Minimum Support Price (MSP) is the assured price at which foodgrains are procured from farmers by the central and state governments and their agencies, for the central pool of foodgrains. The central pool is used for providing foodgrains under the Public Distribution System (PDS) and other welfare schemes, and also kept as reserve in the form of buffer stock. However, in the past few months, there have been demands to extend MSP to private trade as well and guarantee MSP to farmers on all kinds of trade. This blogpost looks at the state of public procurement of foodgrains in India and the provision of MSP.
Is MSP applicable for all crops?
The central government notifies MSP for 23 crops every year before the Kharif and Rabi seasons based on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, an attached office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. These crops include foodgrains such as cereals, coarse grains, and pulses. However, public procurement is largely limited to a few foodgrains such as paddy (rice), wheat, and, to a limited extent, pulses (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Percentage of crop production that was procured at MSP in 2019-20
Sources: Unstarred Question No. 331, Lok Sabha, September 15, 2020; PRS.
Since rice and wheat are the primary foodgrains distributed under PDS and stored for food security, their procurement level is considerably high. However, the National Food Security Act, 2013 requires the central and state governments to progressively undertake necessary reforms in PDS. One of the reforms requires them to diversify the commodities distributed under PDS over a period of time.
How does procurement vary across states?
The procurement of foodgrains is largely concentrated in a few states. Three states (Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana) producing 46% of the wheat in the country account for 85% of its procurement (Figure 2). For rice, six states (Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Haryana) with 40% of the production have 74% share in procurement (Figure 3). The National Food Security Act, 2013 requires the central, state, and local governments to strive to progressively realise certain objectives for advancing food and nutritional security. One of these objectives involves geographical diversification of the procurement operations.
Figure 2: 85% wheat procurement is from three states (2019-20)
Sources: Department of Food and Public Distribution; PRS.
Figure 3: 76% of the rice procured comes from six states (2019-20)
Sources: Department of Food and Public Distribution; PRS.
Is MSP mandatory for private trade as well in some states?
MSP is not mandatory for purchase of foodgrains by private traders or companies. It acts as a reference price at which the government and its agencies procure certain foodgrains from farmers.
In September 2020, the central government enacted a new farm law which allows anyone with a PAN card to buy farmers’ produce in the ‘trade area’ outside the markets notified or run by the state Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs). Buyers do not need to get a license from the state government or APMC, or pay any tax to them for such purchase in the ‘trade area’. These changes in regulations raised concerns regarding the kind of protections available to farmers in the ‘trade area’ outside APMC markets, particularly in terms of the price discovery and payment. In October 2020, Punjab passed a Bill in response to the central farm law to prohibit purchase of paddy and wheat below MSP. Any person or company compelling or pressurising farmers to sell below MSP will be punished with a minimum of three-year imprisonment and a fine. Note that 72% of the wheat and 92% of the rice produced in Punjab was purchased under public procurement in 2019-20.
Similarly, in November 2020, Rajasthan passed a Bill to declare those contract farming agreements as invalid where the purchase is done below MSP. Any person or company compelling or pressurising farmers to enter into such an invalid contract will be punished with 3 to 7 years of imprisonment, or a fine of minimum five lakh rupees, or both. Both these Bills have not been enacted yet as they are awaiting the Governors’ assent.
How has MSP affected the cropping pattern?
According to the central government’s procurement policy, the objective of public procurement is to ensure that farmers get remunerative prices for their produce and do not have to resort to distress sale. If farmers get a better price in comparison to MSP, they are free to sell their produce in the open market. The Economic Survey 2019-20 observed that the regular increase in MSP is seen by farmers as a signal to opt for crops which have an assured procurement system (for example, rice and wheat). The Economic Survey also noted that this indicates market prices do not offer remunerative options for farmers, and MSP has, in effect, become the maximum price that the farmers are able to realise.
Thus, MSP incentivises farmers to grow crops which are procured by the government. As wheat and rice are major food grains provided under the PDS, the focus of procurement is on these crops. This skews the production of crops in favour of wheat and paddy (particularly in states where procurement levels are high), and does not offer an incentive for farmers to produce other items such as pulses. Further, this puts pressure on the water table as these crops are water-intensive crops.
To encourage crop diversification and thereby reduce the consumption of water, some state governments are taking measures to incentivise farmers to shift away from paddy and wheat. For example, Haryana has launched a scheme in 2020 to provide Rs 7,000 per acre to those farmers who will use more than 50% of their paddy area (as per the area sown in 2019-20) for other crops. The farmers can grow maize, bajra, pulses, or cotton in such diversified area. Further, the crop produce grown in such diversified area under the scheme will be procured by the state government at MSP.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.