Courtesy: The Week
Courtesy: The Week

Intro: Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the nation to move towards ‘atmanirbharta’ or self-reliance and for that to happen, farmers need a good price for their produce. The Union government has announced far-reaching reforms, including investment in agricultural infrastructure and dismantling of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), leaving it to state governments to chart out the next course of action. Haryana Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister, J P Dalal, spoke to the CEO of the Centre for Civil Society, K. Yatish Rajawat, in a wide-ranging interview. Excerpts:

Yatish Rajawat: Welcome Mr. Dalal. I would like to congratulate your party on the agricultural reforms announced recently by the Union Finance Ministry. By dismantling APMC, the farmers have the freedom (azadi) to sell their produce anywhere within and beyond the state. How will these reforms impact Haryana’s farmers?

JP Dalal: Farmers were always concerned by the limitations that the APMC Act placed on them. Why shouldn’t the entire nation function as a single market for the farmers? Why should they be restricted only to a particular area? The announcements made by our Prime Minister and Finance Minister to amend this marketing act is a truly revolutionary step. This will create a pan-Indian market, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The farmers will be able to sell their produce wherever they wish to, at whatever price they want to sell it. 

YR: Do you think this will result in hoarding of farm produce?

JPD: The bottom line is that farmers should not be constrained to sell at a lower price. New Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) worth Rs 2 lakh crore and over 1.5 lakh farmers would benefit from this scheme. As far as I know – because I am a farmer myself – they want credit at low-interest rates. This scheme enables them to get credit at 4% interest. Farmers want manure, seeds and water at affordable rates, which the state government is providing. Haryana faces acute water shortage and budgetary allocations have been made to promote drip and micro-irrigation. Farmers can take advantage of an 85% subsidy on drip irrigation. Another important aspect is protecting farmers against risk, and this is ensured through the Fasal Bima Yojna.   

YR: What about wheat procurement in Haryana, which takes place through mandis? I have been to some of these places myself. Official statistics reveal that disbursements worth Rs 1,500 crore has been made till now, but total payments are close to Rs 12,000 crore. What explains this difference? How many farmers have actually received MSP for their sale?

JPD: We invited farmers to sell their produce, established over thrice as many procurement centres at school grounds and stadiums even when weather conditions were not favourable. So far, we have procured roughly 68 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of wheat and of this, 44 LMT has already reached warehouses. Our procurement process was online and the process is considered complete when we get a receipt from the warehouse, be it FCI, HAFED or any other institution. So, there has been a delay of two to four days. Trucks have been lining up outside warehouses for loading and unloading produce. So, I do accept that there has been a delay of 2-5 days. For the 44 LMT wheat being sold, about Rs 8,000 crore is due to the farmers.

THE ROLE OF ARTHIYAS

YR: Do the dues total up to Rs 12,500 crore?

JPD: The produce, once it is granted the I form, H form, J form and after the arthiyas (commission agents) deliver it to us, goes through a weighing and cleaning process. It is then put in gunny bags and transferred to warehouses. We have brought 68 LMT wheat, but only 44 LMT has been transferred to warehouses. We are working on covering this backlog and as of yesterday, Rs 6,500 crore has been transferred to farmers’ accounts. Initially, we faced difficulties as the arthiyas took time to understand the process. We told the arthiyas that we will give them the money and they will have to subtract farmer credit from it, get the farmers to sign on the agreement letter, after which that money will be transferred to our pool account and then to the farmers. However, most problems have been resolved. 

YR: So, you are saying that roughly Rs 6,000 crore will be transferred in the coming one or two weeks.

JPD: Yes. The remaining Rs 6,000 crore will be transferred in the coming days. We transfer about Rs 1,000-Rs 1,500 crores every other day.

YR: About 8 lakh migrant labour registered with the government has left. Since sowing is nearly complete using tractors and other equipment, what is the government doing to get these labourers back for the harvest season?

JPD: Agriculture needs specialised labour. Skilled labour for rice and wheat harvests  are different. The labour force for mustard and wheat has left. If the labour required for other crops is not available, we will have to make do with mechanised equipment. In the last 2-4 years, we have moved towards mechanisation by establishing custom hiring centres. Farmers use tractors and harvesters for their work. 

YR: Some 15-20 villages in Haryana and about 30 in Punjab have gone completely dark. The underground water is now miles deep. The biggest reason why farmers produce a highly water consuming crop like rice is because the government buys it at MSP. What are the changes planned for rice procurement in Haryana?

JPD: We are a farmer-friendly government and will not impose anything that farmers do not want. But this time, looking at the conditions, the labour shortage and to save water, we have come up with a scheme. In the blocks where water is available, rice would be grown. Through panchayats and social organisations, we have requested the farmers not to grow rice this time. We have suggested that they let go of half the rice and instead grow corn, floriculture or cotton in its place and we will procure it at the MSP. Further, we have an 85% subsidy on drip irrigation for anyone who replaces rice to save water.

YR: But bajra and corn cannot grow on drip irrigation?

JPD: No, we can grow corn. Cotton harvesters can grow between 10-15 quintals without drip and about 15-20 with the drip. 

DRIP IRRIGATION 

YR: But in today’s scenario, getting a drip system installed, getting subsidy from the government etc., have all come to a halt. Drip companies are closed. They say that the farmers should pay up before they install the drip and that subsidy is not their responsibility.

JPD: We are not taking any short-term decisions. Today, Haryana has 85% drip subsidy. So, we held a meeting with drip manufacturers and suggested that they reduce their prices because the cost of petroleum products has come down and they bear the 15% cost that the farmers paid earlier. You would be happy to know that they agreed to this. So essentially there is a 100% subsidy on the drip and the farmer only has to pay 12% in GST. 

YR: Do these 40 blocks also include some in the backward districts?

JPD: PM Modi with his Jal Jeevan Yojna has focused on drip irrigation. On one side we don’t have water, on the other, we grow rice. Areas like Mewat, Loharu and Fatehabad are dry and water is available at a depth of 600-800 ft. So we are looking to expand the areas of work.  

YR: With regards to adding money in farmers’ accounts, Haryana has identified farmers and created a database for them. Does the government also have information regarding the kind of farmer and his location? 

JPD: We are trying to identify farmers directly via our portal, ‘Meri fasal mera byora’, and we are trying to map them. Through this, we will know the size of the farmer, their agricultural practices, availability of water and the size of their families. We want everyone to get the right price through Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) and remove middlemen. 

YR: How long will the government take to implement DBT, especially in wheat procurement. 

JPD: The process was initiated, but unfortunately politics has intervened. The opposition has convinced the arthiyas to rebel. One of their demands was to re-open mandis 10 days after the pandemic ends. Sadly, the opposition has backed these demands. Our objective is to buy farmers’ produce and transfer the money directly to them. 

FARMERS’ MARKET

YR: The BJP government manifesto has talked about the creation of a farmers’ market since 2014. What is the progress in Haryana?

JPD: We have amended the Mandi Act in the last session. It was based roughly on the model Act sent by the central government and Haryana is one of the few states that has passed this bill in the assembly. Today, any farmer producer organisation (FPO), warehouse and a group of 10 people can establish their own mandi, be it fruits, vegetables or grain. In Haryana, there are over 400 FPOs already registered. About 60 of them have 70-80% subsidy. We have freed the farmers from any encumbrances, but the farmer must also think of creating collectives and cooperatives via panchayats or FPOs like in Maharashtra or Gujarat. A small farmer with two acres of land does not have any bargaining power during the purchase or during sales. They must create groups to increase their collective landholding. 

YR: Do you believe farmers are actually shifting to corn?

JPD: We will open our portals today. Even without the portal, we have received inquiries from about 15,000-20,000 farmers.

YR: What will be the process for this scheme? If I am a rice farmer shifting to corn, how will I avail of the subsidy?

JPD: The process is that the farmer will sow the corn, once it has grown a bit, and an official will go and check it out. At this point, the farmer will receive half the money. Next, when the corn is ready to be harvested, we will transfer the remaining amount before the harvest. Once the process is complete, the benefits will be transferred directly, except in Fasal Bima cases that are routed through companies. We will also ensure that the entire production is bought at MSP by the government.

YR: In that case, what will be the MSP for corn?

JPD: The MSP is somewhere between Rs 1,600-Rs 1,700. Corn is harvested twice a year. We have tested the winter produce; the companies buy around 30 quintals at about Rs 50,000 per quintal. If we get around 20 quintals per acre, then the price comes to Rs 34,000. The production costs in labour are less, so it is on par with rice. 

FARMERS’ FREEDOM

YR: Mr Dalal you are a farmer as well as an eminent politician. What farmers really want is freedom – the freedom to sell and freedom from arthiyas, who bind them. At the end of the day, agriculture is a state subject. We need to achieve ease in farming, which is hindered by many complex laws. How can progressive states like Haryana reform agriculture?

JPD: There was a time when limitations were imposed on the farmer and we did not produce at capacity. We even imported pulses and wheat from America. Maybe these restrictions were needed then. But today, we have a problem of plenty. We can produce more than our national requirement for all crops. The Rs 1 lakh crore package given by our PM, if implemented correctly, could work wonders. If small farmers join and club about 20-50 acres and establish a plant, they would increase their bargaining power immensely. I believe that the work of the Union government is done. It is now up to the states to judiciously use this budget. The second issue is of landholding. The true value of bargaining power can only be realized when the farmers’ holding is big, say 200-500 acres. Even during this lockdown, all businesses – factories, aeroplanes, malls, cinemas, colleges and schools – are closed, but farming has continued uninterrupted. I believe that the wheels of the economy are turning today because of our farmers.  

DOUBLING FARMERS’ INCOMES

YR: What are your government’s policies on land pooling and land collective acts? 

JPD: It is not merely a thought; if there is a thought, there are two steps in that direction as well. People like you and me, intellectuals, scientists and industrialists, are all making efforts to improve the conditions of the farmers. We want to achieve the aim of doubling the farmers’ income. In Haryana, we are promoting fisheries because we have an abundance of saline water.

YR: Haryana ranks first or second in North India, as far as fisheries are concerned. The infrastructure for storage and sales in fish producing areas like Rohtak, Bhiwani and Nou is inadequate. Which makes Haryana a fish-producing state, but not a fish-marketing or selling one.  

JPD: Haryana does produce fish, but consumption is relatively little. Regions like Mewat are big producers. There are great possibilities for fish production and for selling it outside and earning foreign currency. You are absolutely correct that our processing and transportation chains are not up to the mark. But we will handhold producers, and hopefully, a private entrepreneur will take charge. 

YR: Fish seeds come from Kolkata and this time due to suspension of flights, that has not happened.

JPD: When I started, we had around 800 fish farms, but I wanted 2,000. Each farm will employ four to five people and overall, provide jobs to 7,000-8,000 people. We also offer small loans amounting to Rs 10 lakh. I also have the animal husbandry department, which supplements farm income. Our cows, the breeds indigenous to Haryana, give about 40 litres of milk in Brazil, but here they stop at only 4-5 litres! Cows suited to cold climates have been brought here. The policy is flawed.  

YR: As you correctly point out, there are four to five cow breeds in Haryana, but they are either too expensive or cannot be found. The farmers, too, have stopped breeding them because they only produce 4-5 litres or a maximum of 8 litres of milk. The price of milk in cities is about Rs 80-90 per litre, but in villages, it is sold at Rs 20-25 a litre. The Centre for Civil Society, as you may know, helps in the formulation of policies and works with central and state governments. Is there any new policy for smaller families that have four to five cows? Not everyone can have a 50-cow farm. 

JPD: About five years ago, Haryana produced 800g of milk per person. Now, I believe we are second in the country with 1,080g. In terms of increasing farmers’ income, animal husbandry is the easiest and the quickest way. Why? Because we can increase milk production of milch animals. The input costs will remain the same and the production will increase. We have insured 2.75  lakh animals in Haryana and our target is 5 lakh animals by next year. PM’s PashuDhan Credit Card scheme will benefit those farmers who have limited land, are landless, or those belonging to SC/ST/OBC category who are without savings. They will receive a credit of up to Rs three lakh at 4% interest. With this, they can breed 1-2 cows or buffaloes and can sustain their families. This will definitely increase milk production. We also plan to establish processing plants. We have allotted a budget for a tetra pack plant so that our product can compete in the international market, be it milk, curd or juices. We will put up a big plant like Vita and offer rewards to the best milch animals and encourage the unemployed to get into fisheries. Haryana has one of the densest webs on mandis. We are also planning a 500-acre mandi in Kannur to match international standards.  

YR: Will these mandis be created by the government or private businesses?

JPD: The government will provide basic infrastructure. After that private players can establish processing units or cold storage. The government will do most of the work and then we will rope in private businesses. Even if a private business wants to compete with us, they are welcome to.  

YR: Thank you very much Mr. Dalal for talking with us.  

ABRIDGED INTERVIEW FOR NEWSPAPERS / Digital platform

Headline: Animal husbandry is the best way to double farmers’ income: Haryana Agriculture minister Dalal’  

With the central government introducing much-needed agriculture reforms, there is a buzz in the air. With the global pandemic disrupting lives, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for self-reliance or `atmanirbharta’ has acquired a new meaning. In a world struggling with death and economic displacement, it makes sense for a country to chart out its own road map. Haryana, one of the most developed states in the Indian Union knows all about self-reliance, which can be achieved only through sound agriculture. The state’s Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister, JP Dalal and the CEO of Centre for Civil Society, K Yatish Rajawat, brainstorm in a riveting exchange of ideas.

Yatish Rajawat: Welcome Mr. Dalal. I would like to congratulate you on the agricultural reforms, which were announced recently by the Union Finance Ministry. The primary goals of the reforms include dismantling the Agricultural Produce Market Committee or APMC and giving freedom (azadi) to farmers to sell their produce anywhere, within and beyond the state. Today, suitably, you are speaking on Azadi.me and in this context, how do you think these reforms will impact Haryana’s farmers?

JP Dalal: One principal concern bothering the farmers has always been the limitations that APMC placed on them. Why shouldn’t the entire nation function as a market for the farmers? Why should they be restricted only to a particular area? The announcement made by our Prime Minister and Union Finance Minister to amend this marketing act is a truly revolutionary step. This will enable the creation of a pan-Indian market, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. 

YR: Do you believe that this will result in hoarding of farm produce?

JPD: I think farmers know the right price for their produce and the bottom line is that they should not be constrained to sell at a particular price. Why should they sell at a lower price, anyway? Obviously, because they require money for their immediate needs. PM Modi has also come up with a solution for this. We have made new Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) worth Rs 2 lakh crore and over 1.5 lakh farmers would benefit from this scheme. 

YR: What about wheat procurement in Haryana, which is happening through mandis?  Official statistics reveal that payment worth Rs 1,500 crore has been made till now, but total payments are close to Rs 12,000 crore. Why is there such a difference? 

JPD: As far as statistics go, these are challenging times. Our procurement process has been carried out keeping in mind social distancing norms. We invited the farmers to sell their produce, established over thrice as many procurement centres at school grounds and stadiums, even when weather conditions were not favourable. So far, we have procured roughly 68 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of wheat and of this, 44 LMT has already reached warehouses. 

THE ROLE OF ARTHIYAS

YR: Do the dues total upto Rs 12,500 crore?

JPD: The produce that we receive at the warehouses, once it is granted the I form, H form, J form and after the arthiyas (commission agents) deliver it to us, goes through a weighing and cleaning process. It is then put in gunny bags and transferred to warehouses. We only consider the process to be complete once the produce reaches the warehouse because we are buying for the Government of India. We have brought 68 LMT wheat, but only 44 LMT has been transferred to warehouses. We are slowly working on covering this backlog and as of today, Rs 6,500 crore has been transferred to farmers’ accounts. 

YR: So, you are saying that roughly Rs 6,000 crore will be transferred in the coming one or two weeks.

JPD: Yes. The remaining Rs 6,000 crore will be transferred in the coming days. We transfer about Rs 1,000-Rs 1,500 crores every other day.

YR: As you said, the labour is mostly migrant. There are about eight lakh migrant labourers registered with the government, which has already left. Since the sowing is almost complete using tractors and other equipment, what is the government doing to get the labourers back in time for the harvest season?

JPD: We have to understand that there is specialised labour for agriculture. This is skilled labour, different for rice and wheat harvest, etc. The labour for mustard and wheat has left. If the labour required for other crops is not available, we will have to make do with mechanised equipment.   

DRIP IRRIGATION 

YR: But in today’s scenario, getting a drip, attaching it to a pipe and getting subsidy from the government, have all come to a halt. The drip companies and their offices are closed. The companies say that the farmers should first pay up and then install the drip and that subsidy is not their responsibility.

JPD: We are not taking any short-term decisions. Today, Haryana has 85% drip subsidy. We held a meeting with drip manufacturers and suggested that they reduce their prices because the cost of petroleum products had come down, in addition to bearing the 15% cost that the farmers paid earlier. You would be happy to know that they agreed to this. 

YR: For adding money into their bank accounts, Haryana has identified farmers and created a database for them. Does the government also have information regarding the type of farmer and his location? 

JPD: We are trying to identify the farmers directly via our portal, ‘Meri fasal mera byora’, and we are trying to map them. Through this, we will know the size of a farmer, whether he has 10 acres or 20 acres, their agricultural practices, how much water is available to them and the strength of their families. 

YR: How long will the government take to implement Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), especially in wheat procurement. 

JPD: The process was initiated, but unfortunately opposition politics has come in the way. 

FARMERS’ MARKET

YR: The BJP government has included the creation of a farmers’ market in its manifesto since 2014. What is the progress?

JPD: We have amended the Mandi Act in the last session. It was based roughly on the model Act sent by the Government of India and Haryana is one of the few states that has passed this bill in the assembly. Today, any farmer producer organisation (FPO), warehouse or a group of 10 people can establish their own mandi, be it fruits, vegetables or grain.  

FARMERS’ FREEDOM

YR: When we talk to farmers, what they really want is freedom – freedom to sell and freedom from arthiyas, which bind them.

JPD: There was a time when these limitations were imposed on a farmer as we did not produce at capacity. At that time, we imported pulses and even wheat from America. So, maybe these restrictions were needed then. Today, we have a problem of plenty. We can produce more than our national requirement for all crops. Today, the Rs 1 lakh crore package of PM Modi, if implemented correctly, could work wonders. 

DOUBLING FARMERS’ INCOMES

YR: What are your government’s policies about land pooling and land collective acts? 

JPD: It is not merely a thought; if there is a thought, there are two steps in that direction as well. People like you and me, intellectuals, scientists and industrialists are all making efforts to improve the conditions of the farmers. We want to achieve the aim of doubling farmer’s income. 

YR: Haryana ranks first or second in North India, as far as fisheries is concerned. But the infrastructure for storage and sales in fish-producing areas like Rohtak, Bhiwani and Nou are inadequate. 

JPD: Haryana does produce fish, but our consumption is relatively less. Regions like Mewat produce a lot of fish. There are great possibilities for fish production; in fact we can sell it outside as well and earn foreign currency. This is a new venture.  

YR: As you pointed out quite correctly, four to five breeds of cows are found in Haryana. But these are slowly disappearing and Haryana cows are now found in Brazil! In Haryana, they are either extremely expensive. The farmers too have stopped breeding them because they only produce 4-5 litres, or a maximum of 8 litres of milk. The price of milk in cities is about Rs 80-90 per litre, but in villages it is only sold at Rs 20-25 a litre. I am happy at your suggestion that the government cannot do everything and that entrepreneurs will have to come forward and suggest policies. The Centre for Civil Society, as you may know, helps in the formulation of policies and works with central and state governments. 

JPD: I wish to inform you that about five years ago, Haryana produced 800 grams of milk per person. Now, I think we are second in the country with 1080 grams. In terms of increasing farmers’ income, animal husbandry is the easiest and the quickest way to achieve the goals. Why? Because we can increase milk production of milch animals. The input costs will remain the same, and the production will increase.   

YR: Thank you very much Mr. Dalal for talking with us.  

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