New farm laws will push India into hunger crisis once again; agri sector will operate on pvt players’ whims

At present, the farmers decide what to produce. But when the new laws enter into force they will lose decision making power. They will have to produce what corporate with asks them to do

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Dr Arun Mitra

Hunger is the biggest curse in life. It is only when one has experienced it, one can realise the agony and humiliation hunger can cause to a person. This can be easily gauged by long queues at the free or cheap food stalls organised by the philanthropist organisations. In the absence of such stalls these people would have missed that particular meal.

It is an irony that our country ranks at 102 out of 117 countries in the global hunger index. Despite claims of booming economy India is unable to provide access to food to a large number of people, especially women and children. The situation is worse than our neighbouring countries in South Asia even though their rate of economic development is lower than us.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UNO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 report, 189.2 million people are undernourished in India. By this measure 14% of the population is undernourished in India’, this means nearly 20 crore people. Also, 51.4% of women in reproductive age between 15 to 49 years are anaemic; 34.7% of the children aged under five in India are too short for their age; while 20% suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. Malnourished children have a higher risk of death from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria.

It is necessary that to meet the hunger there is abundant supply of essential food items Including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. To fulfil nutritional needs we need sufficient production at an affordable cost. For this, it is important that people have the purchasing capacity to buy these food items. But if we are to believe Prof. Arun Kumar, a noted economist, the Indian economy is not recovering as fast as the government claims and the country's economy may contract 25 per cent in the current financial year. Under such circumstances the problem of feeding the poor and marginal sections is going to get worse.

When all the figures showed downward trend, it is the agriculture which sustained the economy of the country in the last year. Hard labour of our farmers has led to self-sufficiency in food grain production. Rice and wheat form the staple diet for our population. Much of it comes from Punjab and Haryana. Punjab state having just 1.53 per cent of the total geographical area of India, produced about 17 % of wheat, 11 % of rice and 6 per cent of cotton in the country. As a result, the state has been contributing up to 78 per cent of wheat and 60 per cent rice to the central pool of food reserve. Haryana is the 4th largest producer of wheat in the country with approximately 12 per cent of total wheat production.

Realising that many people in the country are not getting sufficient food, the National Food Security Act 2013 (also 'Right to Food Act') was passed in the Parliament which aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds of India's 1.38 billion people through various schemes. The farmers who are the producers of the agricultural products are now feeling threatened of losing their livelihood. They are agitating for their demands against the three farm related laws recently passed by the parliament. The 3 laws may be a death knell for the farmers of our country and the agriculture may enter into a new dimension under the corporate where the farmers will have little say in the decision making.

At present, the farmers decide what to produce. But when the new laws enter into force they will lose this decision making power. They will have to produce what the corporate with whom they enter into contract asks them to do. This will also lead to environmental degradation and loss of fertility of soil in the long run. We have the history of farming of Indigo forced upon the farmers by the British against which Gandhi fought a sustained battle successfully. There is a real danger that the corporate will look forward to production of export oriented agricultural produce for more profits. This will deprive the domestic consumer of the basic food needs.

The clause to permit stock/hoard unlimited amount of grains will lead to increase in the prices of essential commodities. Now the food grain procurement is done by the government which also stocks these. This reserve is used in the event of any crisis. But when the agricultural produce is stocked by the private players and becomes totally market oriented, then the government will lose control even in the times of food crisis. Such situation will make us dependent on foreign market for food and further push the country into deep crisis of nutrition and hunger.

(IPA Service)
(Views are personal)

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