THE measures announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman under the Covid-19 economic relief package, such as amending the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) and reducing farmers’ dependence on the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), have received a mixed response from the farming community as well as agriculture experts of Haryana.
Farmers say these were long-pending demands and will help in fetching them better prices, but the experts find nothing new in these proposals as most of the same have already been part of earlier plans and there is a need for more financial provisions to benefit farmers. “It appears there is no major proposal with a structural change. The farmers will be benefited only if infrastructural facilities are raised at the block and district levels. Deregulating the ECA and reducing the dependence on the APMC may help the farmers sell their produce anywhere, but still a large number of them are small and marginal and the government must emphasise on abolishing the barriers to selling their produce,” says Dr Dalip Gosai, former Principal Scientist and head, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal.
Dr Gurbachan Singh, former chairperson, Agricultural Scientist Recruitment Board (ASRB) and former Union Agriculture Commissioner, believes there is a strong need to help the farmers through a practical marketing system. “The proposals in the Covid relief package may help in streamlining agriculture, but it is imperative to implement these proposals on the ground. Farmers are facing problems in selling perishable commodities, be it vegetables, fruit, flower or milk. In the absence of cold storage and remunerative prices, they are forced to throw their produce on the roadside or distribute it free of cost. The provisions are already there in government schemes, but the implementation is almost missing. I feel the marketing system should be streamlined to help in doubling the farmers’ income,” he says, adding that the proposal of amendments to the ECA is a laudable step, but proper monitoring is essential.
A cross-section of farmers believes that these reforms will help in uplifting the long-neglected agricultural sector and the farming community. It will provide them better opportunities to explore the market as there would be no barriers to selling their produce.
“The announcements are a welcome step. Big administrative reforms such as deregulating the ECA will allow the farmers to store or sell their produce throughout India, providing better opportunities for getting better prices,” says Vijay Kapoor, general secretary, Haryana Kisan Welfare Club.
Kapoor appreciates the provision of extending cold chain facilities and considers it will help in increasing the storage capacity and farmers will get better prices after selling their produce in the market during the off-season.
Vijay Setia, former president, All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA), says India has come a long way from shortage to surplus in the food sector and the policy changes were long due. “The proposals under the package for farmers and agriculture are welcome to double the income of farmers by 2022. Changes in policies were long-pending as many market committees are not taking care of farmers; rather, these places have become dens of corruption and exploitation. The freedom to farmers to sell their produce anywhere will help in making them self-reliant,” he says, seeking a reduction in market fees.
RS Sangwan, retired CEO, Fisheries Department, and former director of Pargatisil Kisan Club, says the deregulation of the Marketing Act will bring better opportunities for different parts of the agricultural sector.
Rattan Mann, state president, Bhartiya Kisan Union, says, “We are happy that the Centre has finally considered our demand of removing barriers to selling the produce.”
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