Editorial: Creating a market for products
Rythu Bandhu, the investment support program launched by the TRS government in May 2018, is by far the administration’s most innovative and landmark initiative that has had a profound impact on the agricultural sector, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The program not only lifted farmers out of the debt trap they found themselves in before 2014, but has also resulted in a significant change in their daily lives since the ghost of debt was banished. The state government supplemented Rythu Bandhu with another equally innovative program – Rythu Bima – which guarantees prompt payment of Rs 5 lakh to the family of a deceased farmer. Rythu Bandhu received praise from many sides, both domestic and international, with the RBI pointing out that Telangana was the first to introduce such a program which was quickly picked up by several states, and how important it was to a much more effective tool compared to a loan waiver that was under increasing scrutiny, as it is seen more as a temporary bailout with dangerous implications for credit culture. In fact, P Chengal Reddy, the agricultural rights activist, described Rythu Bandhu as one of the best agricultural sector reforms in post-independence India. Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, of whom the Rythu Bandhu is an idea, when the project was launched, said: “We have water, electricity and investments. Now we will fight with the central government to obtain a minimum support price for the crops. Looking back, Rao’s sighting seems to sound eerie. This is exactly what the BJP-led Center forced Telangana to do – to go down the warpath with the Union government over the rice supply.
We are not an authoritarian state where the government can impose restrictions or regulate the modes of cultivation. Yes, agricultural production should be demand driven and ideally meet market needs. It seems logical at the level of argument, but farmers at the individual level enjoy the right to cultivate the crop of their choice. Telangana has put a lot of effort into educating farmers on the need to opt for alternative crops to traditional paddy. But, the Center should realize that it is not an easy task to change the mindset of the farming community overnight. As Chengal Reddy has rightly said, the TRS government has done a great job in propelling the agricultural sector onto a path of massive growth since agriculture is a matter of state. It is now up to the Center to complement the efforts of the State by ensuring a market for agricultural products since it is an area which is under its control. He cannot just wash his hands of the purchasing issue and leave the blame on the doorstep of state government.
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