Farmers’ plight in Meghalaya
Congress legislator HS Shangpliang speaks for everyone when he rued that the Agriculture Minister has been missing from the Assembly session this time and in the previous session too. When the whole world is connected in virtual mode, the least that the Minister could have done was to join the session virtually, which is not an impossible task if he is concerned about the Department he holds. It has become clear that some Ministers in this Government find themselves out of depth in the House when they are asked complex questions regarding their Departments. Very often, the Chief Minister has to rise and field questions on their behalf. Granted that quite a few MLAs struggle with the English language although they may explain things in-depth in Khasi or Garo. It is incumbent on the Speaker to allow discussions to be held in these two vernaculars with simultaneous translations as is done in Parliament. Simultaneous translations are not impossible provided some investments are made by the Assembly to help overcome communication bottlenecks in the House.
A farmers’ group recently stated their grievances to Governor Satya Pal Malik and requested him to take up the matter with the seriousness it deserves. Farmers are held captive by middle-men/women who charge 10% from them as transaction costs. The Chairman, Farmers’ Commission has been pointing out the problems faced by the farming community in Meghalaya and their diminishing interests in this occupation because the per capita investment by Government in this sector is far too low for the sector to take off the way it should. Meghalaya is soon touching 50 years but there is not a single cold storage in the State which could have assisted the farmers in stocking their products until they get a remunerative price for them. Producing crops and livestock is one thing but marketing them is quite another. In Meghalaya most farmers are forced to grow and also find the markets for their products, since there is no seamless system in place to take care of both the branding and marketing.
Non-government sectors like the Kolkata- based India Grameen Services had tried to create farmers’ cooperatives but other than a few in Garo Hills they could not succeed in their venture. Farmers’ cooperatives provide a cutting edge to farmers to decide the price of the crops and vegetables without being pressured by the market to sell them at depressed rates. If nearly 80 % of the people of Meghalaya are in the agricultural sector then whoever is the Agriculture Minister has to be serious with his Department and not treat his job like a hobby.