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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014

A farmer is not a file statistic or a vote bank

Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, July 13, 2014
First Published: 11:27 IST(13/7/2014) | Last Updated: 12:53 IST(13/7/2014)

Recently I met a renowned economist buying shirts on a sale. The economist, like many others of his ilk, is very much against farm subsidies and believes in their withdrawal for a balanced growth of economy.

“So buying shirts at a discounted price, sir, I asked. “Yes, always good to buy them cheap,” he replied. “Great,” I said. So what’s the problem if farmers buy fertiliser at a discounted price?” I added. “Always good, isn’t it?” I asked, trying to elicit a response from him. Baffled at my stupid analogy, he pardoned himself and moved on to the counter selling discounted trousers. If it is idiotic, so be it, because it is a fact that bureaucrats, economists and politicians have reduced a farmer to a file, statistic or a vote bank, respectively, and therein lies the problem. They, in their aim to achieve their own objectives and targets, have stopped viewing the farmer as a producer of food for a nation. And, believe me, if you view the farmer as anything other than a producer of food, the agrarian economy would suffer.

ACTUAL CARETAKER

And I am not yet advocating the farmer’s role as someone who by virtue of his profession is the actual caretaker of the countryside. At least in Europe, he is viewed as someone who maintains their countryside which brings Europe its tourism. Some food for thought! Isn’t it? Try giving the same patch of land to an industrialist and you know what you will get.

If all those who sit on TV shows have such a problem with farm subsidies, they should have their way for once, and the farmer his. What if the farmer were to give up farming and make an urban movement? Given the pitiable farming conditions, and small land holdings, it is benefits rather than profits that keep the farmer on the farm. Why should he farm on expensive land for a return which is not even 1%? Or imagine a situation whereby the fertiliser prices go up and the farmer reduces its usage. Will it affect food production?

For the benefit of the readers, I must share that writing is my alternative career and farming my main profession. I started my writing career by writing on farming issues, hence I am a farmer first.

And before I conclude, what about taking on those who want to tax agriculture? One is all for a debate on this, but only once the government decides to review its archaic land ceiling act. Revise the act and let the farmer take his depreciation, deductions, tax benefits and so on. An absolute review of the farm sector is the need of the hour, but the boost can only happen if it is done keeping the economy of scale in mind. If the law cannot be done away with, because politics is the consideration, at least it can be raised to a larger holding – currently 17.5 acres for agriculture and 53 acres for orchards, or to a minimum size where buying a goddamn tractor becomes viable. If farm policy has to be resurrected, it has to be a policy of the soil. Think of farmer as a producer of food and you will get it right.

UK SANTA SINGH

At present, I am in the UK and staying with a dear friend, John Athwal. An entrepreneur, John through sheer hard work has grown to become the UK’s biggest importer of Christmas products. This Punjabi Santa Claus is a foodie and has a passion for cars and number plates. He owns an Aston Martin and a Rolls Royce. The number plates of the cars read as JSA 4 (John Singh Athwal 4) andRR4JON (Rolls Royce for John).

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