FARM PRODUCE NO LONGER ESSENTIAL!

VIRTUAL: We are moving to a world of virtual reality in which both work and play has shifted to the smart phone and the computer.

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the Modi government passed three bills against the interest of farmers. For the Saturday following the week when a section of the press gave a very lucid account of what it is to live in a virtual world. For the Saturday following the week when there was no sign of schools and colleges re-opening. For the Saturday following the week when it was rumoured that Deepika Padukone Singh in the Sushant Singh Rajput case also suffered from drugs and depression. For the Saturday following the week when the prices of essential goods like vegetables and food shot over the sky.
AND a few stray thoughts on Parliament passing three bills which have declared that the daily necessities of life will no longer be considered essential goods henceforth. Which means that rice and wheat and edible oil and potatoes and onions will no longer be considered essential items. Presumably only smart phones and electric cars and teleconferencing equipment incorporating zoom is now to be considered essential services.
Historically, farmers have felt a sense of security as the common goods of subsistence were considered essential commodities. By implication agriculture and its products enjoyed protection. The plight of the farmer in the country has been pathetic for years on end. In years when there have been good monsoons farmers have reaped a bumper crop. One would presume that this would make him happy as a bumper crop would mean that he would able to sell more of his agricultural produce and earn more money.
In reality, the reverse is true. In a world governed by the law of supply and demand, when there is a bumper crop the prices crash. To give an example, if the price of onions, a most widely consumed vegetable, is on an average 50 per kg, it will drop to10 per kg. Bumper production will force bumper the farmer to bring down the prices to dispose of his excess production.
Conversely when there are no good monsoon and there is a famine it is not the farmer who benefits from the increase in price. Logically, if the supply in the market falls sharply, the prices of grains like rice and wheat and onions and potatoes shoot up. So the farmer should be able to compensate for the fall in production by the increase in price. In either situation of a bumper harvest or a famine it is the middle man who benefits.
The BJP has always been a party of traders. Which is why it has passed three food bills to benefit the middle man and multinationals at the expense of the farmer. Historically, successive governments protected the farmer as we all depend on them to put food on our table which keeps us alive.
With this in view minimum support prices were fixed at the beginning of the season for various essential commodities. A chain of agricultural markets were set up so that even if there was a bumper crop and the price of essential agricultural goods collapsed, the farmer would be able to sell his produce to the government at the fixed price in the agricultural markets set up by the government. With the government declaring that basic agricultural produce will no longer be considered essential commodities, it is advantage middlemen and growing chain of supermarkets.
The farmer has not been able to benefit from either bumper crop or drought because he does not have storage facilities. All the produce the farmer is dealing with are perishable commodities. He cannot hold on to potatoes and tomatoes for a week. Why prices keep going up is because traders hoard essential agriculture commodities.
At least in the past the quantity of essential agricultural produce the middle man could hold on to was limited by his financial capacity. Even the middle man in the country did not have the resources of huge multinational corporations like Reliance Industries and Amazon. This two companies have come together to form a gigantic infrastructure of refrigerated go-downs and vans, if not trains too, which will now dictate terms to the farmers.
The Reliance-Amazon combine will buy essential agricultural produce when they are at the cheapest and sell them at very high prices by creating an artificial shortage. We have already seen this happening with the market being flooded with apples from New Zealand. Conversely the best basmati rice and Himachal apples are exported to London and New York! I recall paying as much as it pound for a large banana in the London market.
The objective of the three agricultural bills that have been passed is to exploit the farmer for the benefit of the multi-crorepati friends of Narendra Modi. The bills are aimed at corporatization of agricultural produce. Which means that the huge multinationals with unlimited resources will dictate what agriculture produce should be produced at what price.
You already have the Reliance chain of supermarkets which supplies any vegetables you want in whatever quantity you want. Magsons in Goa has tied up with Godrej Green Basket to offer shoppers exotic vegetables like avocados and broccoli. In theory they continue to sell at premium selling prices. But it does not benefit the farmer. The new agricultural policy which comes into force with the passage of the new bills will only increase the number of farmer suicides. The net effect of the three bills passed is that the farmer no longer enjoys the protection he had under the Essential Commodities Act. Agricultural produce is no longer considered in the essentials list.

VIRTUAL REALITY

AND a few stray thoughts on what it means to live and work in a world of virtual reality. A section of the national press has very lucidly explained the confusion that it is causing in the minds of young people. The fact that Covid-19 continues to be on rampage with no let-up in number of cases worldwide and in India does not mean that fresh employment has stopped. No doubt a number of contract labor have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. It is ironic as the ghar wapasi of the huge population of migrants from various states including Goa has created an acute shortage of labour.
To the extent that last Sunday when we asked a migrant from Karnataka to clean the compound of a villa, he asked for `1,000. As if he was in Dubai or London and not in Goa! However, though a lot of contract labour may have lost jobs there continues to be a huge demand for highly qualified people. In automobile factories robots may have replaced blue collar workers in some areas. But you still need highly qualified IT engineers to supervise the bots as they are called.
Similarly, diesel and petrol engines are on their way out. But we will still need an electrical mechanic for the electrical cycles, motorcycles and cars replacing petrol and diesel vehicles. The latest revolution in the automobile sector is driverless cars which are fitted with sensors which can recognise blockages and drive around them. The driverless cars are not really driverless but sort of drones – much like guided but pilotless drones in the air with ultra sensitive surveillance equipment.
It is drones which are dropping remote control bombs on terrorist camps in Afghanistan and they are guided by very highly qualified pilots in distant control rooms. You will understand this better when you think of computer bills which are paid remotely.
An article in a section of the media this week talks of a young lady employed as a public relations expert by a computer company. She has been hired virtually through an interview carried out in zoom conferencing. She is co-ordinating with hundreds of employees in the organisation. But she has not met any of them because from the day she was employed she has only interacted with them online. At the end of the first month the new employee who is only 25 years wants to celebrate her first month in the job. But in our Covid-19 era there is no question of her organising a party and in any case she has not physically met either her boss or her colleagues.
Because of the physical distancing in force an increasing number of employees have been asked to work from home. A lot of them have problems doing so since they do not associate home as an office work place. School going kids are even more confused because having got used to going to school to sit on benches and throw paper missiles at unsuspecting fellow students and the occasional teacher, they are now isolated at home learning and interacting with the teacher on the smartphone or the computer!
What is not realised by the superpowers that be in a country is that India is just does not have the infrastructure for online working or online education. The majority of children studying in government schools in Goa do not have smart phones. An even if they were donated the latest Apple phones they would not benefit as there will be no range. You may talk about 4G and 5G but the ground reality is they have not even mastered 2G.

EDUCATION CHANGEOVERS

AND a few stray thoughts on why there are no signs of schools and colleges reopening in Goa. There was a time when the Goa government wanted to skip classes for the current academic year. This was turned down by the Supreme Court which made it clear that there cannot be any question of school children skipping an academic year. The decision of the SC was made in the context of skipping the entrance exams for engineering and medical colleges. It applies equally for all educational institutions. The only major change is the structuring of the educational system at school level.
The old balwadi and the kindergarten schools have disappeared. Formal education does not start at the age of five years as it has been all these years but at the age of three years. The old educational system has been replaced by a new school curriculum. The 5+3+3+4 structure will include a foundational stage from 3 to 8, three years of pre-primary education from 8 to 11, a preparatory stage from 11 to 14, while the secondary stage would comprise 14 to 18 years.
According to NEP 2020 school students will take exams only for Classes 3, 5, and 8. Assessment in other years will shift to a “regular and formative” style that will be more “competency-based” to promote learning and development testing “higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking and conceptual clarity.” The duplication of barriers to higher education have been removed as there will be no exam at the end of the 10th standard which is popularly called the SSC.
There will only be the current higher secondary exam which will determine entry to higher education. Even in the case of higher education those who do not wish to pursue further education will only have to do a three-year degree course. Only those who want to specialise will have to complete a four-year degree course. The curriculum will also let you chose your own combination of subjects instead of trapping you in the straitjacket of PCM and PCD and similar combinations for arts courses.

FILMI DRUG SCAMS

AND a last a stray thought on the latest superstar of Bollywood who has been implicated in the Sushant Singh Rajput mystery suicide. The original investigation to determine whether it was a suicide or homicide has been abandoned or at least forgotten by the media. The focus has shifted to the narcotics and how it is traded.
It is now claimed at least by the electronic media that the death of Sushant was a mega drug scam involving the top stars of Bollywood. Indeed, Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami has been devoting all his waking life only to this one case as if nothing else is happening in the country.
The latest breaking news is that superstar Deepika Padukone and her manager may also be involved with drug trafficking. This is apparently based on text messages exchanged by Deepika with her manager. The politicians involved in the case are not even being mentioned. In Parliament the only MP who objected to the tarnishing of the image of Hindi cinema was Jaya Bachchan. To which Kangana Ranaut is reported to have responded that Jaya would have reacted differently if her children had committed suicide or been trapped by a drug cartel.
In the meanwhile Karan Johar and his company Dharma Production is reported to be shooting in Panaji, residing at the Country Inn. Covid-19 or no Covid-19 everyone considers Goa the hideaway safe party destination where you can forget about living life health wise and even party at a rave or trance party if you want.

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