The Political Fix: Agriculture's 1991 moment, Covid-19 resources and more Friday links

All the links you need on Indian politics and policy.

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Housekeeping

On Monday, I wrote about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 20 lakh crore economic package and what that number actually means.

The newsletter normally comes with analysis and links to pieces on Indian politics and policy from around the web. But this week’s Monday edition only featured the analysis, in part because there was a lot to unpack.

I have, however, noted that more than 70% of readers said you would prefer the links to come in a second email on Fridays (based on this always-open survey for readers of the Political Fix. Please fill it out and send in suggestions!)

So this week, I’m putting some of the links in a Friday email.

If you hate the idea, write in to rohan@scroll.in telling me why and what you would prefer. And if I find that most of you end up leaving this second mail unread – there is always too much to read – we’ll revert to the old format.

Thanks again for reading the Political Fix. And if you enjoy this newsletter, please share it with someone who would find it useful!

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Agriculture redux

On Monday’s edition, I noted that, for some, the only positive portion of the economic package was the section on agriculture reforms, which were even being referred to as the industry’s 1991 moment.

Ashok Gulati expanded on that claim, saying the moves to remove foodstuffs from the Essential Commodities Act (thereby deregulating them), allowing farmers to sell their produce beyond the APMC mandis including inter-state trade, and creating a legal framework for contact farming could completely change Indian agriculture.

NIPFP’s Ajay Shah, meanwhile, explained how the changes fit into the overall framework of the market for food in India, which he says is “a nice demonstration of the failures of traditional Indian development thinking.

Not everyone is euphoric however.

Hindustan Times’ Roshan Kishore wrote about the mistaken assumptions about how agriculture actually works in India, citing data to rebut some of those claims. In his view, the changes might mean that “the worst possible outcome [is] entirely possible. The farmers might be left on their own to deal with perhaps a bigger monopsonist than they were faced with when the prices are low. And, when they do go up, the government will bring back controls in the name of food security.”

Mekhala Krishnamurthy of CPR also called for caution, saying “if this moment is to be a watershed for Indian farmers, we must not begin by overstating the power of legal reform in guaranteeing economic freedom and outcomes.”

The changes also bring up questions about federalism, since agriculture is a state subject.

More Covid-19 (and other) resources

I’ve pointed you to resources that are tracking various aspects of the Covid-19 crisis in previous issues – things like the blog collecting information on Corona Policy Impact in India, the IMF’s Coronavirus policy page, PRS’ collection of Covid-19 notifications and Rukmini S’s The Moving Curve podcast.

I want to add a few more here:

  • The Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University has a big collecting the results of lockdown impact surveys from many different organisations and researchers, all in one place.

  • “The Collaboration/COVID Action Support Group (CoAST India):
    The GIS enabled dashboard will help in planning urgent steps to get the stranded migrant workers and other vulnerable population to safety and care. You can visualize facilities like schools and hospitals along the road networks, relief camps, quarantine centers and healthcare services, and also access directory of service providers such as individuals, government officials and NGOs/CSOs working in all parts of India.”

  • “The COVID-19 crisis in India has made the migrant workers visible in public discourse. But the dominant narratives have made them visible as subjects of compassion, as perpetual victims seeking help of others and not as active makers of our society, not as rightful citizens, not as resisting political subjects who can challenge the oppressive conditions surrounding them.
    The ‘Migrant Workers’ Resistance Map’ is an attempt to document acts of resistance by migrant workers since the beginning of the lockdown.”

  • The Accountability Initiative has a study of state finances for 2020-21, put together by Avani Kapur, Sharad Pandey, Udit Ranjan and Vastav Ira.

  • ORF also has a state-by-state look at how the pandemic has played out.

  • Aman Thakkar’s Indialogue newsletter tracks policy changes in India every week.

I’m probably missing much more (or had it linked to in the recommendation corner in the past), but send any useful resources that I haven’t included here to rohan@scroll.in

Linking out

That’s all for this Friday links edition of the Political Fix. Again, if you have thoughts, bouquets or brickbats (or links that I’ve missed), send them to rohan@scroll.in.

And if you enjoy this newsletter, please do share it!

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