Agrarian sector in dire straits

It is too early to predict the nature and characteristics of the emerging new farmers’ movement in India, but one thing is certain that the coming together of divergent forces and groups would invariably have a major impact on the politics of the country.
Four year ago, when Narendra Modi was moving around the country seeking the mandate of the people for his ascension to the office of the Prime Minister, he had promised to double the income of farmers within ten years and bring about fundamental change in the agrarian sector. But an insight into the developments taking place in the sector would make it clear that Modi has miserably failed to live up to his promise.
The Government keeps mentioning doubling of farm incomes, but fails to clarify whether it is gross income or net income. Gross income can increase if a farmer grows a cash crop with high debt. But when the cost of taking care of the family’s food and nutritional security is included, the net income will go down. The Government has to ensure that farmers’ net income increases if their welfare is to be taken care of. Net negative incomes are at the root of the debt crisis and farmer suicides. They must not be pushed into a debt trap by forcing costly inputs on them.
There is no denying that the rot that has crept into agriculture for over four decades cannot be rectified within four years. But certainly a sincere effort to set things right should have been initiated. Unfortunately, that has not happened. What is worse is that during these years while productivity declined, employment in agriculture has also shrunk. While the last two Censuses show a rise of some 10 per cent in agricultural employment, the National Sample Survey shows a considerable fall.
Traditionally, the interests of peasants, who want higher prices for their produce, are seen to go against the interests of workers, who get hurt by the higher prices. Under the neoliberal regime of BJP there has been a persistent squeeze on peasant agriculture through a progressive withdrawal of state support from this sector. One manifestation of this squeeze is the suicide of more than three lakh peasants over the last two decades while 15 million peasants have left farming between the 1991 and the 2011 Censuses.
Arun Srivastava
on e-mail