The National Commission on Farmers has sought a drastic change in the government's attitude to agriculture. "The time has come when we should focus more on the economic well-being of the women and men feeding the nation than just on (agricultural) production," noted the eight-member commission chaired by Dr MS Swaminathan, the architect of the Green Revolution of the 1960s.
The Hindustan Times is in possession of the NCF's revised Draft National Policy for Farmers -- titled “Serving Farmers and Saving Farming” -- presented to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday. It has set forth 10 major goals for the government - which will ensure that agricultural progress is assessed in terms of the net income of farm families rather than "million tonnes of farm commodities produced".
The policy has to be understood in the light of the rising agrarian distress that has driven nearly 150,000 farmers to suicide since 1995. The number of such deaths stood at 134,321 in 2003. The situation remains grim, forcing the government to announce debt-relief packages that have, however, proved to be a case of too little, too late, specially in Maharashtra.
"The only panacea in this atmosphere of despair is the assurance of a minimum net income for the farmer," said Atul Anjaan, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, who helped draft the policy, the first of its kind in independent India.
The NCF has put forward a string of measures to revive farmers' income: a review of the Land Acquisition Act to calculate the compensation for the land acquired; non-use of prime agricultural land for Special Economic Zones; a comprehensive national social security scheme for small/marginal farmers and landless agricultural workers; pegging the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farm products at 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production, and so on.
The draft policy also recommends an "autonomous statutory status" for the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) with the mandate to fix "remunerative prices" for 25 principal commodities, including wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, oilseeds and pulses. If accepted by the government, the proposal will mark a paradigm shift for the CACP that functions under the Agriculture Ministry and calculates the MSP at just 10-15 per cent more than the farmers' paid-up expenditure --- on fertilisers and seeds --- along with the imputed value of labour and depreciation of agricultural tools. The draft policy says: "The CACP should become an important instrument for safeguarding the survival of farmers and farming…."
However, RL Pitale, a member of the NCF, was circumspect about the viability of the new MSP formula. "It will trigger inflation or compound subsidy by a huge magnitude, especially when the issue prices of commodities sold through the public-distribution system cannot be increased," he said.