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.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.