Recently, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved an increase in the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for Kharif crops for the 2018-19 marketing season. Subsequently, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) released its price policy report for Kharif crops for the marketing season 2018-19.
The central government notifies MSPs based on the recommendations of the CACP. These recommendations are made separately for the Kharif marketing season (KMS) and the Rabi marketing season (RMS). Post harvesting, the government procures crops from farmers at the MSP notified for that season, in order to ensure remunerative prices to farmers for their produce.
In this blog post, we look at how MSPs are determined, changes brought in them over time, and their effectiveness for farmers across different states.
How are Minimum Support Prices determined?
The CACP considers various factors such as the cost of cultivation and production, productivity of crops, and market prices for the determination of MSPs. The National Commission on Farmers(Chair: Prof. M. S. Swaminathan) in 2006 had recommended that MSPs must be at least 50% more than the cost of production. In this year’s budget speech, the Finance Minister said that MSPs would be fixed at least at 50% more than the cost of production.
The CACP calculates cost of production at three levels: (i) A2, which includes cost of inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, labour; (ii) A2+FL, which includes the implied cost of family labour (FL); and (iii) C2, which includes the implied rent on land and interest on capital assets over and above A2+FL.
Table 1 shows the cost of production as calculated by the CACP and the approved MSPs for KMS 2018-19. For paddy (common), the MSP was increased from Rs 1,550/quintal in 2017-18 to Rs 1,750/quintal in 2018-19. This price would give a farmer a profit of 50.1% on the cost of production A2+FL. However, the profit calculated on the cost of production C2 would be 12.2%. It has been argued that the cost of production should be taken as C2 for calculating MSPs. In such a scenario, this would have increased the MSP to Rs 2,340/quintal, much above the current MSP of Rs 1,750/quintal.
Which are the major crops that are procured at MSPs?
Every year, MSPs are announced for 23 crops. However, public procurement is limited to a few crops such as paddy, wheat and, to a limited extent, pulses as shown in Figure 1.
The procurement is also limited to a few states. Three states which produce 49% of the national wheat output account for 93% of procurement. For paddy, six states with 40% production share have 77% share of the procurement. As a result, in these states, farmers focus on cultivating these crops over other crops such as pulses, oilseeds, and coarse grains.
Due to limitations on the procurement side (both crop-wise and state-wise), all farmers do not receive benefits of increase in MSPs. The CACP has noted in its 2018-19 price policy report that the inability of farmers to sell at MSPs is one of the key areas of concern. Farmers who are unable to sell their produce at MSPs have to sell it at market prices, which may be much lower than the MSPs.
How have MSPs for major crops changed over time?
Higher procurement of paddy and wheat, as compared to other crops at MSPs tilts the production cycle towards these crops. In order to balance this and encourage the production of pulses, there is a larger proportional increase in the MSPs of pulses over the years as seen in Figure 2. In addition to this, it is also used as a measure to encourage farmers to shift from water-intensive crops such as paddy and wheat to pulses, which relatively require less water for irrigation.
What is the effectiveness of MSPs across states?
The MSP fixed for each crop is uniform for the entire country. However, the production cost of crops vary across states. Figure 3 highlights the MSP of paddy and the variation in its cost of production across states in 2018-19.
For example, production cost for paddy at the A2+FL level is Rs 702/quintal in Punjab and Rs 2,102/quintal in Maharashtra. Due to this differentiation, while the MSP of Rs 1,750/quintal of paddy will result in a profit of 149% to a farmer in Punjab, it will result in a loss of 17% to a farmer in Maharashtra. Similarly, at the C2 level, the production cost for paddy is Rs 1,174/quintal in Punjab and Rs 2,481/quintal in Maharashtra. In this scenario, a farmer in Punjab may get 49% return, while his counterpart in Maharashtra may make a loss of 29%.
Figure 4 highlights the MSP of wheat and the variation in its cost of production across states in 2017-18. In the case of wheat, the cost of production in Maharashtra and West Bengal is much more than the cost in rest of the states. At the A2+FL level, the cost of production in West Bengal is Rs 1,777/quintal. This is significantly higher than in states like Haryana and Punjab, where the cost is Rs 736/quintal and Rs 642/quintal, respectively. In this case, while a wheat growing farmer suffers a loss of 2% in West Bengal, a farmer in Haryana makes a profit of 136%. The return in Punjab is even higher at 1.5 times or more the cost of production.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.