Exemptions granted to farming and related activities during the lockdown must be followed in practice
Drafting orders without caring for implementation seems to be the nature of governance during the period of lockdown.
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 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.”
Harvesting winter crops
These are the peak days of harvesting winter crops, wheat, barley, pulses and seeds; but all the farmers/workers are shut behind the doors.
The poultry farmers don’t know what to do with their products. The landless labourers and their families have absolutely no work.
It is ironic that migrant labourers were facing starvation while agricultural and horticultural produce was rotting in the fields.
Farmers have suffered losses in their mustard crop which could not be harvested in time and the local police have stopped the peasants from reaching their fields and harvesting and transporting the crop.
Assaults on forest dwellers
Equally ominous are the assaults on tribals and non-tribal forest dwellers by the police and officials in all the tribal areas of the country. Forest produce is by nature inherently seasonal.
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.
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.
The lockdown was introduced irrationally without ensuring the continuation of provisions statutorily mandated under the National Food Security Act, 2013.
Consequently, the 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.
Similarly, the 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.
A hastily imposed lockdown
The harshness and arbitrariness and lack of thought and preparation in its execution was certainly avoidable.
Starvation deaths on account of hunger and merciless police beatings have been reported from across the country.
The judiciary must now shift track. For some time, the courts have deferred to the government in view of the unprecedented crisis.
But now, with the crisis spreading to agriculture, the judiciary must abandon this hands-off approach.