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Would acronyms-laden growth model of Modi Government deliver magic during the forthcoming elections to certain state assemblies and the Lok Sabha?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to bank on new acronyms, renaming and repackaging of schemes. The other day he spun acronym ‘TOP’ at a BJP rally in Karnataka to woo distressed farmers. 
Mr Modi reportedly said: “If you go to any corner of India, you will find three vegetables — tomato, onion and potato. That is why I call it top priority — the T of tomato, the O of Onion and the P of potato — TOP priority. Keeping these farmers in my mind, we announced Operation Greens in the Budget. Like how Amul is a model in the milk sector for enhancing the income of dairy farmers, Operation Greens will assure incomes for tomato, onion, potato… and all vegetable farmers.”
Any student of agriculture would tell you that all policy and institutional elements of TOP and Operation Greens already exist. There is nothing new in them. 
On the contrary, Modi Government’s commitment to these elements has been either lacking or shrinking right from the very first year of its tenure. This is one of the main causes of worsening agrarian distress. 
‘TOP’ and ‘Operation Greens’ need to be studied with clinical precision to prove that the duo is nothing but yet another Jumla (empty promise). To put bluntly, duo is nothing but yet another attempt to fool the farmers. 
To arrive at the jumla conclusion, we have to start with promises made by BJP in its 2014 Lok Sabha Manifesto and how they have been acted upon so far. 
The Manifesto stated that BJP Government would set up a price stabilization fund (PSF) for essential farm commodities. It also promised to “take steps to enhance the profitability in agriculture, by ensuring a minimum of 50% profits over the cost of production, cheaper agriculture inputs and credit; introducing latest technologies for farming and high yielding seeds and linking MGNREGA to agriculture”.
PSF idea was taken from the working group on consumer affairs (WGCA), a panel of four chief ministers headed by Narendra Modi, when he served as Gujarat Chief Minister. It submitted its report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in March 2011. 
WGCA recommended: “a market price stabilisation fund should be established by central govt and financial institutions to support procurement/distribution of essential commodities in short supply or surplus production for protecting consumers and farmers respectively through government agencies/cooperatives”.
It is indeed sad that PSF recommendation made by Mr. Modi as CM has been implemented as a lame duck initiative. It has hardly benefited vegetable farmers
In his maiden budget speech presented on 10th July 2014, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stated: “Price volatility in the agriculture produce creates uncertainties and hardship for the farmers. To mitigate this I am providing a sum of Rs 500 crore for establishing a Price Stabilization Fund”. 
In December 2014, Finance Ministry disclosed that it proposes to create revolving corpus fund of Rs 500 core for providing working capital to States and to Central/State agencies for procurement and distribution of perishable agricultural and horticulture produce. The fund would be replenished with Rs 100 crore in 2015-16.
It was envisaged that PSF would initially cover only onions and potato. The Draft memorandum on PSF stated: “Horticultural commodities are not covered under the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism and therefore, the farmers, at times, do not even recover their cost of cultivation, being fully dependent upon the market for disposal of their produce. As a result, farmers suffer the most on account of steep fall in prices.”
After having said that, Modi Government actually spent Rs 50 crore on PSF in 2014-15. This is a fraction of the money it spluges every year on advertisements and events to improve its image.  
PSF was shifted from Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare (DAC&FW) to Department of Consumer Affairs (DOCA) with effect from 1st  April 2016. 
With this, Modi Government started operating PSF as a platform to protect consumers. PSF’s primary focus  at present is buffer stocking of pulses. Its second priority is onions procurement and storage. Import of pulses is also financed by PSF. Imports benefit consumers and hurt farmers
In 2015-16, Government incurred expenditure of Rs 660 crore on PSF. The expenditure shot up to Rs 6899.98 crore in 2016-17 due to pulses imports. The Government has chopped estimated alloction for PSF by 50% to Rs 1500 crore in 2018-19 from Rs 3500 crore in 2017-18.
As the Government has nothing to flaunt neither from the standpoint of consumers nor from the farmers, Modi Government has maintained stony silence on impact of PSF
When onion prices touch Rs 70 a kg in Delhi during November 2017, Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan listed vaious initiatives to improve supply and told reporters that controlling prices was not in the Government's hands. 
PSF helps the farmers to the extent the Government procures modest volume of pulses under Price Support Scheme (PSS) and onions under Market Intervention Scheme (MIS). Such procurement minimize distress sale of farm produce. 
PSS is undertaken mainly for purchase of pulses and oilseeds. These commodities figure in the list of 25 MSP-notified crops.  
PSS & MIS comes into play only after farmers protests over distress sale of crops make headlines/breaking news. 
Sale of crops below MSPs happens daily across the country. On 31st January, that is, a day before Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the Budget for 2018-19, markets across the country were awash with below MSP transactions. 
The report for such transactions for pulses done on 31st January runs into 65 pages of downloaded pdf document. The report for below MSP sales after the presentation of the budget can’t be generated at present from an official website
The website needs a revamp for timely monitoring and minimization of below MSP sales.  
Mr. Modi can, however, read daily stories of farmers distressed by crash in prices of tomato, certain coarse grains, pulses and certain spices.   
Purchases under PSS starts after the Centre approves an affected State’s request for procurement of a crop at MSP price. PSS is linked to the States accepting certain conditions such as waiving mandi fee and providing gunny bags. Procurement of a crop under PSS is capped at 25% of the production of concerned crop in a State.
PSS excludes paddy and wheat for which there is regular purchase by nominated central and state agencies. It also excludes sugarcane which is bought at fair and remunerative prices by mills. Simiarly, jute is excluded from PSS as it is purchased by mills. 
As for MIS, it is applicable to perishable commodities including TOP. It is operated irregularly at the request of State where prices of a commodity crash/when there is glut. The pre-requisite for scheme is that price of commodity must fall more than 10% or production should have risen more than 10% over the previous year. MIS is operated for one or two months during which maket prices normally stabilize.
The losses under MIS, if any, are shared equally by the Centre and States. There is a cap on quantity of commodity to be purchased under MIS.
Mr. Modi would be shocked to know that MIS was not at all implemented for tomato after he came to power! Even purchases of potato and onion under MIS in first four years of Modi Government are too modest to deserve elaboration. 
Modi Government spent princely sum of Rs 48.46 crore on MIS & PSS in 2014-15.  In incurred expenditure of  Rs 145.59 crore in 2016-17 and Rs 950 crore in 2017-18 on these two schemes. It has allocation Rs 200 crore in the budget for 2018-19. 
The allocations and expenditure on PSS & MIS are too small to make any dent on frequent crash in prices of TOP, forcing growers to either let crop rot in the fields or dump the harvested produce on roads or empty plots. 
Put simply, Modi Government has neither fine-tuned these two schemes nor expanded their scope to more crops nor ramped up the scale of their implementation. 
As for Operation Greens that provides for creation of logistics, marketing and storage infrastructure for TOP, agri marketing infrastructure funding schemes have been operated for years. The facilities especially cold storages created under the scheme are inadequate. 
As regards application of National Dairy Development Board's (NDDB’s) “operation flood” model of milk procurement and marketing to TOP, NDDB has successfully implemented it under the brand Safal
Launched by NDDB subsidiary, Mother Dairy Fruit & Vegetable Pvt Ltdin 1986, Safal is a chain of 400 outlets that retail vegetables and fruits in National Capital Region (NCR) and 23 in Bangalore. 
Similarly, Karnataka Government-controlled Horticultural Producers’ Co-operative Marketing and Processing Society Ltd.(HOPCOMS) operates 257 such retail outlets in Bangalore and Kolar. Apart from this, we have private malls that created their own supply chains for fresh vegetables and fruits.
In its maiden budget in 2014-15, Modi Government should have started funding Mother Dairy and HOPCOMS to help them expand their chains in a big way. They should have been given incentives to share their expertise with start-up Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) for setting up up farm-to-retail chains for marketing fresh farm produce & processed horticultural products. 
Such projects require thousands of crores of investment including cold storages and transport networks to minimize distress sale of TOPs & other pershiables. 
The Government belatedly issued guidelines for replicating Safal model to States in May 2017. The guidelines basically incorporate recommendations of an official Committee that  studied Safal, HOPCOMs & Cluster model for marketing of vegetables. 
So the budget announcement is old wine in new bottle with tag “Operation Greens” and measly Rs 500 crore allocation.
The core issue is how long Government would treat farmers as nursey students and fool them with acroynms. Does Mr. Modi not know that farmers themselves have nurseries? 
 
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 18th February 2018
 
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