THE HINDU EDITORIAL : MARCH 22, 2018
THE HINDU EDITORIAL : MARCH 22, 2018
a) Read the distress signals
The week-long farmers’ march which reached Mumbai earlier this month, on the anniversary of Gandhi’s Dandi March of 1930, was unprecedented in many ways. It was mostly silent and disciplined, mostly leaderless, non-disruptive and non-violent, and well organised. It received the sympathy of middle class city dwellers, food and water from bystanders, free medical services from volunteer doctors, and also bandwagon support of all political parties from the left to the right.
Beyond lip service
Indeed, even the Chief Minister of Maharashtra said he supported the cause (not the march), but as head of government his job was to address their issues, not to agitate. The most remarkable thing about the march was that it was successful. The State government agreed to all the demands, including pending transfer of forest land to Adivasis, expanding the scope of the loan waiver and ensuring higher prices for farm produce. There was ceremonial signing of acceptance of the demands, although the Chief Minister said that he had tried to dissuade the farmers from undertaking the gruelling 200 km march itself.
The farmers, however, were determined to march to make a point, and to ensure that they received firm (signed) and publicly visible commitment, rather than assurances and lip service.
Recurrent farmers’ agitations in the last few years across the nation lead us to ask: why have we come to this pass, that only extreme distress and street protests alert us to the deep and chronic problems of agriculture? Not all agitations have been peaceful or successful. Last year, in Haryana and Rajasthan they tried to block highways which led to traffic chaos. In Madhya Pradesh, in Mandsaur district, the protest turned violent, led to police firing and deaths of farmers. The electoral outcome in Gujarat too was a wake-up call (if any was needed) to the ruling party to pay attention to rural and agrarian distress.
It is not as if governments of the day have not paid attention. Over the years and decades, there have been numerous committees, reports and commissions with extensively researched policy recommendations. Yet farming is a story of recurring distress. This implies that the recommendations are not working and need a paradigm change, or there is a huge gap in their implementation — or a bit of both. The most comprehensive recent blueprint for reforms and rehabilitation of the farm sector is the report of the National Commission on Farmers, chaired by M.S. Swaminathan. That report is already over 10 years old. Several of its ideas are yet to be implemented. For instance, decentralising public procurement of food grain to the lowest level possible, and setting up of grain banks at the district level.
What is the priority?
The “farm problem” of India is a huge mountain, but it is surmountable. The biggest priority is to reduce the workforce which depends on agriculture for its livelihood. There is considerable underemployment and low productivity but farmers are unable to exit to other livelihood options. This points to the obvious conclusion, that the solution to the farm crisis lies largely outside the farm sector. If job opportunities abound elsewhere, then we should see an exodus out of farming. That points to the urgency of accelerating industrial growth and improving the ease of doing business.
But we also need to acknowledge that the farm sector has been shackled for far too long. Farming is to be treated as a business and has to be viable on its own terms. Historically, farm prices were kept suppressed to keep industrial wages low. This meant monopoly procurement laws and the intermediation through the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC). But that was compensated by providing the farmer with highly subsidised inputs — water, electricity, fertilizer, credit and seeds. But this did not benefit the really needy, subsistence farmers. Nor did it alter the terms of trade which to this day remain tilted against agriculture. Over the years the policy framework is increasingly complex and a patchwork quilt of mutually compensating measures. Thus, we have ended up with all the shackles which remain intact. The APMC is not discontinued. Monopoly procurement continues. There is little progress in direct link between farmer and buyer. Foreign direct investment in farm to fork chain is very restricted. Half the farmers don’t have access to formal credit, since most of them don’t own the land that they till. Contract farming remains virtually banned. Land leasing is not possible (but done informally). Moneylenders are taboo, even though they might be in the best position to address credit needs, albeit with proper regulation.
Thus the farmer’s plight is full of woe, exposed to risks from prices, demand, weather, pests and whims of policy and regulation. It’s no surprise that crisis is chronic, and loan waivers become imperative, more for moral and ethical reasons, than economic. Loan waivers punish those who worked hard and repaid, and the cash anyway goes to banks, not to farmers. Banks don’t issue fresh loans out of their own risk aversion. Hence, loan waivers are a bad economic idea but often a political compulsion. The same is true of rewarding farmers with 50% more minimum support price (MSP), no matter what the cost. This paradigm of cost plus pricing is bad economics. Sugarcane grows cheaper in Uttar Pradesh in the Gangetic plains than in drought-prone Maharashtra. But with an assured cost plus MSP, there is little incentive to diversify crops to suit weather and cost conditions.
Some positive steps
To its credit some recent initiatives of the government are laudable. Neem-coated fertilizer has reduced leakage, and direct benefit transfer to the farmer-buyer will reduce subsidy further. Soil cards ensure appropriate matching of inputs to soil conditions. Giving tax holiday to the farmer producer companies is also the right fiscal incentive. The government’s aim to double farm income in the next four years is a near impossible feat, but signals the right intention. The big agenda is to unshackle agriculture to make it a truly commercial market-based enterprise; to create opportunities outside farming for large scale exit of the workforce; to connect farmers to the value chain of farm to fork, including agribusiness; to remove restrictions on movement and exports of farm produce and let them tap into international market, to also allow easier land transfers including leasing; to encourage crop diversification and land consolidation that reverses fragmentation. As said earlier, the farm problem is a huge mountain, but surmountable.
b) Xi rules — on Chinese President’s concentration of power
China is no stranger to reform. Over the past three decades the structure of the government has changed at least half a dozen times. But the scale of reform pushed through this month is comparable to that of 1998 when Zhu Rongji as Premier shut or merged 15 ministries as part of a major liberalisation drive. This time, Prime Minister Li Keqiang has closed six ministries, two ministry-level agencies and seven vice ministry-level departments. Beijing has also created a powerful anti-corruption agency, while the Vice President, till now holding a ceremonial post, is expected to play an active role in policymaking. The stamp of Xi Jinping, re-elected President for five more years with no term limit, is visible in these reforms. A big decision is the empowerment of the Environment Ministry, which will fight air, water and soil pollution, a top priority for Mr. Xi. Two of his close aides have been appointed to key posts — Wang Qishan, an anti-corruption crusader, is now the Vice President, and Liu He, the President’s top fiscal adviser, is a Vice Premier. Mr. Wang is expected to play a leading role in China’s engagement with the U.S. at a time when fears of a trade war loom. Mr. Liu is to head the recently created Financial Stability and Development Commission, which will coordinate between the banking and securities regulators and work towards trimming China’s debt burden. This takes away some of the powers of the Prime Minister, who has traditionally been China’s top economic official. The National Supervision Commission, which is ranked above the judiciary, will have sweeping powers to fight corruption, including the power to detain suspects for up to six months without access to lawyers.
The common thread in these changes is the strengthening of Mr. Xi’s full-blown control over party and government. Earlier this month, by amending the Constitution to remove the two-term limit on the Presidency that was introduced during Deng Xiaoping’s time, the Chinese Communist Party signalled that it was moving away from the “collective leadership” motto to a new era under Mr. Xi. With the latest measures, he is consolidating his hold. The political stability that China has enjoyed over the last two and a half decades was a result of high and sustained economic growth coupled with reform. By concentrating so much power in his hands, Mr. Xi has risked reversing the changes that have become institutionalised over the last three decades. He may enjoy a measure of popularity and have the support of the party for now, but such concentration of power is bound to engender opposition and criticism. His decision to lift presidential term limits has already triggered an uproar on China’s social media networks, prompting the authorities to censor a host of words and phrases, including Animal Farm, the title of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. Mr. Xi will ignore these intimations of discontent only at his own risk.
Meaning: A person or animal that lives in or at a specified place.
Example: “City dwellers”
Meaning: A person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part.
Example: “Water cannons were turned on marchers and innocent bystanders alike”
Synonyms: Onlooker, Passer-by
Meaning: An activity or cause that has suddenly become fashionable or popular.
Example: “Companies sought to strengthen their share prices by jumping on the dot-com bandwagon”
Meaning: Make (someone) troubled or nervous.
Example: “The thought of questioning Toby agitated him extremely”
Synonyms: Upset, Perturb
Meaning: Relating to or used for formal religious or public events.
Example: “A ceremonial occasion”
Synonyms: Formal, Official
Antonyms: Informal, Unofficial
Meaning: Persuade (someone) not to take a particular course of action.
Example: “His friends tried to dissuade him from flying”
Synonyms: Discourage, Deter
Antonyms: Persuade, Encourage
Meaning: Extremely tiring and demanding.
Example: “A gruelling schedule”
Synonyms: Exhausting, Tiring
8) Lip service
Meaning: To say that you agree with something but do nothing to support it.
Example: “She claims to be in favour of training, but so far she’s only paid lip service to the idea”
Meaning: (Of a problem) long-lasting.
Example: “The school suffers from chronic overcrowding”
Synonyms: Constant, Continuing
Antonyms: Temporary, Mild
Meaning: Complete disorder and confusion.
Example: “Snow caused chaos in the region”
Synonyms: Disorder, Disarray
Antonyms: Order, Orderliness
Meaning: Relating to cultivated land or the cultivation of land.
Example: “Brazil is rapidly diversifying its agrarian economy”
Meaning: Indicate the truth or existence of (something) by suggestion rather than explicit reference.
Example: “Salesmen who use jargon to imply superior knowledge”
Synonyms: Implicit, Indirect
Antonyms: Explicit, Direct
Meaning: A model of something, or a very clear and typical example of something.
Example: “Some of these educators are hoping to produce a change in the current cultural paradigm”
Meaning: The action or process of reforming an institution or practice.
Example: “The reform of the divorce laws”
Synonyms: Improvement, Betterment
Meaning: To deal successfully with a difficulty or problem.
Example: “They managed to surmount all opposition/objections to their plans”
Meaning: The fact of not having enough work to do, only working part time, or of having a job that does not use all your skills.
Example: “Unemployment and underemployment are close to 50% in Nicaragua”
Meaning: Exist in large numbers or amounts.
Example: “Rumours of a further scandal abound”
Synonyms: Be plentiful, Be abundant
Antonyms: Be scarce, Meagre, scanty
Meaning: A mass departure of people.
Example: “The annual exodus of sun-seeking Canadians to Florida”
Synonyms: Mass departure, Withdrawal
Meaning: Restrain; Limit.
Example: “They seek to shackle the oil and gas companies by imposing new controls”
Synonyms: Restrain, Restrict
Antonyms: Give someone free rein
Meaning: The exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service.
Example: “The state’s monopoly of radio and television broadcasting”
Meaning: The action of obtaining or procuring something.
Example: “Financial assistance for the procurement of legal advice”
Meaning: A thing composed of many different elements so as to appear variegated.
Example: “A patchwork of stone walls and green fields”
Synonyms: Assortment, Miscellany
Meaning: Not damaged or impaired in any way; complete.
Example: “The church was almost in ruins but its tower remained intact”
Synonyms: Whole, Entire
Antonyms: Broken, Damaged
Meaning: A person whose business is lending money to others who pay interest.
Meaning: A social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.
Example: “Many taboos have developed around physical exposure”
Synonyms: Prohibition, Proscription
Antonyms: Acceptance, Encouragement
Example: “He was making progress, albeit rather slowly”
Meaning: A sudden desire or change of mind, especially one that is unusual or unexplained.
Example: “She bought it on a whim”
Synonyms: Impulse, Urge
Meaning: An act or instance of waiving a right or claim.
Example: “Their acquiescence could amount to a waiver”
Synonyms: Renunciation, Surrender
Meaning: A strong dislike or disinclination.
Example: “They made plain their aversion to the use of force”
Synonyms: Dislike of, Distaste for
Antonyms: Liking, Inclination, Desire
Meaning: (Of a company) enlarge or vary its range of products or field of operation.
Example: “The company expanded rapidly and diversified into computers”
Synonyms: Branch out, Vary output, Expand
Meaning: (Of an action, idea, or aim) deserving praise and commendation.
Example: “Laudable though the aim might be, the results have been criticized”
Synonyms: Praiseworthy, Commendable
Antonyms: Blameworthy, Shameful
Meaning: Grant (property) on lease; let.
Example: “She leased the site to a local company”
Synonyms: Rent out, Rent
Meaning: An assistant to an important person, especially a political leader.
Example: “A presidential aide”
Synonyms: Assistant, Helper
Meaning: A person who campaigns vigorously for political, social, or religious change; a campaigner.
Example: “Crusaders for early detection and treatment of mental illnesses”
Meaning: Reduce the size, amount, number, or cost of.
Example: “Congress had to decide which current defence programmes should be trimmed”
Synonyms: Reduce, Decrease
Meaning: Keep (someone) from proceeding by holding them back or making claims on their attention.
Example: “She made to open the door, but he detained her”
Synonyms: Delay, Hold up
Meaning: Make minor changes to (a text, piece of legislation, etc.) in order to make it fairer or more accurate, or to reflect changing circumstances.
Example: “The rule was amended to apply only to non-members”
Synonyms: Revise, Alter
Meaning: A public expression of protest or outrage.
Example: “It caused an uproar in the press”
Synonyms: Outcry, Furore
Meaning: The action of saying something to persuade, encourage, or remind someone to do or say something.
Example: “After some prompting, the defendant gave the police his name”
Synonyms: Encouragement, Reminder(s)
Meaning: Relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.
Example: “The dystopian future of a society bereft of reason”
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