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Why in news?

  • An order dated March 28 said all agricultural, horticultural activities and those relating to harvesting, transportation, procurement, mandis, farming operations and the like are exempted from the lockdown. The order was made so that “harvesting would continue uninterrupted”.
  • The exempted categories included “agencies engaged in procurement of agriculture products, including MSP operations; mandis; farmers and farm workers in the field; custom hiring centres related to farm machinery; manufacturing and packaging units of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds; and intra- and inter-state movement of harvesting and sowing-related machines.”
  • The order went on to say that “this decision has been taken with a view to facilitate unhindered activities related to agriculture and farming so as to ensure essential supplies and that farmers and common people do not face any difficulty.”
  • In a press release on March 27, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee (AIKSCC), in a representation to the government, had asked the police not to stop peasants and said “there should be no harassment and violence against peasants, farmers, vendors and transporters.”
  • The committee demanded that all harvested crops, milk, poultry, meat and eggs should be procured and that regulated markets should operate at requisite strength, failing which, the panel feared, village-level procurement and supply “will rot and ruin the producer farmers.”

Adverse effects of the lockdown

  • If harvesting is interrupted, if transportation of produce is halted on account of vehicles with passes not being available, if farmers and farm workers are lathi-charged on their way to work and if the mandis do not operate at full strength, there could be an unprecedented food crisis.
  • Officials have interfered with the collection of non-timber forest produce, as allowed by the Forest Rights Act, causing hunger and distress to millions of tribals.
  • Anganwadis were closed in panic and supplementary nutrition for children below 6 years and for pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls came to an immediate stop.
  • Mid-day meal, which reaches millions of school-going students, was abruptly discontinued. The provision of ₹6,000 to every pregnant woman and lactating mother, mandated under the Maternity Benefit Act, also virtually came to an end.
  • This is not to say that some form of a lockdown was unnecessary; however, the harshness and arbitrariness and lack of thought and preparation in its execution was certainly avoidable.
February 2024