Context: In the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, where the number of deaths have mounted across the world, the impact on India is both manifest and latent with a crisis unfolding.
More on the news
- The number of deaths globally due to COVID-19 is racing towards six-digit figures, with Italy and the US featuring on top on the list.
- With each day passing, the US is discovering new patients in a huge number and increasing number of deaths.
- The figures of those affected by the COVID-19 crisis in China are always seen with suspicion as there is no free media or people’s voice.
- The authoritarian nature of the Chinese regime seems a misfit in the globalised world of the 21st century.
- The true extent of infection and deaths is not known in India as the testing is limited.
- To put in a perspective, India has tested a little over one lakh people against a total population of 1.35 billion.
- Its cumulative testing number is today roughly the same as the US daily number of tests.
Issues Owing to lockdown -Migrants Workers, Rural India, Agri Market Systems
Plight of Migrant Workers - Courtesy a free Media
- The media, hailed as the fourth pillar of democracy, raised the issue of migrant labourers in the wake of a 21-day lockdown in the country.
- The headlines with images of stranded migrant workers, peddling long distances to their homes, exposed the unpreparedness of the administration.
- It also brought the government on backfoot to react to the crisis which has led to large-scale destitution.
- The central government even knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court to plead for a control on media reports that are creating panic. But the Court refused to side with the government.
- The strength of a democratic setup, with a free media, can be seen that Independent India never faced any large-scale starvation deaths, unlike the 1943 Bengal famine which claimed around 1.5 and 3 million lives.
- This needs to be juxtaposed with China’s authoritarian regime and a controlled media under Chairman Mao where 30 million people starved to death during the Great Leap Forward (1958-61).
Paying heed to the needy - Brewing trouble in villages
- The majority of these migrant workers belong to the farming families.
- Significant disruption in supply chains owing to the lockdown have left farmers stuck with a large amount of produce, especially related to perishables like milk, fruits and vegetables, flowers and even poultry meat and eggs.
- The oversupply of items resulted in collapsing farm prices, in turn pushing farmers into poverty.
- Many of them are dumping milk and vegetables on the roads.
Agri-Marketing System - Need to strike a blow
- With the starting of procurement season for rabi crops, the mandi system will choke, and social distancing norms may not be followed in the strictest manner.
- Immediate steps are needed to organise procurement operations in an orderly manner and reforming the agri-marketing system.
Steps taken by the Government
Government has exempted from the lockdown the operations of agencies engaged in procurement of agriculture products, including
- MSP operations.
- Mandis operated by the Agriculture Produce Market Committee or as notified by the State Government.
- Farming operations by farmers and farm workers in the field.
- Custom Hiring Centres (CHC) related to farm machinery.
- Manufacturing and packaging units of fertilisers, pesticides and seed.
- Intra and Inter-State movement of harvesting and sowing related machines like combined harvester and other agriculture/horticulture implements.
- Agriculture and horticulture related suppliers have also been included in the exempt categories list.
- In order to facilitate transportation of farm produce, shops of Agricultural machinery, its spare parts (including its supply chain) & repairs and shops for truck repairs on highways, preferably at fuel pumps, can remain open.
- Similarly, the tea industry, including plantations can function with a maximum of 50% workers.
- New features added to the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) Platform.
- This will strengthen agriculture marketing by farmers.
- This will reduce their need to physically come to wholesale mandis for selling their harvested produce, at a time when there is a critical need to decongest mandis to effectively fight against COVID-19.
- The Government has also extended instalment repayments (to 31st May, 2020) on short term crop loans upto Rs.3 lakh.
- Farmers can repay such loans upto the extended period at 4% p.a. interest without attracting any penalty.
- Reforming the Agri-marketing System
- Agricultural Marketing
- APMC Act needs to be abolished or reframed and direct buying of agri-produce from farmers/farmer producer organisations (FPOs) should be encouraged.
- In the scenario of the companies, processors, organised retailers, exporters, consumer groups, directly buying from FPOs need not pay any market fee as they do not avail the facilities of APMC premises.
- The warehouses need to be designated as markets, and also the need to scale up the warehouse receipt system.
- The private sector should be encouraged to open mandis with modern infrastructure, also the commissions need to be capped.
- Derivative trading in Commodities
- Futures trading should be encouraged by allowing banking finance to fill in for commodity price risks.
- Promotion of e-NAM through proper assessment and grading the produce
- Setting up dispute settlement mechanisms
- There is a need for amping up logistics for delivery of goods.
- Procurement must be staggered through coupons and incentives that give farmers an additional bonus for bringing produce to the market after May 10, or so.
- Increased UBI for farmers
- The amount provided under PM Kisan should be increased from Rs 6,000 to at least Rs 10,000 per farming family to partially compensate them for their losses.
- Pumping in relief package
- There is an urgent need to increase the relief package to the tune of 8-10 percent of GDP.
- The 1.7 lakh crore package amounts to just 0.8% of GDP, that doesn’t seem effective.
- Reforms in Institutions of Global Governance
- Post COVID-19 crisis, India needs to evaluate the WHO’s role in this fiasco.
- Keeping aside the causes of this disaster, it cannot be denied that the WHO failed in its duty to raise the alarm in time.
- India must ask for fundamental reforms in the UN System, including the WHO, making it more transparent, competent, and accountable.