Recently, there have been reports of price crashes and distress sales in case of farm produce, such as tomatoes, mangoes, and garlic. In some cases, farmers have dumped their produce on roads. Produce such as fruits and vegetables are perishable and therefore have a short shelf life. Further, due to inadequate storage facilities and poor food processing infrastructure farmers have limited options but to sell the produce at prevailing market prices. This can lead to distress sales or roadside discards (in some cases to avoid additional cost of transportation).
Food processing allows raw food to be stored, marketed, or preserved for consumption later. For instance, raw agricultural produce such as fruits may be processed into juices, jams, and pickles. Activities such as waxing (for preservation), packaging, labelling, or ripening of produce also form part of the food processing industry.
Between 2001-02 and 2016-17, production of food grains grew annually at 1.7% on average. Production of horticulture crops surpassed food grains with an average growth rate of 4.8%. While production has been increasing over the years, surplus produce tends to go waste at various stages such as procurement, storage, and processing due to lack of infrastructure such as cold storages and food processing units.
Source: Horticulture Statistics at a Glance 2017, Union Budget 2018-19; PRS.
Losses high among perishables such as fruits and vegetables
Crop losses ranged between 7-16% among fruits and around 5% among cereals in 2015. The highest losses were witnessed in case of guava, followed by mango, which are perishable fruits. Perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to losses as compared to cereals. Such crop losses can occur during operations such as harvesting, thrashing, grading, drying, packaging, transportation, and storage depending upon the commodity.
It was estimated that the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural products at the national level was Rs 92,651 crore in 2015. The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2017) stated that such wastage can be reduced with adequate food processing facilities.
Sources: Annual Report 2016-17, Ministry of Food Processing Industries; PRS.
Inadequate food processing infrastructure
As previously discussed, perishables such as fruits and vegetables are more prone to damages as compared to cereals. Due to inadequate processing facilities in close proximity, farmers may be unable to hold their produce for a long time. Hence, they may be forced to sell their produce soon after harvest, irrespective of the prevailing market situations. Expert committees have recommended that agri-logistics such as cold chain infrastructure and market linkages should be strengthened.
Cold chain infrastructure: Cold chain infrastructure includes processing units, cold storages, and refrigerated vans. As of 2014, out of a required cold storage capacity of 35 million metric tonnes (MT), almost 90% (31.8 million MT) of the capacity was available (see Table 1). However, cold storage needs to be coupled with logistical support to facilitate smooth transfer of harvested value from farms to distant locations. This includes: (i) pack-houses for packaging and preparing fresh produce for long distance transport, (ii) refrigerated transport such as reefer vehicles, and (iii) ripening chambers to ripen raw produce before marketing. For instance, bananas which are harvested raw may be ripened in these chambers before being marketed.
While there are sufficient cold storages, there are wide gaps in the availability of other associated infrastructure. This implies that even though almost 90% (32 million tonnes) of cold storage capacity is available, only 15% of the required refrigerated transport exists. Further, the shortfall in the availability of infrastructure necessary for safe handling of farm produce, like pack-houses and ripening chambers, is over 90%.
Table 1: Gaps in cold chain infrastructure (2014)
(in million MT)
To minimise post-harvest losses, the Standing Committee (2017) recommended that a country-wide integrated cold chain infrastructure network at block and district levels should be created. It further recommended that a Cold Chain Coordination and Monitoring Committee should be constituted at the district-level. The Standing Committee also recommended that farmers need to be trained in value addition activities such as sorting, grading, and pre-cooling harvested produce through facilities such as freezers and ripening chambers.
Between 2008 and 2017, 238 cold chain projects were sanctioned under the Scheme for Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure. Grants worth Rs 1,775 crore were approved for these projects. Of this amount, Rs 964 crore (54%) has been released as of January 2018. Consequently, out of the total projects sanctioned, 114 (48%) are completed. The remaining 124 projects are currently under implementation.
Transport Facilities: Currently, majority of food grains and certain quantities of tea, potato, and onion are transported through railways. The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income had recommended that railways needs to upgrade its logistics to facilitate the transport of fresh produce directly to export hubs. This includes creation of adjoining facilities for loading and unloading, and distribution to road transport.
Mega Food Parks: The Mega Food Parks scheme was launched in 2008. It seeks to facilitate setting up of food processing units. These units are to be located at a central processing centre with infrastructure required for processing, packaging, quality control labs, and trade facilitation centres.
As of March 2018, out of the 42 projects approved, 10 were operational. The Standing Committee on Agriculture noted certain reasons for delay in implementation of projects under the scheme. These include: (i) difficulty in getting loans from banks for the project, (ii) delay in obtaining clearances from the state governments and agencies for roads, power, and water at the project site, (iii) lack of special incentives for setting up food processing units in Mega Food Parks, and (iv) unwillingness of the co-promoters in contributing their share of equity.
Further, the Standing Committee stated that as the scheme requires a minimum area of 50 acres, it does not to promote smaller or individual food processing and preservation units. It recommended that smaller agro-processing clusters near production areas must be promoted. The Committee on Doubling Farmers Income recommended establishment of processing and value addition units at strategic places. This includes rural or production areas for pulses, millets, fruits, vegetables, dairy, fisheries, and poultry in public private-partnership mode.
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.