FM's Press Conference - 3
May 15, 2020

Here is the THIRD instalment of the COVID measures aka Atma Nirbhar Bharat!

The Steps

  1. Amendments to Essential Commodities Act to exempt several items.
  2. Extension of “Operation Green” to more vegetables & fruits.
  3. Push for bee keeping
  4. Promotion of Herbal crops
  5. Animal Husbandry
  6. Health & Wellness products
  7. Fisheries
  8. Rs. 1 lakh crores Agri Fund for infrastructure

The Details

The Rs. 100,000 crore Agri Infra Fund will come into effect “immediately” and it will finance agri infra projects. The good news is it will also fund startups and Agricultural entrepreneurs! So it is not just government building infra which as we know takes forever and rarely gets done with competence.

We of course, await details on how this will be done and who will an entrepreneur actually go to to get the money and with what conditions. But if it leads to such investments in cold chains and other infra, it will be of huge benefit to farmers as well as consumers and of course, the overall economy. But the enabling legal infrastructure has to be there. If not there is likely to be no change in the ground. This is where the amendements to Essential Commodities Act comes in.

The rest of the announcements are for much smaller amounts and sound very similar to what we regularly hear for years in Budget speeches. So there is no point wasting time analysing them until we see some action in the ground. They don’t appear to be anything new. A good example is the “Food Micro Enterprises” scheme. While it sure sounds good, it remains to be seen how exactly something new is going to be done that has not been done so far.

Essential Commodities Law changes

The biggest item, of course, is the Amendment of the Essential Commodities Act. This move, according to some observers, undercuts or bypasses the reluctance of states to implement APMC reforms, despite a model Central law in place. Few states have belatedly accepted it and many have not. Official reasons that the present arrangement “protects farmers” is being bandied about. But there is considerable scepticism on that and the real reason is presumed to be the politically connected middlemen who fear loss of control and revenue. It can only stretch the credulity of even complete idiots that present system has enriched farmers and is actually protects them!.

So by amending a Central law, it is believed the farmers are given a free hand to sell their produce across the country. This hopefully creates a constituency for reforms among them. And the corrupt netas and leftist charlatans that try to sabotage this have to go against the farmers obvious benefit to push their case.

The problem with reforms in India has been this - beyond a small crowd of largely urban, wealthy educated elite, there is hardly any support. It is easy to work up any constituency - workers, farmers, students, women you name it, against reforms. The nations’ DNA has been etched with socialist dogma and firm belief that reform will make them worse off. The corrupt babus, netas, and of course, lalas have worked together to ensure the system enriches them but not others and yet can summon the victims to the streets protesting any reform! A classic example is labour reform.

Hopefully, these steps will not just bring reforms, but create the right conditions for more reforms to be pursued. Nothing succeeds like success. Today no one will support having just one or two companies making cars. We need our farmers, workers to similarly go out on streets and DEMAND reforms. Unfortunately making this happen has been Modi Governments biggest failure till date, despite Parliamentary majorities, impeccable image of integrity and considerable political capital as well as charisma. All of which earlier regimes lacked.

May be PM Modi never really believed in the reforms. May be he didn’t want to win the battle & lose the war. May be he was scared by opposition attacks. Whatever be the reason, a key “lakshman rekha” has been crossed.

Let us watch this space!

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