Madhya Pradesh farmers' strike: Loan waiver is no solution, but does govt have any other ideas?

As farmers’ agitation spreads across Madhya Pradesh from Mandsaur and threatens to engulf other states too, we know loan waiver is no solution to their problems. It addresses the symptom, not the disease. It only relieves the immediate pain but holds no guarantee against its recurrence. It also is an incredibly heavy burden on the state exchequer. According to a media report, if all states go for loan waiver before the general elections in 2019, the cumulative burden on the exchequer would be Rs 2,57,000 crore. That’s a big amount.

That should bring us to other aspects of the ongoing agitation and the person at the centre of it: The farmer. Forget the ongoing political drama over the issue – Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has just been detained by Madhya Pradesh police while trying to enter the epicentre of the current agitation, Mandsaur, and the BJP thinks it’s a political gimmick. There are noises across the political spectrum. These actually confuse more than they clarify.

The circumstances of the Indian farmer are complicated indeed. If he produces less he is in trouble, if he produces more he is in trouble. If it rains more he is trouble, if it rains less he is in trouble. And finally he has no control over what he produces. He takes loans from private money-lenders and banks solely on the gamble that all factors affecting crops would remain benign. The gamble fails more often than not.

The result: 12,000 farmer suicides a year.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The circumstances of the Indian farmer are complicated indeed. If he produces less he is in trouble, if he produces more he is in trouble. If it rains more he is trouble, if it rains less he is in trouble. And finally he has no control over what he produces. He takes loans from private money-lenders and banks solely on the gamble that all factors affecting crops would remain benign. The gamble fails more often than not.

The result: 12,000 farmer suicides a year.

Yes, that is the number submitted by the central government before the Supreme Court earlier this year. Not all of them kill themselves over crop failure or unmanageable loans but the depressing circumstances in the farm sector are an aggravating factor. Interestingly, the farming community features large in the election manifestos of all political parties. And no other community in the country gets as much lip sympathy as farmers do. They feed the country, don’t they? Without their sweat and hard work there would be no food on our plates. How many times have we heard this?

We are aware of the statistic. Agriculture and allied activities support nearly 50 percent of our population and contribute a shade above 17 percent to the country’s GDP. These are poor numbers, reflecting that the country’s economy has not made the logical structural shift to manufacturing over time. Agriculture remains largely unremunerative for those dependent on it and subject to the vagaries of nature, it continues to be an unpredictable occupation. What aggravates the matter is the preponderance of small, fragmented holdings, not measuring beyond five acres.

As experts would tell us, the structural weaknesses in the sector run deep and wide. In the journey of any crop from farm to fork, it is the middleman who makes a killing. Lack of cold storages result a massive quantity of perishable goods get wasted. The practice of announcement of minimum support price by states could actually be encouraging farmers to produce less. There’s the problem of extortionist private money-lenders and of lack of irrigation. Now, the point here is all the troubles with the sagging agriculture sector in the country are well-known, discussed threadbare on all relevant platforms, including the political.

Why don’t we see any move towards remedies? While all political parties have been waxing eloquent on farmers, promising to address their problems in a comprehensive manner, the promised change is only visible on the manifestos. The only easy solution for them has been farm loan waiver. The BJP government under Narendra Modi has been serious on fiscal prudence, staying off extravagant populist measures. But the party’s chief ministers have been less than reverent to the idea.

The current wave of demand for loan waivers began with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s announcement of a Rs 36,000-crore waiver. Now there’s a ripple effect across states. Maharashtra under Devendra Fadnavis has already promised a similar move. Shivraj Singh Chouhan may follow. It becomes a compulsion of sorts for him. All this would suggest that the BJP is going the Congress way. But is that any long-term measure for the revival of a critical ailing sector? Obviously not. It would only fuel more demand for such sops. The farmer is not to blame for it. The circumstances of his existence need to change. It’s better if the governments focused on that.


Published Date: Jun 08, 2017 06:12 pm | Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 06:12 pm


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