Dr. Ashwani Mahajan
In the past nearly two decades condition of farmers in India has been deteriorating fast. According to a rough estimate, nearly 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide so far. For many years farmers’ suicides have been increasing constantly. Government was not publishing data on farmers’ suicides for the last two years. Sometime back Government has published data on farmers’ suicides for the year 2016, according to which number of farmers committing suicide in 2016 is less than this number in 2015. However, some experts don’t believe this number to be real. Plight of farmers is also reflected from the fact that share of agriculture which used to be 25 percent GDP in 1990-91, has dipped down to nearly 15 percent now. Saddest thing is that per capita income in urban India is approximately 9 times that of per capita incomes in rural India. Present government has announced its resolve to double farmers’ income by the year 2022. All departments of the government and NITI Aayog are all engaged in formulating policies and plans to achieve this target. It’s being contemplated that to achieve this goal we need to adopt two pronged strategy of giving remunerative price to the farmers’ produce and reducing cost of cultivation.
Along with this we can supplement farmers’ income by encouraging dairy and animal husbandry, horticulture, fishing, mushroom farming, forestry, poultry etc. If all these measures are adopted, farming which has turned into a loss making proposition, can exhibit a turnaround.
Condition of the farmers is no secret and this crisis is becoming unbearable for them and they are going on agitation mode. To somehow address rural crisis, government has announced grant of minimum support price no less than cost plus 50 percent, which was also the election promise of the present government. It’s important to note that previously this MSP was applicable to only a few items, which will now be extended to all commodities.
Apart from this, another important step this government has taken is that Kisan Credit Cards (KCC), which were available to only land owning farmers, could now be offered to landless rural people too, engaged in fishing and animal husbandry. This is being considered to be an important step as cheap agricultural loans could now be extended to these occupations as well.
Policy makers are confused
Although, head of the Government Prime Minister Narendra Modi has constantly been engaged in making schemes and programs to improve condition of the farmers, confusion is very apparent amongst other policy makers and Government’s advisers. In the Economic Survey 2017-18, present before the budget, without mincing words, it was unequivocally said that Government’s priority should be to flush farmers out of agriculture. Adding insult to the injury of the farmers, Economic Survey 2017-18 says, at the same time, Dr. Ambedkar warned about the dangers of romanticizing rural India. He famously derided the village as “a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism,” thereby expressing a deeper truth an Indian social complement to the Lewisian economic insight that in the long run people need to move and be moved out of agriculture for non-economic reasons. Its known to all that author of Economic Survey is Chief Economic Advisor.
Economic reasons to flush farmers out of agriculture are enumerated by many other ‘economists’ and policy makers. They say that since productivity is very low in Indian agriculture, therefore to increase their incomes they should be shunted out and sent to manufacturing and service sector. In their obsession with this argument, they don’t feel necessary to explain if the job opportunities are available in manufacturing and services.
This is not the first time that such policy prescriptions are being offered to end agriculture crisis. Former Prime Minister also used to give these policy prescriptions when he was Finance Minister under Narsimha Rao Government and also when he himself was PM.
Former Governor of RBI Raghu Ram Rajan leaves no opportunity in making these suggestions. Very recently, he said that India needs to come out of agriculture and make a shift to industry and services. Though, while making such suggestions, argument of these learned ‘economists’ and policy makers is that this will help raising incomes of the people engaged in agriculture. But they conveniently forget that there are hardly any employment opportunities in the non-agriculture sector. Condition of urban slums is pathetic. These slums have become the centers of dirt, diseases, and insecurity, crime and anti social activities. We note that in the last three decades hardly any employment opportunities could be created in manufacturing sector. Service sector has also very limited employment opportunities available for unskilled and uneducated labour. One can’t believe that these policy makers are unaware of these ground realities. Despite, their insistence on flushing rural population out, creates doubts about their intentions. These policy makers always try to blame low productivity in agriculture for the plight of Indian farmers. They argue that all over the world, development could happen only by shifting rural population to the urban areas. Therefore, their suggestion has always been to follow the same path. However, they conveniently forget that villages and farming play a major role not only for food security of the nation, but also employment for more than half of the working population. Since, there is dearth of employment opportunities outside rural areas, we need to provide gainful employment to the rural population (both land owing farmers and landless labour) at their door step. We can create this employment by promoting dairy and animal husbandry, mushroom farming, poultry, forestry, horticulture, fishing, food processing etc. Because of the policy makers’ obsession with migrating rural population to urban areas, no significant efforts have been made in this direction.
Today the need of the hour is to save farming and farmers from this obsession of policy makers.
(The author is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)