Farmer groups flag pending vacancies in agri pricing panel

New Delhi: Following years of low crop prices and protests by farmers, the centre in its budget for 2018-19 promised to ensure remunerative prices for farmers through higher minimum support prices (MSPs). However, in the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, or CACP— an office of the agriculture ministry mandated to recommend support prices to the government—three of the five member positions have been lying vacant for nearly two years.

Farmer organizations say these vacant positions and non-appointment of farmer members to the commission shows the lack of seriousness on the part of the government. Further, in a meeting with the CACP last week, invited farmers put forth their demand for revamping the cost metric used for deciding MSPs, but were told that the government would take that call.

The two members currently on the Commission are chairperson Vijay Paul Sharma and member secretary Shailja Sharma. The positions of two non-official members representing the farming community and one official member are vacant.

“These positions have been vacant for a long time and this shows the flippant attitude of the government to understanding the farmers’ situation and addressing their concerns,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the farm policy advocacy group Association for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

She said the fact that farmers are expected to bear their own costs when invited for a consultation also shows that the Commission is not keen to listen to them.

“A previous government-appointed committee on revamping MSPs (headed by current NITI Aayog member Ramesh Chand), which submitted its report in 2015, suggested involving farmer representatives in CACP, and a fair and more accurate calculation of costs, but the government is yet to say a word on these recommendations,” Kuruganti said.

Mint contacted the chairperson’s office for a response but was told Vijay Paul Sharma was on leave for a week. The office of the member secretary and advisor D.K. Pandey said they do not respond to press queries.

However, a former adviser to CACP, who did not want to be named, told Mint that the farmer member positions have been vacant since May 2016.

“The technical work of the CACP does not depend on the presence of farmer members but their presence is important to understand the ground perspective,” said Abhijit Sen, economist and a former chairperson of CACP.

“During our term (1997-2001) we immediately made those appointments when they fell vacant; besides, CACP’s credibility depends on the presence of farmer members who are officially mandated to be a part of the Commission,” Sen added.

On 16 February, the Commission had invited farmer groups for a consultation on the impending kharif price policy. Rampal Jat, a farmer leader from Rajasthan who attended the consultation returned disappointed.

“We requested the Commission to use the comprehensive or C2 costs while calculating net returns to farmers and not use A2+FL costs as the latter inflates returns. We were told it’s a call the government has to take,” said Jat.

“We also asked the Commission to publicize MSP operations as often farmers do not know when and where the government is procuring and also asked not to allow purchase by traders at less than support prices,” Jat added.

The Union budget presented on 1 February promised that the government would fix MSPs at 50% over cost, ceding to a major demand of farm organizations. However, the finance minister later clarified that farmers would be provided 50% returns over and above what they spend on inputs such as seeds and fertilizers and an imputed value of family labour (known as A2+FL), and not C2 or comprehensive costs. To arrive at C2 costs, imputed rent and interest on owned land and capital is added to A2+FL.

According to farmer organizations, not using comprehensive costs will inflate returns to farmers at announced support prices. The Ramesh Chand committee on revamping MSPs had recommended raising C2 costs of cultivation by 10% to account for the risk premium and managerial charges of a farmer.livemint