Punjab needs structural changes, not charity

punjab farmer

Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, May 3: In the election season, the three main contenders are in competitive mode to promise more and more charities that include more dispensaries, more and better schools,  assured marketing for farmers produce for crops other than those covered under minimum support price and so on. There is nothing new about all this. The model village scheme was introduced decades back. Punjab is one state where big villages get purchase centres during procurement season.  The basic issue is not that of opening few dispensaries. Farmers and farm workers continue to commit suicide. Mother and son taking this extreme step in the very presence of police in Jodhpur village of Barnala district has shocked everybody, an extreme tragedy that the political parties are trying to exploit.

With a few months to go for Assembly elections scheduled for February 2017, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has now announced that he would directly listen to the grievances of the people every Monday morning. There was time when Badal’s official residence used to be crowded early in the morning with people coming to meet him, especially from his own area. Not anymore. The ruling party leadership stonewalled itself from the people who are now determined to teach a lesson to the arrogant leadership. It is the anti-incumbency against both Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress that is high but varying in degree that is helping Aam Aadmi Party surge more than any other factor. Fed up with the two combinations, the people this time have a choice to try the third one. However, going by the reports from Punjab Dialogue programmes, it the routine that is being talked about and promised.

Punjab used to have the best of health and education system that  started collapsing during militancy and now the state is the worst victim of neo-liberalism.  One has to  go deeper to understand the crisis in the farm sector rather than talking of just remunerative prices and assured marketing. The roots of this crisis are in neo-liberal economic policies. Bureaucracy in the state is too indifferent to the plight of the people. The system at the lower levels is totally corrupt at the police station and tehsil levels. The system of Halqa incharge introduced by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has messed up the system of administration.

The twin suicides at Jodhpur village is an example as to how the system is working against the aggrieved. The administration, both civil and police, sided with the commission agent to forcibly get possession of the two acres of land belonging to the family under the cover of judicial intervention. The district police chief had joined just two days ago. The tragedy was avoidable. The worst part is that they committed suicide in the very presence of the police.

Punjab is one state where the commission agents through which the crops are sold by the farmers in the mandis get such a hefty commission. It is Chief Minister Badal who refused to adopt the system of direct payment by cheque to the farmers  that the Food Corporation of India has recommended. The Narendra Modi government talks of empowerment of people through direct transfers in the bank accounts of the people but one fails to understand why the same system is not followed in case of farmers.  The number of these commission agents is just a few thousand but they are one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. Only structural changes can being about improvement in situation. The situation does not need cosmetic solutions as is being talked about by way of opening gyms  and play grounds in every village. Youth clubs and sports clubs were introduced in this state years back. These clubs get grants from the state government. Rural sports have been popular for years.

The political parties must  unfold their plans as to how they want to go about capital formation in the state without which the creation of new jobs is not possible. The menace of drugs is also related to massive unemployment although it is just one of the reasons. Members from rich families too are hooked to drugs going by the recent reports.

Manifestos of the Akali Dal and the Congress make interesting study so far as making promises to the people is concerned. However, none has taken the initiative to introduce structural changes that is the only way to check downslide in the border state.



Jagtar Singh


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