Punjab farmers' policy may suggest governance reforms

A draft 'Punjab State Farmers' Policy', put out for stakeholder consultations by PSFC identifies over a dozen key areas where government attention is necessary.

Punjab State Farmers' and Farm Workers' Commission (PSFC), a statutory body constituted by the Punjab government, may propose a series of governance reforms and technology interventions to uplift the financial and social status of the agriculture dependent population of the state.

A draft 'Punjab State Farmers' Policy', put out for stakeholder consultations by PSFC identifies over a dozen key areas where government attention is necessary. It calls for the creation of off-farm employment opportunities for at least 20 per cent of the population dependent on agriculture to make farming sustainable in the long run.

On the governance front, the commission proposes the merger of the ministries of agriculture, cooperation and animal husbandry for focused policy intervention. Creation of a data bank on the farmers' ecosystem, use of big data and machine learning for evidence-based policy innovation and implementation, mandatory e-documents in all the state government departments and ministries and leverage of ICT technology to deliver services, farm extension and knowledge of government programmes to the farmers are some of the suggestions proposed in the draft policy to improve the governance mechanism in the state.

The commission favours the setting up of a responsive grievance redressal mechanism that will enable resource-poor farmers to avail of the benefits of government schemes. The draft policy wants the government to ensure that its interventions are made with the purpose of positively impacting maximum number of farmer families. "This will be done with the help of metrics to measure impact assessment, audit of government programmes, time utilization, offer performance evaluation and targeted delivery of subsidy," it says.

Acceleration of geo-tagging and land digitization, building technological and managerial capacities of government officers, making compliance of environmental and health care concerns for human and livestock, arising out of agricultural activities, an integral part of financial incentives, incentivizing whistle blowers to ensure that quality inputs are provided to the farming community, availability of round the clock farmer-related services and on-site monitoring of programme implementation are some of the other proposals that figure in the draft policy.

In addition to governance related issues, the draft policy covers topics like socio-economic development, climate change, sustainability and bio-diversity, land, water and power, crops, animal husbandry, fisheries, agriculture research and education, farm extension services, post-harvest, value addition and marketing, credit and risk management and farm mechanism.

The policy also recognizes that importance of a national perspective when it comes to policy making as the commission see many emerging and perceived factors that have a bearing on the State's agriculture. "Improved economic prosperity across India is leading to fast changing consumer preferences along with a conspicuous and welcome shift to more protein-rich diets, further dampening demand for the Public Distribution System (PDS) oriented produce of the State," it notes. The commission also points out to the gradual shift from large scale physical delivery of grains (wheat and rice) under the PDS to Direct Benefit Transfer. "This will adversely impact food procurement under the Minimum Support Price (MSP) programme in Punjab. Crop yield, production and procurement in other states are increasing and, if this trend continues, the demand for Punjab's produce will diminish. The Central Government is in the process of formulating the policy and it is apprehended that the States may be asked to share the burden of deficiency price payment when market prices are below minimum support prices, while it remains responsible for arbitrarily decreasing prices," the draft policy says.

The commission also blames the central government for ignoring the interests of the state while engaging in international trade negotiations and formulating import-export policies. It also criticized the centre's instant response against food inflation while being close to respond to a crash in agricultural prices. "Farmers have often felt that they remain the primary inflation mitigation tool and their losses are hardly reckoned in these policy considerations. In the near future, food deficient states may be incentivised to procure shortfall directly from any available source. Punjab, as a primary producer, will continue to bear the brunt of consumer centric policy option," the commission notes.

Once finalized, the policy will have to go through the Punjab legislative assembly. PMFC is headed by farmer representative Ajay Vir Jhakar.