Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated his support for minimum support prices and government procurement of crops, at a time when farmers are protesting against agricultural reforms that they say endangers this existing system.
Speaking at a virtual event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Mr. Modi also said the government would soon take a decision on the revising the minimum age of marriage for women.
“MSP and government procurement are an important part of the country’s food security. Therefore, it is important that it should continue to function with better facilities and scientific management. We are committed to this,” said the Prime Minister.
With regard to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, he said that system has its own identity and strength.
“In the last six years, more than ₹2,500 crore has been invested to build better infrastructure in these APMC mandis. Hundreds of crores have also been spent to prepare IT infrastructure in these mandis,” Mr. Modi said, adding that the recent reforms aim to make the APMC mandis more competitive.
Earlier this week, Punjab farmer unions walked out of talks with the Agriculture Ministry, vowing to continue their protests and rail blockade against the reforms. They say the recent three laws passed by Parliament last month will weaken the APMC system, and ultimately lead to the phasing out of government procurement at MSP rates while encouraging corporate buyers who will purchase produce at lower rates.
In his speech, the Prime Minister emphasised the government’s view that the reforms would increase farmers’ income. “Small farmers used to sell their produce to middlemen earlier due to lack of access to the mandis. Now, the market itself will reach their doorsteps,” he said. “Every type of protection to the farmer has been ensured through these reforms. When the Indian farmer is empowered, his income will increase, and the campaign against malnutrition will also gain equal strength.”
The Prime Minister also listed lack of education and early pregnancy of girls among the hurdles in the fight against malnutrition. He noted that the gross enrolment ratio of girls has become higher than boys for the first time. Child marriage is among the reasons that girls drop out of school in higher classes, he said.
“Necessary discussion is also going on to decide the right age of marriage of daughters,” said Mr. Modi. A committee of Ministers has been set up to discuss the revision of the minimum age of marriage for women, which is currently at 18 years, while the minimum age for men is 21 years.
Noting that he gets letters from young women across the country asking why the committee's report has not come yet, the PM said, “I assure all those daughters that the government will take action on the report very soon.”