Punjab’s farmers are at Delhi’s doors demanding a rollback of the farm reform laws—reforms meant to help poorer states that today produce much more than Punjab under more difficult economic conditions. Isn’t it coercion by a pampered lot?
PR Ramesh and Siddharth Singh | 04 Dec, 2020
Protesting farmers at Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border, December 1 (Photo: Getty Images)
WHEN Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar emerged from a meeting with farmers’ representatives furious with the Modi Government—on December 1st , at the borders of a national capital besieged for the sixth successive day over farm reforms—he declared: “The meeting was fruitful.” Irony laced his words to describe a meeting the Government had been coerced into. Something was rotten about the farm protests and it wasn’t fruit.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, several of them well-heeled and crammed into SUVs—with dozens of tractors thrown in for symbolism—had descended on Delhi to showcase a self-indulgence in the politics of grievance. They were holding the capital to ransom, demanding a rollback of reformist legislation in a critically ailing primary sector needing urgent modernisation of pricing and marketing practices, technologies and an expansion of base. Rejecting the Government’s request that they move to the designated grounds at Burari to stage their protests, many had uprooted road dividers, converted them into makeshift ovens to roast rotis and transformed their trucks into cosy little bedrooms in which to tuck in for the cold nights. The bigger vehicles carried tonnes of fruits and vegetables, atta, cooking oil and other essential food supplies to help them dig in for what was clearly a well-planned long haul to mount pressure on the Government. So well-armed were they in terms of supplies and in the combat tactics of ‘peaceful protest’ that neither water cannons nor teargas would deter them. The emerging poster boys of the agitation were modern-day youngsters, with expensive smartphones, some of them spouting fluent English and communicating on issues with a practised ease. Yet, it was a desperately needed modernisation and market-driven price discovery for the less well-heeled that the protestors seemed set against.
They were a motley crew, several among them unable to distinguish a plough from a spade or a shovel. One spokesman for the group was an actor from Punjab seemingly inclined towards Khalistani separatist rhetoric. He wasn’t the only incongruity in what was apparently a throng of hardworking farmers fighting for their survival and livelihood. Shaheen Bagh’s ‘Dadi’, Bilkis Bano, was returned from near the venue by the police as she sought to join the agitators. Intellectuals and politicians caught in an adverse ideological drift, professional protestors habitually opposed to the establishment, Modi baiters, sundry political workers getting desperately photographed while distributing food to the agitators. Then there were Swaraj Abhiyan’s Yogendra Yadav—the farmers demanded he should not be involved in their talks with the Government—and Congress and Aam Aadmi Party leaders trying to insert themselves into the narrative while seeking to purge themselves of the liberalisation of the past in the farm sector. Finally, institutionalised dissenters were another set in this mass of ‘farmer dissent’ clogging approach roads to Delhi.
This rather large group demanded an inalienable right for farmers to sow what they chose and an immutable right to guaranteed government pricing for their crop, insulating it from the vagaries of the market and even a law that would penalise the private sector for not paying above a legalised floor price set by the Government.
Modi has sought to impress on all farmers that the mandi system will continue. But he is firm that the reforms will be implemented. He has spoken about the need to expand opportunities for farmers to complement their labour and efforts
Chengal Reddy of the Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations (CIFA)—a vocal advocate for opening up the farm sector for years who has been intervening among farmers of the south, pushing modern practices and government policies—finds this position on preventing the market from determining farm produce prices and opposition to the entry of the private sector incomprehensible. He pointed to how Coca Cola completely transformed the till-then nondescript town of Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh into a key source for mangoes and mango pulp for the popular Maaza mango drink. In 2016, celebrating 40 years of Maaza, Coca Cola announced plans to make it a $1 billion brand by 2023. That meant jacking up the 1 lakh metric tonnes of pulp worth Rs 650 crore from more than 1,000 farmers to 2 lakh metric tonnes, worth Rs 1,100 crore, by enrolling around one lakh farmers into its supply chain. Apart from Chittoor, it sources pulp from other towns in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, besides exploring new areas and mango varieties.
Reddy argued, “Why are they against reforms? Every other sector that opened up in the 1990s has benefitted significantly. Farmers in most other states have been overcoming adversities on their own with grit and without being change-averse. MSP (Minimum Support Price) regime is mostly for rice and wheat that the Centre procures from Punjab and Haryana for the PDS (Public Distribution System). They are most affected and they should address it at the state level.”
Dominated by producers from Punjab, the protests erupted after the Centre passed laws that do not, in any way, demolish the existing MSP regime or promote dismantling of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) where produce is bought at the government-announced floor price. The law, in fact, gives the farmer an option to either sell at APMCs or wherever (outside an APMC) he finds a remunerative price for his produce. The MSP has never been written into any law till date and remains an administrative decision.
The MSP has remained the price at which the government procures a select and whittled down batch of 22 crops for the PDS and emergency stocks. It has little bearing on private-sector prices for farm produce in large parts of the country, which have been either above or below this, based on the demand-supply rules that govern the open market. As it happens, less than a third of the total produce of MSP-governed crops is procured by the government. The rest has always depended on the open market for price discovery.
The agitating crowd, though, is bent on getting a rollback of the farm laws, displaying a herd mentality as opposed to reason. A line that the protestors have been aggressively pushing is: “The farmer is hard hit both when there is a bumper harvest and when there is a drought.” That’s a narrative that throws up harrowing images from Mother India in which an impoverished Radha (Nargis), caught in a vicious cycle of debt and distress, takes the place of bullocks that she is too poor to own and tills the land herself. The poster depicting her carrying the heavy plough, sweat streaming down her face, is iconic and has captured the image of the Indian farmer for millions over generations. That is so, despite innumerable individual and community examples from the recent past and the present—of easier loans, state-of-the-art technology, market demand-tailored cropping patterns, modernisation and innovation, and an open, expanded market for farm produce—that show how the lives of many have been transformed for the better in the sector. A few decades ago, it was impossible to imagine the Indian farmer participating in the global flower trade, wine and cheese markets or even growing shiitake mushrooms for fine dining eateries. As far back as 2014, states like Himachal Pradesh and other parts of northern India took up the cultivation of this mushroom and earned Rs 200 per kg by growing them on willow sawdust. Just a few years down the line, the price of a single kilogramme of the crop was about Rs 1,600, and imports from Thailand and South Korea went up on higher demand. Emu (large poultry of a high economic value) farming, now very popular in Andhra, Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, is yet another example of out-of-the-box thinking in the sector that has been successful in India on the back of much easier terms of farming compared to the past. More recently, it is hing cultivation—most of it imported till now by giants like Laljee Godhoo from Iran and Afghanistan, despite its huge demand in India—that has caught the imagination of younger farmers.
The political class has, by and large, been very mindful of farmers’ concerns and has ensured an enabling environment, sometimes to the point of actively encouraging wasteful freebies for fear of repercussions at the hustings.
NK Singh, chairman of the Finance Commission, narrates a story of a recent visit to Chandigarh to illustrate how much the Government has subsidised the primary sector to insulate it from price volatility over the years. Singh stopped his car at a farm where he saw water gushing out of a pipe. After a while, he asked a little girl about the wasteful flow of water and if the pump was ever turned off. “It stops automatically when the power is cut off,” she replied with a child’s candour. But her story points to subsidised electricity and abundant water supply that the farm sector has enjoyed for decades under political patronage.
Punjab’s farmers and government consider continuous purchases as entitlements and not transactions. The moment any mention is made of changing the system, protests break out and some people begin raising the ‘issue’ of ‘Khalistan’
In the 2019 Budget, the Government extended widened security cover under the PM-KISAN scheme to 14.5 crore farmers, irrespective of the size of their land holdings. It was also a Budget that announced an increase in procurement price for all 22 crops under the MSP regime by 1.5 per cent. Then, there is the giant pumpkin in the room that has never been touched by anyone: the agricultural income of big farmers that has remained tax-exempt thanks to vote-bank politics and the risk-averse attitude of the political class. It is this big benefit culture of freebies that rich farmers are keen on preserving. In preserving their interests, they always fire from the shoulders of small and marginal farmers and landless tillers.
BACK IN 2012, the chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ashok Gulati, had suggested to a young reporter that he travel to Qadian Wali in Jalandhar, Punjab, and meet a farmer there to fully understand the problems facing potato growers at the time. It was a season that saw a terrible glut in the output and supply of potatoes and farmers across the country were dumping produce in the open after a 23 per cent plunge in prices compared to the previous year. The price of onions had dipped even further, about 80 per cent lower than the previous year. In Lasalgaon, Maharashtra, the biggest market for onions in India, the crop was selling at a rock-bottom rate of Rs 3 per kg compared to Rs 80 per kg the previous year. But was the problem over potatoes real or cooked up and unfairly garnished, as the Government seemed to suggest?
The meeting with the potato farmer of Jalandhar, who was the ‘distressed’ voice of his class throughout the country, proved to be a shocking eye-opener. The host dispatched a swanky SUV to the railway station to fetch the scribe to a palatial bungalow on the outskirts of Jalandhar. India’s ‘potato king’ Jang Bahadur Sangha had reportedly dumped some 90,000 sacks of potatoes and planned to dump more of the nearly 50,000 tonnes of annual crop harvested from 5,000 acres of leased land. The ‘distressed’ farmer ran an organic farm on his property; 175 tractors tilled his land, all John Deere, with a dedicated workshop for them on his farm where he also ran 11 cold storage units. The youngest Sangha was Cornell-educated, developed seeds and was into tissue culture. By any yardstick, the Sanghas were potato potentates and had accumulated wealth through their produce over the years and his suffering seemed to stem from a problem of plenty on counts other than just potatoes and their distress sale. Some of the produce was shipped to Assam and Karnataka at Rs 1.50 per kg, but with absolutely no profit if you factored in the price of jute packing bags, Sangha whined. And after two years of excellent harvest, a third year of glut appeared to be in the offing. Even with ample cold storage, Sangha wailed that he was finding no takers for his produce. Jang Bahadur Sangha was also “worried” about his bank loans since he would only be earning a less than 50 per cent return on his investments. It was gloom and doom all around a perimeter of farm land hemmed by SUVs, foreign degrees, and palatial mansions—all built on potato money.
But there was another kind of glut as well: that of corruption scandals on the political horizon. By that time, this had significantly devalued the Manmohan Singh Government at the Centre in the eyes of Indians. Singh’s Government was in a meltdown following a number of scams in many sectors. The self-congratulatory statistics the establishment churned out desperately on agricultural produce, following an agitation over plunging potato prices, had few takers. After farmers in UP dumped their produce on the streets, nose-diving prices for the spud grabbed headlines. Under pressure from free falling potato prices from Punjab to Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi pitched for foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, arguing that the move would resolve the problem of Rs 2 per kg at the farm end even while the retail consumer bought a packet of potato wafers, made from just half a potato, at Rs 10.
His father, Rajiv Gandhi, may have set up the food processing ministry with fanfare as prime minister and hailed for his foresight. But it had, over the decades, remained trapped in an empty shell and a hollow vision. The real issue of arming the farm sector with ample storage, food processing infrastructure that would supply farm produce to value-adding industrial units, and provide remunerative prices to produce was side-tracked time and again.
The opposition mocked Rahul Gandhi’s pitch as a ‘put in a potato at one end and end up with gold at the other’ pun instead of a model for the crisis that the farm sector was facing. Down the road, this farm crisis proved to be a political hot potato for the UPA.
Of the three farm reform laws, the one these farmers want withdrawn is the FPTC Act. That is impossible to concede as it lies at the heart of the reforms. It is vital if agro-processing and international trade in processed foods are to take off in India
SOCIAL SCIENTIST Dipankar Gupta identified two kinds of agrarian mobilisations in north India: one, movements led by peasants, agricultural labourers and marginal farmers, centred on a menu of demands to improve their lot; and two, those led by organisations representing the relatively better-off owner-cultivators who produce marketable surpluses. According to Gupta, while movements fuelled by the rural poor tend to be more local in their impact, the ones led by rich farmers’ target the state and Central governments, take up issues of agricultural prices, cheap electricity and water and easy terms on loans among other demands. Because of the diversity of their demands, such unions have shown tremendous capacity to sustain themselves over longer periods and function as a ‘pressure group outside the established structures’. Gupta’s analysis was based on the mobilisation undertaken by Mahendra Singh Tikait in the late 1980s to demand free power for farmers. His supporters first laid siege to Meerut and, after a few months, moved to Delhi’s Boat Club.
Barring Charan Singh, whose support among the Jat peasantry spanned UP, Haryana and parts of Rajasthan, no other farmer leader could break the geographical jinx. Attempts were made by his political peers to mimic him and straddle states to expand their influence. They failed. The kind of grip the Jat leader had over his followers was legendary. In the late 1980s, his slogans demanding free power and water supply for farmers could shake political foundations. Such demands have long gone out of currency as there is now a relatively better deal for farmers in terms of access to bank loans, power and water supply. As a community, cultivators are better informed, helped by an enabling environment provided by successive governments.
The cult-like hold of the self-styled farmer leaders on their followers seen in the past decades would trigger a typhoon of memes today if one were to recite the stories of how they harnessed the ignorance of simple folk for political gains. At one meeting in rural Haryana, Devi Lal, then chief minister of the state, was holding forth on water supply for irrigation, an emotive issue. According to reports, Devi Lal said, “The government at the Centre is so corrupt that even the water you get in your fields is supplied to you after the electricity has been taken out of it. When I come to power at the Centre, I will ensure that you get only electrified water supply. And then your crop yield will multiply manifold.” Little seems to have changed in terms of those leading the protests at Delhi’s gates today. The ‘potato at one end and gold at the other’ claim is a refurbished version of the electrified water story.
If the images beamed from Delhi’s border with Haryana are to be believed, then the large number of combative farmers from Punjab conveys an impression of their unwillingness to allow the rollout of agriculture reform laws. But on November 30th, a different reality could be seen in Varanasi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a day-long visit to his constituency to inaugurate infrastructure projects and celebrate the occasion of Dev Deepawali. In that atmosphere of celebration, he used his speeches to reach out to farmers and allay their fears. But he was firm on one thing: these laws will be implemented, come what may: “If there is a history of deceit, then two things are natural. First, if farmers get anxious at what governments say, then behind that lies a decades’-long history of deceit. Second, those who broke promises and who indulge in deceit, it becomes a habit for them that things will continue as before because that is how they did it.”
“The same formula is being applied again,” Modi said while inaugurating a highway extension project. In his hour-long speech, the prime minister spoke extensively about the need to expand the opportunities and markets for farmers as a necessary complement to their labour and efforts. It was a trademark Modi speech in which he reeled off anecdotes, facts, figures and statistics to buttress his point that the time for agriculture reforms had come.
At the same time, he rebuked those opposing the reforms for spreading propaganda against the reform effort: “Earlier, it would so happen that if some decision of the government was not agreeable then there would be opposition to it. But for some time, there has been a new trend. We see that the basis of opposition is not a decision but the spread of confusion and anxieties.” His target, even when he did not name anyone, was clear: the political parties instigating farmers. For these farmers, Prime Minister Modi had a simple message: that, in future, they too will use these laws to their benefit.
What Modi said was as it should be, optimistic. But there is another reality in Punjab and it is that the economic, political and environmental circumstances that have come together make business-as-usual, as it has prevailed since 1965-1966, impossible. There are three reasons why farmers in Punjab will have to change the way they practise agriculture as it is no longer an issue that affects just them but the entire country.
Data released by the National Horticulture Board shows that, in 2018, Punjab was not among the top 10 producers of fruits and vegetables. Far poorer states, such as Bihar, UP and West Bengal, were ranked high. They need a modernised system of markets for their produce and an enabling framework
The first set of issues is economic. When the three reform Bills were passed in Parliament in September, there was not a word in them about Punjab even if politicians from the state latched on the laws as specifically designed to damage their economic interests. In reality, there is an India-wide context in which these laws were framed. India is no longer the country of pervasive food shortages that it was in the 1960s when the present system of public procurement of wheat and rice was established with Punjab as its hub. At that time of deep food insecurity, the emphasis was on getting adequate amounts of wheat and rice across the country. Fruits and vegetables were a luxury that very few Indians could afford.
By 2004-2005, the situation had changed dramatically and horticultural production had galloped to 167 million tonnes, including 51 million tonnes of fruits and 101 million tonnes of vegetables. A decade later, in 2017-2018, this shot up to 311.7 million tonnes, with fruit production nearly double that of 2004-2005 and 181 million tonnes in the output basket. Furthering this farming revolution requires modernisation of laws that can enable farmers to reap the benefits of increased output without turning it into a supply glut that crashes prices or their cornering by supply cartels. In both cases, farmers get very little while middlemen walk away with the cream of profits. One way to get out of this dead end is to create a system where value addition through agro-processing industries can access this output seamlessly by getting in touch directly with farmers without intermediaries. In essence, this is not about wheat and rice—which are largely funnelled through public procurement and PDS and are, hence, under government control—but a whole other space of agricultural produce in which Punjab is not a participant. Data released by the National Horticulture Board shows that, in 2018, Punjab was not among the top 10 producers of fruits and vegetables. Instead, far poorer states with few marketing opportunities, such as Bihar, UP and West Bengal, were high up on the league table. They needed a modernised system where markets could develop for their produce and lacked an enabling framework.
That this was the reasoning behind the farm reform laws was evident in the Statement of Objects and Reasons in the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 or FPTC Bill. It was clear from what Narendra Singh Tomar, the Union agriculture minister, said: “Agriculture not only meets the food security requirements of the country, but also provides raw material to the agro-industry which culminates in job creation and earning of foreign exchange through export. Directly linking the agro-industry with the farmers shortens the supply chain, reduces the marketing cost and post-harvest losses and most importantly enhances farmers’ income.”
What is essentially an enabling law for the entire country is being seen as an existential threat by Punjab. There is hardly any justification in claims that ‘big corporates’ are being enabled at the cost of the farmer in Punjab. This is not just a ruse but is far removed from reality. If ‘big corporates’ were indeed interested in Punjab and its output, by now they would have established some kind of presence there. There is none, except the usual flour rolling mills and rice shellers. The fact is ‘big corporates’ could not care if Punjab grew wheat or bananas. Its system of production and purchase is geared towards meeting a very different and regulated market, that of basic, non-value-added produce: wheat and rice.
Nonetheless, the entire Government machinery, from the prime minister down to agriculture ministry officials, went out of their way to assure Punjab’s farmers that this system would not be disturbed. If anything, purchases of wheat and rice from Punjab have gone up significantly in the last five to six years. This year, for the kharif season, of the 316.93 lakh metric tonnes of paddy purchased across the country until the end of November, Punjab alone accounted for 202.74 lakh metric tonnes, a whopping 64 per cent of the total. Historical statistics show that this figure was as high as 90 per cent for many years, if not decades. For most of the time since public procurement began, Punjab—and later Haryana when it was carved out of Punjab—was the main beneficiary of these gigantic injections of money into its economy. So when Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh stands up in the state Assembly and says that Punjab’s farmers rose to the occasion and fed the nation, it was neither charity nor altruism at work. Cheap inputs and assured marketing were the secrets behind Punjab’s prosperity. It was a cosy arrangement.
NOW, however, after more than half-a-century, there are vastly more complex issues of equity, economic sustainability and environmental degradation that cannot be ignored any more. In all this, Punjab—its farmers, politicians and government—considers continuous purchases as entitlements and not mere transactions between government companies, which is what the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is, and farmers. The moment even a mention is made of changing the system, protests break out to the point that some people begin raising the ‘issue’ of ‘Khalistan’. What complicates matters is that all these issues are linked with each other, making a neat separation and specific tailoring of policies very difficult.
The cost of what is purchased from Punjab has now acquired a zero-sum environmental and economic dimension for the country. There is a growing realisation of this among Punjab’s farmers who are aware of trends elsewhere. But instead of shifting to different crops, they have doubled down
The first issue is one of equity. In the last two decades, Madhya Pradesh (MP) and UP have seen their agriculture flourish to the point that UP is the largest producer of wheat in India. India is, as a result, no longer food insecure. If Punjab was key to ending India’s iniquitous food distribution, it is now the source of a very different kind of inequity: its farmers get to sell their output at guaranteed prices for wheat and rice and take home the kind of returns that farmers in India’s emerging bread baskets like UP and Chhattisgarh (for rice) can scarcely imagine or even dream of. Data released by the FCI shows that right until the present, Punjab continued to see the bulk of its wheat and rice being purchased for the Central pool. In 2019-2020, this figure was 72.6 per cent. In contrast, UP and MP, which have a higher output of wheat, saw purchases of just 11 per cent and 39 per cent. The story for rice, a crop that is proving to be utterly ruinous for north India, is not very different. Here again, Punjab sees a lion’s share of its output being sucked by the Centre. Needless to say, compared to Punjab’s pampered farmers, their counterparts in other parts of India have raised output under far more difficult economic conditions. The cost of what is purchased from Punjab has now acquired a zero-sum environmental and economic dimension for the country.
There is a growing realisation of this among Punjab’s farmers who are certainly aware of trends in other parts of India. But instead of shifting to different crops, these farmers have doubled down and now want to turn what was a transactional relation between the FCI and them into an entitlement that would last forever. It is true that the FCI has been making the bulk of wheat and rice purchases from Punjab since 1966, but at no time was a promise made that this would continue in perpetuity. Nor were increases in MSP mandated by law. Both decisions were purely administrative. Now the farmers, and the Punjab government, wanted these converted into law. This is the reason behind their demand that MSP should be a legally binding agreement. Of the three farm reform laws, the one that these farmers seek to be withdrawn is the FPTC Act. That is impossible for the Government to concede as it lies at the heart of the three reform Acts. This Act is vital if agro-processing and international trade in processed foods are to take off in India. Punjab cannot be allowed to derail it.
The approach towards Punjab’s farmers, so far, has been conciliatory. Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly sought to impress on all farmers that the mandi system would continue and it was up to farmers where they wanted to sell their crops. There is no evidence that Punjab is about to see a change of policy that deprives its farmers of livelihood. If anything, the Government has released figures that the amount of money being injected into foodgrain procurement has gone up and not down. In the five years before 2014,
Rs 1.5 lakh crore was spent on procurement of wheat. In the next five years, this figure doubled to Rs 3 lakh crore. The story with respect to paddy is similar: Rs 2 lakh crore for five years before 2014 and Rs 5 lakh crore since then.
Even if the Government is certain to continue with the old system in some form or the other, there is no economic rationale for it any more. The system is now a victim of its success, to the point that the entire operation has become ruinous. The logic of keeping granaries full was to manage emergencies like crop failures or any other exigency like war and pandemics. The government maintains a buffer stock for that purpose. Depending on the season, this stock varies from 210 lakh metric tonnes to 411 lakh metric tonnes. But this year, in June, this touched a high of nearly 833 lakh metric tonnes. Even after giving away rations to migrant workers for six months and other schemes, this figure fell just a tad to 700 lakh metric tonnes by September. These overflowing granaries may be a matter of pride—or would have been when India was food insecure. Today, they spell awful financial waste.
There is one final bit of the Punjab story that is increasingly turning public opinion against its farmers and their irrational ways. In recent years, instances of stubble burning on a very large scale in the state—to get rid of the stubble residue after the rice crop has been harvested—has attracted attention across India. This happens in winter with slow winds, low temperatures and particulate matter from other sources creating a thick blanket of smog across north India. This is especially noticeable in the National Capital Region (NCR) where air quality levels dip precipitously to the point that they are a public health hazard now. Few know that the genesis of this environmental hazard lies in Punjab’s attempts to arrest another environmental problem: the alarming rapidity with which its water-table has gone down over decades due to its addiction to water-guzzling rice cultivation. In 2009, realising the gravity of the problem, the state government passed the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act. This law prohibits the plantation of rice nurseries before the government authorises them. This was meant to wean away farmers from exploiting groundwater for rice cultivation and slowly switch to use of monsoon rains for the purpose.
The law had a perverse effect. By the time the rice crop is harvested, there is little time left to manually clear the fields for planting the winter crop. In any case, labour costs have gone up dramatically since the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was implemented. Farmers don’t want to purchase expensive mechanical equipment that can substitute labour for removing stubble. They simply burn it. The result is that by November, just around Diwali, the air in Delhi-NCR is thick with air pollutants. The result of trying to save Punjab’s ground water is the fouling of air across north India. So much so, that an empowered commission has been appointed by the Union Government through an ordinance to tackle the problem. In simpler words, it is one law against another; one environmental crisis leading to another. And yet, Punjab’s farmers are at Delhi’s doors that they be allowed to sow what they want, that the Government purchase whatever they produce and, of course, that they be allowed to burn stubble without consequences. A more wanton example of one class blackmailing an entire nation is hard to find in recent history.
With this multi-dimensional disaster, the Government has reacted with equanimity and promised these obdurate farmers that no injustice will be done to them. But they tempt fate. Prime Minister Modi was clear in his address that his Government will not back away from the reform laws. It is at its own peril that Punjab persists in its old, ruinous ways.