Protest by farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh has completed for three months. For more than a month there is no discussion between protesting farmer organizations and the Government of India, though both sides are playing with words. It appears Government is in no mood to further compromise after it offers to postpone the implementation of laws to one and half years. In my opinion, Government is already more generous to the farmers of Punjab than it should be in recent days.
To discuss it politically, in old days, the 1960s to the 1990s, India was struggling to provide food grains to all its citizens for which Indian policymakers came with the idea of minimum support price (MSP) for paddy (rice) and wheat to meet the domestic demand. MSP played a very vital role that encouraged farmers especially in Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh to cultivate paddy and wheat as it guaranteed price for their production.
The first green revolution in this region along with MSP helped to increase the production of paddy and wheat and meet the food demand in the country. Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh were largely supplying the majority of staple grains such as paddy and wheat to meet the food security of India. This made farmers in Punjab and Haryana exploit the MSP procurement mechanism in their favor. This dependence of the Government of India on farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh towards meeting food security also helped many farmer organizations and leaders to politically milk the situation.
The farmer leaders and activists in this region were able to influence the Government of India and its policy from the 1960s to the 1990s. This also boosted farmers in this geographical pocket to be more organized politically compared to other farmers in the rest of India. Leaders like former prime minister Charan Singh Ji and other farmer-leaders were highly influential in national politics as they used their base in the farmer community, specifically comprising this geographical region. The proximity of this region to the national capital, Delhi, further favored them politically as they could easily mobilize people to show their strength in Delhi and get enormous national media coverage.
Thus, any farmers march or rally from this geographical pocket to the national capital was taken seriously and brought huge national attention. Doing so, over the decades, farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh and their leaders were able to influence the political narrative, particularly on issues and policy related to farming and farmers at the national level. On the other hand, farmers from the rest of India were unorganized and politically marginalized, thus, the narrative built by farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh was viewed from the national perspective.
However, in the last 15 years, a huge shift has occurred at the national level. In earlier opinion here (Link: https://www.samacharjustclick.com/featured/apart-from-andolanjivi-are-illegal-paddy-procurement-and-arhatiyas-in-punjab-behind-farmers-protest/ ) it was explained that how paddy cultivation in other states has remarkably enhanced in the past decade. Recent figures show without paddy cultivation in Punjab and Haryana, India can still meet the demand for paddy for its food security. West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu have remarkably improved their paddy production and procurement in the last 12 years. Some of these states’ paddy procurement policy is as par, even better than, that of procurement policy of Punjab.
For instance, a state like Odisha transfers directly the payment to a farmer’s account during procurement whereas Punjab farmers still collect the payment through Aryatiyas or middleman. In the 1980s often mocked as BIMARU states, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh are today promising to become an agricultural basket. Also, states like Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, and Tamil Nadu have started contributing more to food security. Production of paddy and wheat from these states, particularly since the past 12 years (from 2009 to 2021) has been phenomenal. In 2007-08 during the global food crisis, wheat procurement in India was 111.2 lakh tons only.
The government of India was requesting various states to procure more wheat so that India would keep its wheat import minimum. In this year Punjab contributed 67.8 lakh tons and Haryana supplied 33.5 lakh tons which were together 91 % of wheat procurement of whole India. Contribution from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh was respectively 54,000 tons and 57,000 tons, together not even 1 % of what Punjab and Haryana contributed together.
However, in 2020-21 the situation is different. Wheat production in Uttar Pradesh ( 320 lakh tons) and Madhya Pradesh (180 lakh tons) today is higher than in Punjab, thus, these two states have replaced the top two positions and moved Punjab and Haryana to number 3 and 4 positions among the states in India for wheat production. Interestingly, like paddy (Link: https://www.samacharjustclick.com/featured/why-are-farmers-from-punjab-haryana-protesting-and-why-farmers-from-odisha-west-bengal-ap-bihar-should-not/ ), the procurement of wheat by the Government of India is not fair to other states, particularly to Uttar Pradesh.
In 2020-21, only 35.77 lakh tons of wheat has been procured from Uttar Pradesh (no 1 state in production) whereas from Punjab (no. 3 states) and Haryana (no. 4 state) 127.14 lakh tons and 74 lakh tons of wheat have been respectively procured. Uttar Pradesh produces more than 135 lakh tons of wheat; thus, the Government of India could still procure an additional 100 lakh tons of wheat from Uttar Pradesh alone.
Unlike the old days, in the 2020s India no more depends on Punjab and Haryana for its food security. Both paddy and wheat production in India has exceeded the domestic need. This year India also exported rice and wheat in the record. Due to the additional export tax on wheat in Russia, Indian wheat became cheaper this year, so countries like Bangladesh are moving to import wheat from India. As discussed earlier for paddy (Link: https://www.samacharjustclick.com/featured/the-protest-of-self-interest-politics-paddy-procurement-and-punjab/ ), the MSP in wheat is not competitive at the international rate and also depends on production in other countries.
This year it favored India due to weak currency and low production of paddy in Thailand/Vietnam and of wheat in Russia. Other major wheat exporting countries like the USA, Canada, France, etc. also influence international prices. In paddy and wheat, the only guaranteed export is premium quality Basmati rice from India. However, this journey may also soon start getting rocky as Pakistan is already fighting for Basmati rice and recently it received Geographical Indications (GI) tag for its Basmati, this is going to compete in the international market for a better price for Basmati.
Domestically state Governments of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, West Bengal, etc. have improved their paddy procurement procedures which are as efficient as that of Punjab and Haryana. Indeed, the Government of India is not procuring paddy as much as it should be in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Assam. If the Government of India switches to these states by completely stopping procurement in Punjab and Haryana, there won’t be much problem for the food security of paddy. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and West Bengal can easily supply wheat instead of Punjab and Haryana for food security.
In summary, the diminishing role of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh in domestic food security in India and volatile international competition for paddy and wheat would make farmers in this geographical region politically weaker. Modi Government has already become too much generous offering them talk and postponing the farm laws, it is better Modi Government to ignore such agitation by focusing pan-India problem of farmers, the especially, need for marginal and small farmers in other states who will make Indian food security stronger and robust. On the other hand, farmers in Punjab and Haryana should be encouraged to diversify to other crops that are of national, environmental, and health importance.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
Professor Department of Chemistry
American University of Beirut
( Images from the net )