The budget speech of the Finance Minister on 1st February was, as always, an exercise in disinformation. This stems from the very nature of a State and government committed to fulfil capitalist greed while pretending to be concerned about fulfilling people’s needs.
It has become a general practice to highlight some figures in the Finance Minister’s speech so as to create a false impression that this or that burning problem agitating the people is being addressed. It serves to hide the reality that the budget is actually a tool of the ruling capitalist class, headed by the monopoly houses, to address their narrow interests.
The budget for 2021-22 was delivered at a time when a disinformation campaign had been unleashed to malign the kisan andolan. State terror was being unleashed against those protesting at Delhi’s borders. The political situation was such that the budget speech had to say something about the problems of agriculture, and about public procurement in particular.
The Finance Minister stated that expenditure on wheat procurement by government agencies had almost doubled, from Rs. 33,870 crore in 2013-14 to Rs. 62,800 crore in 2019-20. She claimed that 35,57,000 kisans had benefited from this operation in 2019-20. She cited figures on rice procurement to show that the amount spent had more than doubled since the BJP took charge in 2014, and that 1,24,000 kisans had benefited in 2019-20.
An important fact that has been highlighted by the kisan unions is that a significant share of wheat and paddy being procured by government agencies at APMC mandis is not being bought from kisans. They are being bought from private traders, who have bought them from kisans at a price much lower than MSP. Hence the claim that all the money paid by government agencies are benefiting the kisans is not true.
Procurement by government agencies takes place only in a few states. The bulk of public procurement is in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. There are reasonably well functioning APMC mandis in these regions. However, there are many regions of the country where there is very little or no public procurement. In Bihar there are no APMC mandis at all. In such places, private traders purchase from kisans at prices that are much less than the MSP. Many traders buy in such regions and sell the same at MSP in Punjab or Haryana.
The source is not known for the number of farmers who the Finance Minister claims have benefited from public procurement of wheat and paddy. Even according to these figures, however reliable or unreliable they may be, less than 15% of the 10 crore cultivators in our country are benefiting from the present public procurement system.
Government spokesmen keep repeating that their intention is not to destroy or disturb the existing system of public procurement at MSP. This itself is a form of disinformation, as it creates the impression that the kisan andolan is demanding continuation of the status quo and opposing any kind of change.
What kisans are demanding is not the continuation of status quo. They are demanding major strengthening and expansion of public procurement and public distribution, to cover all regions of the country. They want guaranteed procurement at MSP not just for wheat and rice but for dal, oilseeds and all other agricultural produce.
Kisan unions have contested the claim made in the budget speech that MSP has been at least 1.5 times the cost of production in recent years. They have pointed out that the Government is not calculating the cost of production as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission. They have reiterated that announcing MSP does not benefit kisans unless their crops are actually procured at that price. This is happening only in the case of wheat and paddy growers, and that too only in some parts of the country.
Extending public procurement at state guaranteed remunerative prices to all crops and all regions is in fact the real solution to the problems created by the present system. It is the best way to solve the problem of over-emphasis on rice and wheat, the lack of diversification and its negative impact on soil fertility, depletion of the ground water table and lack of adequate availability and affordability of dal and other essential nutrients to poor working people.
Several unions in Punjab and Haryana have pointed out that kisans will be very willing to diversify into other crops, provided they are assured of public procurement at MSP.
Strengthening and expanding public procurement is not in the interests of the Indian and global monopoly capitalist corporations which are eager to penetrate and dominate agricultural markets. That is why successive governments in New Delhi have refused to accept the demands of the kisans. No matter whether it is Congress Party or BJP in charge, the Central Government remains committed to the program of liberalisation and privatisation. It is committed to promote the expansion of private procurement of agricultural products by monopoly capitalist corporations, Indian and foreign.