Lockdown as a result of coronavirus pandemic have impacted national and international adversely. Government and citizens are no exception to it. Once the lock down was in place, it added to the existing woes of the farmers. We know about the suicidal cases of farmers and the debt situation and the governmental policies that were not up to the mark in the pre lockdown situation.
I’ll be talking about how the Coronavirus has added to the woes of farmers. Late March, April and May are the harvesting months for the farmers and because of the lockdown, there was a shortage of labour, infrastructure could not reach to fields as the movement was not allowed and if by any means the crop was harvested, taking it to the market was an uphill task. Let me explain it with real-life experiences, farmers who harvested wheat in late March and early April had to take it to the mandis to sell, Government told them not to come directly to the mandis and the farmers will be allotted a date when their harvest will be procured and they will receive a phone call regarding the date and time allotted to them. Many farmers received the call and when they went to the mandi, there were no arrangements for quick procurement. If lucky, they had to wait at least for 8-9 hours with the tractors and trolleys and the manpower which was required to unload the harvest and were without food. Others were told to go back as arrangements were not up to the mark to maintain social distancing and take other precautions. What my point is that, mandis are situated far away from villages and most of the farmers do not own tractor and trolleys so they have to pay the rent for tractor and trolley and also for the fuel which is now on a rise for the straight 20th day. Manpower had to be paid for multiple days as the process took time for completion and because of the rains in northern India, it was impossible to save the harvest from getting deteriorated as the farmers do not possess storage facilities and the government was not helping at all. Now coming on to the farmers who deal in vegetables, as there was a restriction in movement, getting the vegetables transported to big markets was not possible and the smaller markets were at the threshold. So these farmers had to pay to get their vegetables harvested and then throw them away as if they don’t harvest them, it will ruin the fields. Most of them cultivated the fields again and went for cotton crop instead of vegetables. Talking about the price of vegetables, it is still as low as Rs. 2/kg in wholesale market and when it reaches to the consumers, its around Rs. 15-20/ kg. By looking at this gap, one can easily find out the reason for distress in farmers and the Government is not doing enough for this. Dairy farmers also suffered as they lost buyers because of COVID – 19.
The government came out with various updated policies to help this sector but the ground reality is farmers are good with or without these policies for now. At first, the government said that the Rs. 2000 installment which is a part of Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi will be given to farmers in advance. Does it help? Is providing Rs. 6000 per year to farmers enough to help them? Answer to this may be negative and government pats itself on the back after announcing that the farmers will receive Rs 2000 in advance during this difficult phase. Then there were more measures for the sector in the third tranche of the Rs. 20 lakh crore economic relief package announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. A comment will not be justifiable on how these measures will help the farm sector in long run, but in the short-run (when farmers really need some help from the government), it is not helping at all. The government amended Essential Commodities Act to enable better price realization for farmers, a central law will be formulated to provide adequate choices to farmers to sell their produce, Rs 10000 crore scheme for the formalization of Micro Food Enterprises (MFE) and a few more among which amendment in Essential Commodities Act might be the first to help but the others will take a good amount of time to come in action. I hope these measures come in action soon and revitalize the farm sector.
Another big issue for the farmers is the rising of fuel prices. As on 26th June 2020, fuel prices hiked for the straight 20th day again adding to the woes. Tractor consumes diesel and is used a lot in this season for various activities and this hike is surely hurting the farmers. When the global crude prices went down because of the fall in demand due to lock down, the government increased the excise duty so that the retail price of fuel doesn’t go down and it can increase its money reserves. To be on point, on March 14th, excise duty on both petrol and diesel were hiked by Rs 3 each and on May 5th, record Rs 10 on petrol and Rs 13 on diesel was the hike. Talking about how much the government will yield from this hike, every Rs 1 hike in excise duty is expected to yield Rs 13000-14000 crores annually and this hike will garner around Rs. 1.6 lakh crore additional revenue.
So, it is high time for the government to take some huge short term measures if we want to become a superpower as without having the agricultural sector performing at its best, becoming a superpower will not be easy for us. The government will have to provide more subsidies to the sector and especially on fuel to help farmers come out of distress.