Happy Makar Sankranti. Or is it?

As we celebrate the harvest festival, we can’t forget that our farmers lose Rs 63,000 crore every year for not being able to sell their produce

By Joyjeet Das
Published: Monday 14 January 2019

As days start getting longer in the northern hemisphere, a vast stretch of the subcontinent marks Makar Sankranti—when the sun transits into Makara or Capricorn and starts its northwards journey. From the southernmost tip of peninsular India to the foot of the Himalayas, from Assam in the east to Gujarat in the west, farmers across states celebrate Lohri, Pongal, Maghi Bihu or Posh Parbon to celebrate the harvest season.

This year too the sweets would surely be made, the kites would surely fly. Festivities apart, is it also not time to take stock? Farmers in India today are a harassed lot. After years of taking their own lives, their backs to the proverbial wall, they have been increasingly brought their protesting slogans to the biggest cities of the fastest-growing democracy.

What does harvest mean to them anymore? Nothing very happy, going by the way farmers across the country are reacting:

In Punjab, potato farmers are staying away from cold storages, which are full of unsold stocks from the previous year.

Harvest in Maharashtra’s sugar heartland has come to a halt over protests regarding unsatisfactory payments by sugar mills. For those in western Uttar Pradesh, this should kick in a sense of déjà vu—farmers have huge arrears to recover from sugar mills there.

In Maharashtra itself, last month, quintals of onions were dumped, so was milk earlier in Rajasthan.

If you were a farmer today in India what motivation would you have, considering almost three quarters of the rice produced is not procured by any government agency like Food Corporation of India? So much for a minimum support price.

Even if you wouldn’t sit waiting for the government to take on your produce, what would your option be? The National Commission on Farmers said a regulated market should be available to farmers within 5 kilometres. That’s still a long distance away and the same is true for Gramin (village-level) Haats. There are big gaps in the APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) mechanism too.

A year ago, we wrote: "Farmers across the country sold their bumper harvests at 30-50 per cent less than the MSP for all their produces during 2015-17." Going by the way things are, this year may turn out to be equally bad.

Seems the more the State wants us to believe that things are changing—farmers’ incomes are rising—the more they remain the same. So, as we celebrate the harvest festival, we can’t forget that our farmers lose Rs 63,000 crore every year for not being able to sell their produce.

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