Lots of discussions have already been made on the tweet of Greta Thunberg that related to farmers’ protest in India and the subsequent arrest of Disha Ravi based on the toolkit that Ms. Thunberg had tweeted. Most of these discussions are largely confined to political debate and rarely focused on the environmental aspect that is the prime objective and work of activists like Greta Thunberg, Disha Ravi, etc. It is a bit puzzling how the relation between protesting farmers and these international climate activists developed.
These climate activists are well known in the international media and bear great significance in policymaking. Activists like Greta Thunberg is widely known, was invited to various important international congregations, as important as United Nation, and was also nominated for Nobel prize for her contribution to climate change activism. She is also a great advocate of various changes to bring a strong climate policy at the international level and is well known in the international political sphere.
At the same time, farmers protest in India has been largely confined to Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. The protest is also not as vocal in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh as it is in Punjab. The influence of protesting farmers can have an impact on a maximum of 35-40 constituencies of the member of parliament spread across Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, when India has 542 such constituencies.
Therefore, the farmers’ protest is less than 7% of farmers in India. Despite that the international media has not acknowledged other 93 % of farmers who are not protesting against these laws in India, thus, cannot be called that they are against these farm laws. When the international media has not been fair while reporting farmers protest in India, a personality like Ms. Thunberg’s tweet in favor of domestic issue like a small section of farmers’ protest will be taken seriously by any pro-active and good Government because such tweet can potentially draw international political exchange and diplomatically change the narrative in the international level.
Besides the politics of it, if one analyzes the climate change and environmental aspects of this protest, then also the support made by environmentalists and climate activists towards the protesting farmers is not reasonable, at least it is against the interest for which these activists have been fighting since years and few of them since decades. The main reason for the farmers’ protest is the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy that is widely cultivated in the Punjab and Haryana region.
Although other crops are being cultivated in the Punjab region, it is not taken as a threat because most of the crops like cotton, etc. have a higher value in the private market than MSP that the central government provides. Paddy gives these farmers guaranteed profit and often better than wheat, thus, it is the prime concern for the protesting farmers. However, paddy cultivation has some environmental consequences in this region. Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world.
The pollution is highly affected due to parali (upper part of a straw) burning by paddy farmers in Punjab and Haryana. This has been a long environmental problem that is being regularly debated after the harvesting season of paddy. It remains a serious concern by environmentalists, general public, and local as well as central Government of India. The government has also tried unsuccessfully to bring legislation to counter parali burning. Secondly, the cultivation of paddy is highly water-demanding. During paddy cultivation, the soil should be flooded with water for its growth and better yield.
It is roughly estimated that a kilo of rice requires traditionally 3000 to 5000 liters of water. Because of the extensive cultivation of paddy for cash crops in Punjab and Haryana, groundwater in this region has started depleting, today Punjab/Haryana has become a highly water-stressed region. Experts have been giving warnings for future water scarcity in this region. Thirdly, among various crops, paddy releases more methane which contributes to global warming that leads to human-made climate change. Considering all the above facts is it really necessary for India to grow paddy in this region?
The answer is simply NO. India is today cultivating more paddy compare to what it needs for its population. Thus, paddy cultivation in Punjab/Haryana can be avoided for the requirement of national food security. Moreover, framers in Punjab/Haryana cultivate paddy for cash and profit instead of for their food needs. Since India already produces excess paddy for its consumption, therefore, paddy from Punjab/Haryana can be diversified to other crops that India needs like edible oil, which India imports, and the amount may equal to be more than 65000 crore rupees.
There are lots of opportunities here for the farmers of Punjab/Haryana. Socially, at the national level paddy farmers from Punjab/Haryana take Govt. of India’s maximum MSP share that makes poor farmers in other states, especially from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Tamil Nadu, Assam, etc. lose their share in Govt’s MSP, even though Govt. purchases more than the food requirement. There is a limit of Govt. purchasing as the MSP price is internationally not competitive for exporting non-Basmati rice.
Another issue is that after the central Government purchases the paddy from Punjab and Haryana, it is converted to rice locally and transported to all these major rice-eating states in the Eastern and Southern parts of India for public distribution system (PDS). This transportation is unnecessary as these states already cultivate enough paddy today for their consumption. If the central Government could purchase paddy in MSP rate at the local level (instead of purchasing in Punjab/Haryana) and supply in the same local level rice to the poor people using PDS in these states, then this 1000s km of transportation of rice from north India such as Punjab/Haryana to the far east (Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, etc.) or down south (Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, etc.) can be avoided that will save taxpayer’s valuable money.
Besides, this unnecessary transportation of 1000s km is done by trucks/trains that furthermore pollutes the environment. This air pollution can also be easily avoided. Moreover, the middleman in Punjab illegally trade paddy from Uttar Pradesh/Bihar in Mandis during procurement making genuine farmers lose. Most of the farmers in Punjab are big farmers and they largely depend on outside state laborers, mainly from UP/Bihar, to work in the paddy field.
Thus, this MSP purchasing in Punjab is not helping poor or marginal farmers who directly work in their field rather it is helping those who own and manage the paddy field like a businessman. Despite all these negatives many of these climate and environmental activists are supporting this farmer protest of Punjab/Haryana without understanding that paddy cultivation is neither in the interest of the local environment as well as climate change nor it is needed for the food security of India nor for the social development of the country. Paddy cultivation in Punjab only serves the greed of big farmers who just want to make more profit at the expense of small, marginal, and poor farmers in other parts of India by adversely impacting the environment and climate change.