Monday, February 20, 2012

(P)Rice of the farmer - AP news item!

Today news featured an MLA being arrested for smuggling across state borders. Big surprise and small stuff compared to the blokes watching adult films in the assembly in Karnataka,  accepting bribes on video and depositing cash bribes in their bank accounts (the last category surely weren’t trying to hide anything, were they?).

The MLA in question is called Jayaprakash Narayan…this is sounding awful. But wait. There’s some more spice to this. The item he was smuggling was foodgrains. He was smuggling it across the border from Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka. Joining him was a few hundred bullock carts driven by local farmers who were trying to do the same.  Whew! The young Jayaprakash Narayan was protesting a 65 year old law that prohibited sale of foodgrains across state borders. He was arrested and technically, as per the law, is a criminal.  On the other side othe border was his party colleagues waiting to purchase the food grains. Bloody criminal politicans,  hang 'em high!  See 

It turns out that this is just one of a series of such events to sell food grains across the border into Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha. So selling rice (addictive commodity I'm sure once it crosses the border) in another state (the buyers must be anti-national) is a crime (yippee for our strong rule of law). 

The foodgrains law in AP is one of many such laws across many states that are pro-poor. Govt procures all these foodgrains at lower prices. Restricting the entry of buyers into a market results in lower prices.  The low earning farmer now pays low wages to the blokes who may be helping him cultivate. The low earnings from the land reflect in the lower value of the land. Just in case the farmer wants to sell out and do something else, most states have restrictions on sale of agricultural land to persons from outside the state or for non-agricultural use.  Low value of land therefore means that he can borrow even lower sums of money by offering the land as security. These sums of money can be used for better agricultural practices and inputs or for the badly needed education he needs to be able to do other things that help him earn. But you're missing the point,  this old law is a pro-poor law, its helping the farmer, you see! 

The other asset that the farmer has, and people like him/her, are themselves as workers.  Since there are too many of them around relative to jobs, wage levels are low. The first reasonable chance that a better skilled and educated person gets, he migrates to another sector – often to a big city.  Myriad laws prevent the conversion of agricultural land for other use. As a result, there is often little industry present around agricultural communities that are doing badly. Net result- lousy wages in the rural side - every incentive to migrate to an urban area.

The farmers’ bodies also include assets such as blood and body organs.  Commercial blood donation is a legally accepted practice. Donating kidneys is not. Donating kidneys is as safe as safe can get – a dear friend of mine who lives in the US donated her kidney to someone who needed it – no problems at all since then. She, in fact, brought it to my notice that its now very, very safe . I’m not sure what the law is on bone-marrow donations. A recently Supreme Court ruling in the US took the govt to task for impeding this, on the grounds that bone-marrow donation is as safe as blood donation for the donor. The simple truth is that the affluent do not need to donate organs for money, only the not-affluent need to. If the culture of a society is voluntary donation (as is the case with the US, as reported in The Economist), then the prices will reflect this. Both ways there is a transfer of a surplus to a person with a life-threatening deficit.

It’s bad enough that we have rules that work overtime to keeping people poorer, by killing the prices for their assets or even killing markets. All in the name of protecting the poor.  In practice, this drives them to high –cost finance (moneylending or even micro-finance) or, in the eyes of the law, outright criminality. Land deals use fake routes, black markets exist for food grains and organs.  The net inflow of income and cash into the system is either prevented or illegal. We also end up categorizing them as criminals. Someone is going to jail for selling surplus food at a good price.  Can this get worse? WIth their arms and legs tied, these constituents have no other option but to look to government to hand out "dole" for support. 

Many political leaders thus realize that channeling dole to their constituents is what is their only protection and they fight for it. And then there are others   like Mr JP, who grasp the underlying dynamics. 

Mr JP, MLA. This is what political leadership for your constituents is about. I wish more such things would happen and receive front-page coverage as good political representation. This article was buried in the middle pages.


  1. This reminds me of Coffee powder shortage issue ! (Since the export of Coffee brought in more revenue and goes the rest of the story).

    MLAs are fighting for people ?? really ?? :-)

    1. some guys do it! and that's their job! i was so disappointed seeing this buried in a minor 4 to 6 line item somewhere. Should have been front page.