distribution.
- The evidence documented in the Assam Human Development Report, 2014 shows that 20% of farmers hold as much as 70% of the state’s farmland and shows tenancy at a much higher level of 26%.
- The lack of legal recognition of tenants means most of them have never been beneficiaries of public policies in agriculture in the state.
- The state’s agriculture is characterized by mono-cropping, with rice accounting for 90% of the land cultivated, but public procurement at the minimum support price (MSP) is conspicuously absent.
- The latest information from the public information bureau (PIB) shows that the state produces 4.2% of the country’s rice, but only 0.2% of its farmers availed public procurement by the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
- Most farmers had to bear with the low prices of rice in the open markets, even as the state was flooded with rice sourced from elsewhere through the public distribution system.
- Frequent floods often ravage the region, reducing farming operations to just one season in most flood-affected districts. Assam’s cropping intensity of 146% is one of the lowest among all major rice-producing states.
- In such a setting, the landed class takes little interest in farming, even as small and marginal farmers have increasingly been migrating, many even outside the state, to earn their livelihoods.
- It’s not surprising that the state’s agriculture is still stuck at the subsistence level. The Assam Economic Survey 2017-18 shows only 38% of the state’s land under high yielding variety seeds and 26% of its land under irrigation.
APMC must be strengthened
- The farmers of Assam might benefit from the breaking down of MSP procurement elsewhere through higher prices in the open market.
- The new farm laws are more or less meaningless, which are more about APMC markets than about MSP.
- With just 24 regulated APMC markets, Assam does not have enough marketing infrastructure to justify the argument made by the advocates of the new farm laws that the new Acts will liberate the farmers from the APMC markets’ monopoly and boost private investment in the sector.
- With the state’s agricultural marketing largely revolving around 700-odd unregulated haats (village markets), the 24 APMC markets are hardly enough to curtail the farmers’ ‘freedom’ to dispose of their produce.
- The credit deposit ratio (CDR) reported by major national banks in the state in 2017 is still below 40% compared to 72% at the national level, showing that the state is losing much of its savings to better-endowed states instead of receiving investment from outside the state.
- The APMC market as a public institution still has a large role to play in reviving the state’s agricultural sector. Additionally, it can stop growing inter-state migration that has come to light in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.