Will the BJP government's intention to grant legal guarantee to MSP on farm produce see the light of the day? The question - to be or not to be - is gaining currency as the issue is caught in a political slugfest.
The Congress doubts the BJP government's intention. It alleges that the terms of reference of the committee set up in this regard have been diluted and it will not be able to fulfil the farmers' demand.
Even, farmers' organisations also feel that this committee will not be able to give a legal guarantee to MSP as the panel's terms of reference have been diluted.
To safeguard the interests of farmers, senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and MP Raghav Chadha had introduced a Private Member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha to ensure implementation of the Minimum Support Price Guarantee Bill, 2022, which envisages guaranteed MSP to farmers for their crops.
Chadha had said that the BJP-led Union government had promised legal guarantee on MSP for agricultural produce during the farmers’ agitation last year.
Congress leader and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda says farmers are getting deeper into debt due to the government's policies instead of their incomes being doubled by 2022, a promise made by the BJP that remains unfulfilled.
Hooda believes the dream shown by the government to double farmers' incomes has been shattered as they are not even getting the minimum support price (MSP) for their produce.
While the government is waiving non-performing assets (NPAs) worth crores of rupees of big corporates, the loans granted to farmers are growing, leading them further into debt. The terms of reference of the committee on MSP set up by the government have been diluted and this committee will not be able to give legal guarantee to the minimum support price, he rued.
Without mincing words, Hooda told mediapersons that the government's intentions to provide legal guarantee to MSP are doubtful. "Had they wanted to give legal sanctity to MSP, they could have given it at the first instance and announced it," Hooda said.
The former Haryana chief minister said, "We do not feel this committee (of the government) will be able to give legal sanctity to MSP." He also cited several instances where the Centre's policies are "not favourable" to the farming community.
Continuing to back the demands of farmers, BJP MP Varun Gandhi too favoured a private member's bill seeking legal guarantee of MSP with financial outlay of Rs 1 lakh crore. The bill titled -- The Farmers Right To Guaranteed Minimum Support Price Realization Of Agri-Produce Bill, 2021 -- sought to provide legally guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for 22 crops that should be set at a profit margin of 50 per cent over the comprehensive cost of production.
Gandhi, the Pilibhit MP, had been publicly supporting farmers' and suggesting the government to engage with them.
On the issues related to farmers, Gandhi has been taking a stand in support of farmers that appears to be not in line with the BJP's official stance.
Giving rationale for the bill, Gandhi said the declaration of guaranteed MSP to farmers shall result in improved farm realisation for potentially 93 million agricultural households, leading to a resurgence in the rural economy.
Hooda, who was chairman of the committee that looked into issues of agriculture during the three-day plenary session of the Congress in Raipur recently, said his party, if it comes to power, will bring a law to give legal guarantee to MSP and selling farm produce below it would be made a punishable offence.
"The incomes of farmers have not doubled but their indebtedness has increased. Farmers are getting deep into debt," he said and claimed that the farmers' debt has risen from Rs 9.6 lakh crore in 2014 to Rs 23.44 lakh crore now.
Hooda said the Congress-led UPA had waived farmers' loans worth Rs 72,000 crore. Some state governments also waived farmers' loans but the BJP has not done anything to free the farmers from debt.
The senior Congress leader said the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (Prime Minister's Crop Insurance Scheme) has turned out to be an "utter failure" and a tool in the hands of corporates for making huge profits.
He alleged that corporate groups have earned Rs 40,000 crore in profits due to the failure of the crop insurance scheme and claimed that the Congress will ensure that only public sector companies are allowed to provide crop insurance. Hooda added that a revolving fund will be created to help compensate farmers in times of need.
Quoting MS Swaminathan who, in his report on agriculture, had suggested providing MSP at 50 per cent above the C-2 formula of input costs, he said, "If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right."
The Congress leader said the budget for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, PM Fasal Bima Yojna, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi and food subsidies to the agri sector has been slashed under the BJP regime, indicating that it does not think about the welfare of farmers.
There has also been a drastic reduction in fertiliser subsidy during the last eight years, Hooda claimed. "There has been a far lower percentage increase in the minimum support price of farm produce during the BJP government against what was done during the UPA regime," he claimed, adding that the rate of increase has been far less now, due to which the farmers are suffering.
He said that crop diversification has not taken place during the BJP government. "Incomes of farmers have not doubled but the cost of inputs have increased and doubled," he said, adding that the price of diesel has doubled despite crude oil prices falling in the last eight years.
Hooda has called for coordination between the export policy and agriculture to ensure that farmers get better remuneration for their produce.