New Delhi: There is no relation between the old solutions babus have accumulated over a period of time and the fresh problems that farmers of this country are facing every day. The ill-conceived effort to resolve woes of farmers, who are harvesting debt every month, through official presentations is nothing more than a repetitive process irrespective of the shades of power in the Centre since independence.
Why were angry and agitated farmers knocking on the door of Delhi on Tuesday? One doesn't need penetrating vision to comprehend. It is a cruel and well-known fact that half of the India’s agricultural household is overburdened with debt besides facing various issues of unviable and unsustainable farming. The Congress-led UPA had claimed to having solved all the problems with farm loan waiver scheme which later turned out to be a Rs 52,000 crore scam. Its successor, NDA headed by Narendra Modi after coming to power identified six major issues plaguing farmers, however, a majority of them remain buried in powerpoint presentations prepared by about a dozen top bureaucrats.
A senior government officer once quipped the real problem is not about policies but lack of insight and we are acting like a shoemaker who blames the feet when the shoes don’t fit. The fact is rural India, which politicians fondly remember as ‘Bharat’ to harvest electoral dividends, has an estimated 90.2 million agricultural households dependent mainly on cultivation. Of these, about 52 percent households are under debt of an average Rs 47,000 per household. It is a fact that only 45 percent of the land is irrigated and there is massive shortage of funds to create additional irrigation potential.
It cannot be denied that bureaucrats did not read the facts before drafting the solutions.
But, lack of inputs from ground zero resulted in pointless cultivation of ideas in the lutyens Delhi and that is why they noted on the file ‘identify the problems and suggest possible solutions without putting pressure on the gross budgetary support’, which is a typical babu’s phrase in the governance. It comes with a hidden statutory warning that things may or may not improve and they will not be held accountable for it. Moreover, they have failed to answer a simple question — why a farmer in rural Maharashtra is paid just Rs 2 for one kilogramme of tomato that is sold for Rs 50 per kilogramme in the big cities? Babus did think about it.
A file lying in the Cabinet Secretariat says three issues — fragmented markets, restrictive regulatory provisions and limited access to alternative markets other than mandis — are real culprits for farmers' distress. And to resolve these issues, they came out with a magic pill — one nation one market — but that failed to cure the ills. In reality, the idea failed to take off due to the indifferent attitude of the states and the government machinery, and whatever little effort made through E-National Agriculture Market hardly made any difference to the lives of the farmers. That is the reason, the farmers demand the government to assure minimum income so that they can at least survive.
The cry is loud and clear — they are unable to find a way to get out of current agriculture mess and seems to be totally fed up with the struggle. Among the 15 major demands, the farmers are seeking loan waiver, free electricity for running tube wells, release of pending sugarcane payments and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report.
Government documents show they have considered all these aspects while addressing the concerns of the farmers in the last couple of years. For example, increase in productivity, remunerative prices and market support has been on the top of the at least nine other recent initiatives of the government to double farmers' income by 2022. Alas, the team that advised the cure did not have a single farmers representative or agriculture expert on board and the Babus were left with their magic wand and blamed the farmers for being slow in adopting new technologies.
It is true the agriculture sector cannot remain static but the government has to take initiative to bridge the gap. For example, the farmers are also seeking amendment in crop insurance scheme since climate change is impacting the agriculture produce. It is a fact that only 42 percent small and marginal farmers have access to crop insurance and on many occasion they were given Rs 10-15 for damaged crop, which is like rubbing salt in wound. Now, the government has to come out with a uniform solution. It is also a fact that only 6 percent of the net bank credit goes to small and marginal farmers despite the government's attempts since 2006 to ensure hassle free loan and provide short-term crop loans up to Rs 3 lakh.
When successive governments admit that farmers indebtedness is a major cause of suicide, why not increase the coverage of flow of credit to farmers? The present government has made some efforts to extend agriculture credit to small and marginal farmers with an achievement of covering 56 percent but that is not enough and a large population is left to the mercy of professional money lenders.
The government should also get farmers representatives on board during the arduous effort to understand the ground reality and to solidify the effect of progressive policies if it's serious to make farming viable, profitable, and sustainable.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Oct 03, 2018 09:47:07 IST