Express News Service
NEW DELHI: The Centre on Friday rolled out a spate of sweeping reforms to unshackle the agricultural economy and liberate farmers including a central law that would free farmers from the monopoly of ‘mandis’ (middlemen). Part of the third tranche of the Rs. 20 lakh crore Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan relief package, the reforms aim to push barrier-free inter-state trade and facilitate exports, which in turn would help farmers gain more through this parallel marketing route.
“A new central law will be brought in to provide adequate choices to farmers to sell their produce at an attractive price, barrier-free inter state trade as well as framework for e-trading of agricultural produce,” said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The government will also amend the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, to exclude cereals, edible oils, oil seeds, pulses, onions and potatoes in a bid “to enable better price realisation for farmers”, the minister added.
Besides, the government has also earmarked Rs. 1 lakh crore towards aggregators, farmers producers organisations, agricultural startups for strengthening farm gate infrastructure.
Put together, experts say, these measures are targeted at making farming more competitive — create space for private players to have access to integrated markets. Also, more buyers would mean better prices for the farmers with a wider scope of getting higher returns globally.
“These are positive and big bold steps which were long overdue. What we need is private-sector competition. When you create competition for their crops, the price also improves,” said Ashok Gulati, an expert on agriculture economy and Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
Captains of India Inc termed the move visionary. “Risk mitigation through predictable prices will empower farmers, strengthen agri-processing linkages and enable demand-driven value added agriculture. It will also encourage investments in food processing,” said Sanjiv Puri, chairman of ITC Limited.
Experts also observed that the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 had outlived its utility and by bringing a change, the government has ensured that investments in the agri-value chain will get a boost.
“Several countries are considering India for processed food, marine, meat, fruits and vegetables, tea, rice and other cereals as they are apprehensive to import edible products from China. We need to encash on such opportunities. The amendment in EC Act will also help exporters to stock them for timely delivery as just in time is very crucial in inventory management,” Sharad Kumar Saraf, President, Federation of Indian Export Organisations, said.
According to P K Joshi, an expert on agriculture economy and a fellow National Academy of Agriculture Science, “These measures when combined with farm gate infrastructure and proposed investments in the value chain, would go a long way in helping farmers realise at least 25 to 30 per cent higher income, depending on the produce.”
Left wing farmers’ body All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), however, criticised the move. “Deregulating the market and eliminating stock limits will benefit hoarders and big MNCs. It is highly unlikely they will give decent prices to farmers as they all are profit driven.” said Hannan Mollah, leader at AIKS.