(NOTE – At a time when large sections of Indian media continue to act as super-spreaders of communal virus, some continue to shine as great examples of progressive journalism. Among these are many reports, writings, editorials in the Punjabi Tribune. We bring you this report, translated and adapted from Senior Journalist Hamir Singh's dispatch, published on April 17, 2020. — Editor)
MAKING A STRONG pitch to bring harvesting of wheat, storing the produce and horticultural activities as well as paddy transplantation under MGNREGA, the Punjab Farmers and Agriculture Workers Commission has said this single move will help both, the government as well as beleagured poor people, during the Coronavirus crisis period.
A number of economists and agricultural experts in Punjab have said the curfewed state was no solution and was at best a breather that the state authorities should use to ramp up health facilities.
Punjab needs to move forward to a phase of aggressive testing and actually walk the talk in the light of the prime minister's stress on reviving the rural economy.
Shockingly, the experts pointed out, the panel set up by the Punjab government to draft a plan for wheat harvest procurement does not include anyone from the Farmers Commission.
Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of the Farmers and Farm Workers' Commission, known for proffering sane advice and mincing no words, said extending MGNREGA to cover the procurement of food grain, at least during this period of crisis, was the need of the hour.
The Punjab government must work towards ensuring a minimum of 100 days work guarantee under the employment scheme which is an entitlement, a statutory obligation and not just any welfare measure.
Also, the government must work with all political parties, political workers, social organisations to ensure that a maximum number of construction workers are registered that will make them entitled to seek aid from the Construction Workers' Welfare Fund.
Well known farm economist SS Johl, who advised three different prime ministers, said the farming vocation was intractably tied to weather and farmers do not have unlimited holding capacity for storage. The pass system devised by the government was destined to be a failure and a better way was to ensure physical distancing at the agricultural markets where the grain is brought for procurement.
Dr Sucha Singh Gill of the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), said the government needs to make a distinction in opening up the economy when it comes to rural areas since the work procedures, distances and nature of job in agriculture are different from what is applicable to factories and industries.
"The established system does not have any inherent capacity to provide for the food needs of the poor for long stretch of time. The longer the rural economy remained shut down, the more serious will be the situation. Farmers do not sit on liquid cash," he said.
Dr Gill said the sector needs to be provided immediate cash through Kisan Credit Cards.
Prof Gian Singh, formerly affiliated with Punjabi University, Patiala, said the woes of the marginalised farmers, farm labourers and landless workers were even more serious and they should have the first right on any package.
Prof Ranjit Singh Ghuman, who worked for decades with the Punjabi University, Patiala and is also associated with CRRID, said the government seems to be apathetic to the needs of the farm sector. "Survival means physical sustenance, needs of children, their studies, and the health of all those pushed to the margins. The governments have a record of failing miserably even in normal times. They should be and will be judged on how much they cared during the trying times of this pandemic," he said.
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