Kharif sowing on, but no word on MSPs

Widespread expectations:Farmers are waiting for the announcement of the MSP for major crops.  

The monsoon has arrived in northern India and is expected to cover the whole country in the next few days, but farmers are still waiting for the announcement of the minimum support prices (MSP) for major crops.

The Modi government had promised that this year the MSPs would be set at least 50% higher than production costs, but without a clear announcement on actual prices ahead of the monsoon, agrarian experts say farmers have been left in the lurch. As of June 22,115.9 lakh hectares had already been sown.

Onus on States

The government is also considering three NITI Aayog proposals which could shift some of the burden of enforcing MSPs to the States and even private agencies. A Group of Ministers constituted under Home Minister Rajnath Singh in April, has been considering the proposals, and is likely to make an announcement the next few days, according to a senior government official. Several government officials told The Hindu this was one of the main reasons for the delay in announcing MSPs.

Despite widespread expectations within and outside the government, MSPs were not on the agenda of the Union Cabinet, meeting on Wednesday.

Several States have expressed reservations about the viability of the proposals, government officials said. As late as Thursday afternoon, the NITI Aayog was still holding consultations with a group of farmers on the possibility of procurement by traders, said sources aware of the meeting.

MSPs for 23 major crops are announced at the beginning of sowing season, which for the kharif (summer) season is signalled by the onset of the monsoon. Accordingly, the announcement is usually made in the first two weeks of June.

Farmers disadvantaged

Political parties and agricultural experts say the delay could prove costly for farmers.

“As the sowing is under way, the farmers should have been made aware of the MSPs to avoid unviable crop choices,” said K.C. Tyagi, Secretary-General, Janata Dal (U) in a statement on Thursday.

“Farmers tend to shift to crops that come with higher MSPs to ensure their sustenance.”

Noting that while farmers have been producing bumper crops, they have been unable to get MSP rates, Mr. Tyagi urged the Prime Minister to call a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) to address the issue without delay.

“The government is facing political difficulties as it has promised an MSP hike without any substantial increase in budgeted outflow,” said Yogendra Yadav, president of the Swaraj Abhiyan, adding that crops like cotton and ragi were likely to see a major hike in MSP, while even a modest increase in paddy MSP could result in large outflows. “This is an election year, so the government will want to present a meagre concession as a big bonanza...This delay is about political packaging and financial jugglery.”