Ever since the Modi government belled the cat of reforming the agriculture sector, propaganda peddlers and opposition parties are having a hard time fathoming the fact that there’s finally a regime at the centre which is committed to addressing the problems besetting the farmers.
As a part of the centre’s initiative to reform the agriculture sector, three farm laws were passed by the Modi government in September 2020. These laws were aimed to open up new avenues for the farmers to increase their income. However, soon after the laws were passed, opposition politicians and ‘activists’ ginned farmers up against the new Bills, scaremongering them into believing that the laws were against their interests.
Before long, the doubts and apprehensions sowed by the opposition politicians and ‘activists’ manifested in protests, chiefly in Punjab, a state governed by the Congress party and has the highest average farming household income in the country. With the government refusing to roll back the reforms it initiated, the protesters decided to intensify the protests by marching to Delhi amidst the incipient second wave of the coronavirus.
Since then, hundreds of protesters have been camping against the new Farm Bills along the Delhi Border. While many rational news reporters have tried to allay the fears harboured by the farmers, there have been some prejudiced journalists, who have sought to amplify the misgivings surrounding the new agriculture laws.
Ravish Kumar rants against the new farm laws amidst ongoing farmers’ protests
NDTV journalist and Magsaysay Award winner Ravish Kumar lies in the second category. Ever since the protests made it to the national headlines, Kumar has been trying to portray the central government as a cruel oppressive regime that is insidiously working against the interests of the farmers. In his endeavour to paint the Modi government as anti-farmers, Ravish has not stopped himself from using lies and deceit.
Earlier this month, Ravish ran a prime time program on his channel, NDTV, insinuating that the Prime Minister did not consult with the farmers before initiating the reforms. Kumar possibly did not bother to ask the government the logic and rationale behind enacting the three farm laws. To his chagrin, the central government had conducted about 1.4 lakh training and webinar sessions, reaching out to 93 lakh farmers in the last six months over the agriculture reforms.
Ravish Kumar lies about Adani’s grain silos in Punjab
A few days later, on December 7, Kumar was caught peddling lies and misinformation on his show Prime Time on NDTV where he claimed that just before the new farm laws were passed by the Central government, Indian conglomerate Adani Group built grain silos in Punjab and Bihar.
Kumar was alluding that the farm laws were passed with the aim of advancing the Adani Group in Punjab. Casting aspersions on Adani Group, Ravish Kumar claimed that the farmers are questioning the setting up of grain silos in Punjab by the Ahmedabad-based corporate. For this, Ravish cites a 2016 article which claiming to be that of 2019. In his show, he conveniently fails to let his viewers inform that the article is from 2016.
He then further questions that if Adani is storing the gains in silos owned by FCI (Food Corporation of India), is procuring grains from farmers, won’t they suffer loss if they are not getting MSP (Minimum Selling Price). Here Ravish Kumar is already assuming that the Adani Group will exploit farmers by not giving them a fair price for their produce.
As it turned out, Kumar’s insinuations were grossly misleading. In 2005, Adani got into a BOO (Build, Own, Operate) agreement with FCI to set up grain silos in Moga and Kaithal. A 2008 report said that the silos were operational and 3 lakh tonnes of wheat production was procured for FCI in the previous season. Interestingly, the grain silos operated by Adani and owned by FCI in Punjab, actually procure food grains at MSP.
Ravish Kumar had made a case for agriculture reforms in 2015
However, facts of the matter have never stopped Ravish from indulging in peddling propaganda. His bias against the Modi government has often forced him to take leave of his good senses. It is noteworthy to mention that a few years back, Ravish Kumar was an active proponent of the reforms in the agriculture sector.
In an article titled as “Farmers are trapped between the agents and the bank, made slaves in the Mandis”, Ravish Kumar made a case for bringing in urgent reforms to address the agrarian distress prevalent in the country. He poignantly described the travails faced by the farmers in selling their produce in state-authorised Mandis and the scourge of the middlemen that they are “trapped” with. Kumar had then raised questions of the leaders, across the political spectrum, for the sad state of affairs at the Mandis.
“It is better to switch off the TV and visit Mandis. There you will realise, farmers, are left to fend for themselves. There is no watchman to guard the stock at nights. There are no policemen for security. The farmer is awake all night to keep an eye on his grain. This is the situation when the TV channels make us believe that our leaders are working for the farmers,” Kumar passionately laments about the upsetting circumstances he witnessed at the government-run mandis.
Kumar also bemoaned that the farmers in the country are suffering because of the prevalence of middlemen in the state-run Mandis. He was baffled that farmers had to pay commission to the middlemen at the Mandis.
“From weighing the agriculture produce brought by the farmers to filling them in sacks and loading them on to trucks of the farmer to filling it into sacks and loading it in trucks, it is the job of middlemen to transport the rations to government-owned godowns. For this, the farmer has to pay Rs 6 for every fifty kilos of wheat sack. In return, the buying agency pays a commission of 2.5 percent to the agent. If the purchase price of wheat is Rs 1450 per quintal, then the agent gets Rs 35-36,” Kumar wrote.
Further, into the article, Kumar said that the farmers were too dependent on the integrity of the agents to get them an optimum price for their produce. The agent, Kumar noted, held disproportionate power as he is tasked with the responsibility of getting the requisite price of the grains to the farmers from the agencies. The agencies, on the other hand, pay the agents based on the quality of the produce. They pay agents if the quality of the agriculture produce is below their standards. The decision, Kumar observed, was a fait accompli, leaving farmers with no option but to rely on the integrity of the agents to get them a fair price.
Kumar also added that removing middlemen appeared a compelling solution to the problems bedevilling the farmers. “There is a Mandi where the farmer brings his agriculture produce and sells the same to the government agency. So why are these agents required anyway?” Kumar asked.
However, Kumar also contended that the farmers continue to stoically endure the “exploitation” at the hands of the middlemen because at trying times, they act as saviours and come to their rescue.
“Banks ask farmers to keep their land as collateral to secure loans. A lot of time is also wasted in the paperwork for securing loans. But the middlemen grants lend money based on faith. When the farmer has additional money, he invests his money with the agent, only because the agent pays more interest than the bank. The farmer may be angry with the agent but he will not revolt against him because he is trapped in a cycle,” Kumar said.
With these laments, Kumar is essentially demanding for reforms in the agriculture sector that would empower the farmers and end the menace of the middlemen. The three farm laws brought in by the Modi government are singularly focused in this direction. The central government has iterated it many times before that the new Farm Bills would empower farmers by opening more choices, bypassing influential middlemen and connecting them directly to the potential buyers.
By and large, the reforms passed by the Modi government were the ones recommended by many political parties, with AAP and Congress even promising to bring in similar reforms in their election manifestos. Many prominent individuals, including Kumar, have also endorsed these reforms in the past. But, as the Modi government grasped the nettle and enacted the reforms, all those who were passionately demanding for reforms turned into implacable rebels.