The leaders of the Central and state governments, along with other political parties, make big announcements in Parliament, legislative Assemblies, TV news channels, and at the public meetings, regarding the huge figures from the government books. But does the money going from the government treasury reach ordinary farmer families? The allegations of the Opposition or social organisations can be called biased, but when the government documents itself exposes these points, then why does not the government act on them at the right time? The officials of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the mandis, who purchase food grains from these farmers, harass the farmers in some states with their laxity and corruption and do not buy the grains brought by them in mandi. On the other hand, in case of crop failure, insurance companies do not give sufficient insurance amount in time, and after receiving many claims, they sprinkle salt on farmers’ wounds by giving cheques of Rs 20-100. Insurance companies have been making profits of crores of rupees from the government treasury for years. Whichever party is in power, corruption of food corporations and profits of insurance companies have been continuously increasing.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, hard-working farmers in states like Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh produced record wheat, but the unscrupulous officials of the FCI did not buy wheat from the farmers of west Uttar Pradesh. The statement issued by the corporation itself is proof of this. The FCI has bought 132.10 lakh tonnes of wheat in Punjab, 128 lakh tonnes in Madhya Pradesh, 84.93 lakh tonnes in Haryana at Rs1,940-1,960 per quintal, the minimum purchase price announced by the government. But only 56.41 lakh tonnes of wheat were purchased in the whole of Uttar Pradesh. The most unfortunate thing is that only 40 to 50 quintals of wheat were bought from the farmers who produced almost 200-250 quintals of wheat, due to which these farmers were forced to sell wheat in the market at the rate of Rs 1,400 per quintal. Corporation officials give excuses like lack of storage capacity. If they wish—they can arrange for additional godowns on rent by taking lessons from so many years of experience. But the business of mandi agents and traders completely takes place by taking advantage of the compulsions of the farmers. Because of this, the Opposition parties get an opportunity to start a protest against the government.
Just a month ago in August, the Parliamentary Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Food, Consumer Affairs and Distribution acknowledged that serious complaints of corruption in the Food Corporation have increased over the past three years. Many cases have been handed over to vigilance and CBI, but strict steps are needed to stop this mess. Many other countries of the world now see India as a developed and powerful country. Every country is interested in increasing business with India. But the problem is that there aren’t any clear and strict rules regarding the import of food items, protecting Indian interests. Incentive schemes to increase the production of vegetables and fruits are constantly announced, but there is no proper arrangement for their storage and sale. That›s why in this month the tomato which was being sold at Rs 50 per kg in ordinary shops of Delhi, was being bought at Ghazipur or Okhla mandi for Rs 2-4 per kg. Guess how much price the farmer would be getting in the village? Similar is the case with onions, potatoes, and other vegetables. When there is a black market of onions, there are announcements of importing onions from abroad, even from Pakistan. Then there are allegations of corruption in the same. Leaders of Congress, Akali Dal, BJP, and many other parties have been ministers of Food and Consumer Affairs or been in food processing ministries, but every time they only make big announcements of storage and plantation, and implementation has still been very slow.
On the other hand, the government agencies that check the quality of fruits and vegetables coming from different countries of the world including China in India›s markets have been ineffective and corrupt for years. Poisonous fruits and vegetables reach people›s homes due to lack of proper screening of containers arriving at ports or airports. Custom officials are not qualified experts. Officials of government institutes of food safety, which determine the quality of fruits, either just sit in Delhi or go on tours to various countries on the pretext of conferences. Yes, their travels must have stopped in the last two years due to the corona pandemic, but it will start soon. Apples, bananas, guavas, and many other fruits or vegetables brought from foreign countries are sold at expensive prices. Even proof of poisonous fruits was found two years ago by the Minister of Food and Consumer Affairs, Ram Vilas Paswan, from personal experience. Expensive imported apples bought from Delhi›s Khan Market turned out to be poisonous after cutting them. He himself complained to the concerned department. I don’t know how much action has been taken on it, but till now there is no control on imported fruits.
Insurance companies give the most problems and tension to the farmers. There is no doubt that there has been a steady increase in the Budget for giving loans to the farmers. Last year, where there was a provision of Rs 15 lakh crore of credit, i.e. loan, has now increased to Rs 16.5 lakh crore in this financial year 2021-22. Banks benefit when they give out loans, but the loan is ultimately paid by the farmer only. The crisis for farmers is related to the repayment of the loan and running the family even when the crop is bad. Because of heavy rains—with crops in floods, houses in a dilapidated condition, lakhs of people have to migrate out of the village. If the house is left, then in case of crop failure, they have to appeal to the insurance companies and the local administration. While planting the crop, the farmer pays the premium amount for insurance every year. But in case of crop failure, the insurance companies do not give the fixed sum insured directly.
First, the local officials take account of employee losses. If it seems fine, then they decide the sum insured after filling their pockets. Then the insurance companies fix the amount according to their rules and laws and in the same way, the compensation insurance amount is received after months through the local administration. The record of the previous years proves that under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, farmers have deposited around Rs 31,905 crore as premium to insurance companies in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Whereas the insurance companies have paid insurance claims of only Rs 21,937 crore due to crop failure. This means they have directly earned a profit of up to Rs 10,000 crore. Perhaps this is the reason that now some state governments are separating from insurance companies in the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. These states include Gujarat, Punjab, and West Bengal. Now, these state governments will have to pay adequate insurance compensation.
The government, private companies, and Parliament will have to find the right profitable avenues for the farmers, ignoring the politics of the farmers’ movement.
The author is Editorial Director of ITV Network (India News and Aaj Samaj Dainik)