Plight of farmers in Meghalaya

 

Editor,

Allow me to highlight the plight of farmers of Mawthadraishan area who had a bumper harvest of squash (piskot) this summer- which should otherwise have been a cause of celebration for them- but unfortunately it has had a disastrous effect on the price which has fallen to less than Rs 4 per kg which is not even enough to cover the cost of production. The farmers alleged that middlemen and traders are manipulating the price and that, in the absence of regulated markets or a proper storage unit, they are left with only two choices to either let the harvest rot in the field or sell at heavy loss. Such situations faced by farmers of the state are not new and have been occurring at regular intervals with other agriculture produce such as potato and ginger as well.

The main fear of the farmers in mainland India with regard to The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill recently passed by parliament is that it may lead to withdrawal of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and open-ended procurement through the regulated markets (mandis) which have benefited farmers in states like Punjab and Haryana. This contention has been stoutly rejected by the government which defends the Bill as part of the measures to free farmers from the grip of traders and regulated markets.

The MSP is a price support mechanism for 22 crops which is announced by the central government before every sowing season and provides guaranteed prices and assured market to the farmers shielding them from the price fluctuation. While it is true that the farmers in Meghalaya do not benefit from the MSP as it does not cover horticulture crops, the other existing price support mechanism in the form of Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) has also not been implemented to provide price support to the farmers of the state when needed.

The MIS is an ad hoc scheme implemented on the request of state governments for procurement of perishable agricultural and horticultural commodities to protect the income of farmers and prevent distress sale. The scheme requires that state governments share the loss with the central government on a 50:50 basis (75:25 in case of north-eastern states).  Under the MIS, a pre-determined quantity at the fixed market intervention price is procured by the procurement agencies designated by the state government for a fixed period or till the prices are stabilized above the market intervention price whichever is earlier.

According to figures of the Agriculture Ministry, GOI, upland states like Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh among other states have been most proactive in implementing the MIS at regular intervals covering commodities such as grapes, ginger, apples, chillies, potato, squash, grapes and pineapples.  The question that arises here is what has prevented successive governments in Meghalaya from implementing this scheme for many years now? Why are farmers of the state left to fend for themselves and have to endure extreme hardship by selling their produce at throwaway prices?

In this declared Year of the Farmer with the stated objective to double farmers’ income, it is the right time for the state government to declare major crops to be brought under the coverage of the MIS as well as identify a procurement agency and set up necessary procurement and marketing infrastructure for effective implementation of the scheme. The government should also implore upon the central government for reducing the state government’s contribution in the implementation of this scheme from the existing 25 percent to 5 to 10 percent so that the lack of resources will not come in the way of protecting the interests of the farming community.

Some time back the state government had organized with much fanfare a ‘Piskot (Squash) Festival’ to highlight the potential of this humble vegetable. While such a festival is a welcome initiative, now that the growers of this vegetable are in real distress will the state government rise to the occasion and help the humble farmers of the state?

Yours etc.,

  1. Umdor,

Via email

 

Healthcare amidst a pandemic

Editor,

Needless to say, in the midst of a raging pandemic, the abnormal has become the normal. Our children are barred from attending school nor are they encouraged to mix and play. God only knows what is to become of them. As a tribal society that believes in strong social bonding practices, we have more or less given up socialising. As mortals prone to ailments, disease and illness, we are now most reluctant to visit hospitals, places of healing or even to approach a doctor’s clinic. I find friends and relatives, people with normal aches and pains; people with serious lifestyle ailments; patients with chronic life threatening diseases, shying away from seeking medical relief as their fear of Covid 19 contamination is greater than their fear of death! Ironic but true and this emerging trend in health care accessibility is what is alarming.

Hospitals, clinics and doctor’s chambers, where we usually throng to obtain relief from ailments that trouble us have now suddenly become places to be given as wide a berth as possible. Rural people suffer most as hospitals situated in Shillong or other urban hubs have now become centres for the pandemic. Contamination from a Shillong visit and the resulting quarantine back home in the village on the return from the city are inconveniences rural people are loathe to face.  This phenomenon has severely affected health care and healthcare related issues for the people of Meghalaya. Something needs to be done about it and Govt has to start looking at solutions outside the box.

One of the solutions under the prevailing circumstances, on how to bring back a somewhat tenable doctor-patient relationship and relief to a suffering patient might be through tele-medicine. Consultations between doctor and patient can be carried through WhatsApp and SMS messages. Doctors in hospitals should start encouraging their patients to indulge in this new form of diagnosis and treatment. Fear has to be overcome and access to healthcare can be made available through use of relevant and appropriate technology. Only under unavoidable circumstances need there be a physical interaction between the doctor and his patient. This new form of medical practice can cover even private doctors and payment of doctor’s fees through the internet can be encouraged.  Govt needs to enable this and should come up with appropriate Apps for easy contact between doctor and patient as well as payment of doctor’s consultation fees.

Yours etc.,

Toki Blah,

Via email

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