Farm bills to impact food security, PDS, fears Bengal govt

The government is of the view that handing over the entire farm market to corporate houses will stop assured open-ended procurement at the MSP

Mamata Banerjee
Mamata Banerjee has called the EC’s decision undemocratic and announced a sit-in on Tuesday to protest against it | File Photo: PTI

The three farm bills passed by the Parliament will have an adverse impact on the public distribution system (PDS) in the long run by ending assured procurement at the minimum support price (MSP), fears the West Bengal government.

The Trinamool Congress government in the state is of the view that handing over the entire farm market to corporate houses will stop assured open-ended procurement at the MSP.

Under the open-ended procurement, foodgrains are procured from the farmers within the stipulated procurement period at MSP by government agencies, including the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for PDS. Some states also declare state bonus on wheat and paddy over and above MSP.

“As there will be no government regulations and bar on stockpiling, the market force will manipulate everything, including the government procurement,” West Bengal agriculture minister Asish Banerjee told The Federal.

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He said the bills were not only a death knell for farmers but would also impact food security and disbursement of subsidised foodgrains by the state governments.

There was no prescribed mechanism for price fixation in these bills and thus would provide free hand to private players to exploit farmers as well as consumers, the minister apprehended.

“Just recently when the prices of potatoes and onions skyrocketed, you have seen how the government has to intervene to control prices,” Banerjee pointed out. “Had there been a so-called farm reform regime, such intervention would not have been possible. In future, even the government will have to depend on the private players to meet its foodgrains requirement.”

The West Bengal government is vehemently opposing The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill passed during the monsoon session of Parliament this month. The bills received the President’s assent on Sunday.

On how these “legislations” would impact food security, an official of the state agriculture department explained that as there would be no government regulations and bar on stockpiling, the traders could procure the entire farm produce during the harvest season when prices are generally lower.

They would then stockpile the produce for selling them during the lean season when the prices are generally higher.

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“There may come a time when the government will also have to do procurement from the private players at a much higher price to run the PDS if the system is not already dismantled by then,” the official said.

Moreover, as there’d be no government control over agriculture marketing, the states would be completely at dark about the availability of stocks.

The official pointed out that a high-level committee headed by BJP leader Shanta Kumar has already submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommending that the ambit of the food security net should be lowered.

The Union government also reduced the food security expenditure in the Budget. The economic survey also proposes that subsidised rations be made available to only 20 per cent of the population.

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