Wednesday, March 20, 2019
In Focus

Posted at: Jun 25, 2018, 1:13 AM; last updated: Jun 25, 2018, 1:13 AM (IST)

A potion for paddy-cure

A potion for paddy-cure

Punjab does not have a comprehensive agriculture policy. The state has entrusted the task to the Punjab Farmers’ Commission. In conversation with Vijay C Roy, the commission’s Chairman Ajay Vir Jakhar says the objective is to catapult agriculture to the next level.

The draft Policy points at precarious ground water situation in Punjab and suggests restricting the power subsidy to non-income tax-paying farmers. Don't you think that the solution is weak compared to the gravity of the situation?

The state policy of free power for agriculture in combination with the Centre's overemphasis on paddy cultivation has led to the indiscriminate use of ground water. The draft has proposed various ways to persuade farmers to conserve ground water. Curbing free power to all is one of the solutions. We have invited comments from all stakeholders. Targeted subsidy to poor farmers on the basis of size of the land could be a solution in the final policy document based on a wider consultation. Ground water in 110 out of 148 blocks is over exploited. We have reached a critical stage and it is important to ensure that the next generation has adequate natural resources. Our focus is, however, on the ground water and not on the power subsidy.

Farmer's suicides are common in the country. Even a prosperous state like Punjab is not an exception. Does the policy give some pragmatic solutions to their issue?

There had been three studies on farmers’ suicides. Unfortunately, they could not explain the cause. The reason lies in the quest to produce more without required institutional support and effective policies. Lack of good governance, unsatisfactory enforcement of rules and disintegration of the social fabric in rural areas are some of the reasons. There is a need to commission a detailed study to ascertain the causes of farmers’ suicides in Punjab and use the findings to suggest interventions.

What do you mean by effective governance

Most of the farmers are in distress because of spurious seed, fertilisers and pesticides. But the state is unable to check this menace. In last 10 years, there has been zero conviction in case of spurious seeds, eight in case of spurious fertilisers and 17 in case of spurious pesticides. It is surprising that in last six years not a single case against the sale of spurious inputs has been filed. Spurious inputs lead to failure of crops and consequently making life of farmers miserable. Some of them are even driven to suicides. 

Don't you think that faulty credit policy of financial institutions is equally responsible?

Yes, increasing indebtness coupled with disintegration of the social fabric in rural areas has resulted in large number of suicides by farmers and farm labourers in last two decades. Banks, particularly in the public sector, are indiscriminately disbursing loans to meet the requirement of the priority sector lending. Loans should be extended as per the repaying capacity of the farmers. The consequence of indiscriminate lending has hampered the repaying capacity of farmers.

Middlemen of arhtiyas are equally notorious.

They also act as aggregators for FCI (Food Corporation of India) during the procurement season. Yes, majority of them act as money lenders and lend to small and marginal farmers, so their existence can't be ruled out completely. There is need of stricter regulation and enforcement.

Annual income of Punjab farmers are highest compared to rest of the country. What could be the impact of the Centre's ambitious plan of 'doubling the farmers' income' on Punjab by 2022?

The average income of farmers in 15 states range between Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000 per annum. The income of Punjab farm household is the highest in the country at Rs 2.17 lakh per annum. So, I think the Centre is talking about doubling the farmer's income in rain-fed areas.

Is the state government serious about Punjab Farmers' Policy? 

The state government wanted a comprehensive policy as Punjab didn’t have any such policy. That makes task more challenging. Hopefully, we will soon finalise the document after a wider consultation. We plan to submit the final policy to the state government by next month. After that it is up to the government to accept our recommendations.

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