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July 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         June 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:May' 2018


Farm sector in deep crisis

Farmers have been protesting in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajastha
The country-wide agricultural stir from June 1 to 10 is yet another grim reminder to the Bharatiya Janta Party-led National Democratic Alliance establishment of the terrible plight of our farmers and their families. Even in the sugar belt of Western UP which has been in deep crisis, the ruling BJP was given a shattering blow by the electorate in the Kairana by-poll. This was a wake-up call, prompting the Centre to work out a Rs 8,000 crore package for the sugarcane industry, with an eye on clearing the dues of farmers. I do not think this will solve deep-rooted problems of debt-ridden farmers.

There has, of course, been no dearth of promises on the part of our globe-trotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and in the BJP’s 2004 election manifesto. But, as in other areas of the economy, most of the electoral promises remain on paper.

To say this is not to blame the BJP government for all the ills of agricultural economy. The Congress and all other parties are equally to blame for the accumulated woes of kisans over the years. This has mainly been due to ad hoc policies and postures and the absence of coordinated efforts and comprehensive crisis management on the part of the Central and State governments. No wonder, one crisis leads to another. And one set of ad hoc response leads to another set of adhocism.

Loan waivers are glaring examples. Since ours is basically an agrarian society we badly need a total overhaul of our agriculture policy and programmes. In the absence of clear farm policies at the national level, the distress signals from the rural areas have, of late, become shriller and shriller in the face of highly fluctuating market in minimum remunerative prices, notwithstanding bumper crops and huge stock.

But, who cares? Instead of addressing the real issues, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh described the farmers’ protest as “media gimmick” and a “bizarre way” to stay in the news”. What a shame! We have no instant answers for such arrogant ministers. The question here is not of the number of farmers who have actively joined the stir. It needs to be remembered that agriculture is by far the most important occupation in the country, both for men and women. The farmers today are facing all sorts of problems, including the impact of diesel and petrol price hike. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has put the onus on the global market for the crisis in farm prices.

Why is it so? What are problem areas and priorities? We do not have ready answers to some of the basic problems. Here I wish to recall a passage from the World Bank report of 1999 which specifically referred to India’s faulty marketing policies. It said, “government policies and their implementation are also stifling the growth and mordernisation of wastage of grains”. For the system as a whole, it put losses at 12 to 16 million tonnes of grain (including all grains) per year. And these losses “could feed 70 to 100 million people, about one-third of India’s poor”.

Radha Mohan Singh

Farmers holding a protest in front of Dhuri sugar mill in Sangrur

Scuffles between the protesting farmers and milk vendors at several places across Punjab
It so happens, India’s agriculture policies are favourably disposed toward operators, both at the official and nonofficial levels, instead of being farmer and consumer friendly. In this context, it is a fallacy to think that “relief packages” can solve problems. They are, at best, temporary measures – “a sort of shadow boxing”. And it will be suicidal to take shadow-boxing of promises an exercise in substance”.

Of course, from time to time, farmers are advised to diversify, moving away from wheat and paddy for other cash crops. They do respond for a better price. But their efforts hardly get them a fair return in the absence of a reliable marketing back-up. In the end, everyone gains except the farmer, who consoles himself by blaming his fate!

Farmers today are, however, better informed and assertive. This is just as well. For, the country has to get the right answers to the politico-bureaucratic stranglehold in every area of national life, including the farm sector. Here the trouble is that babus have become new czars. They conduct themselves under remote control with the result that communication gap between the “official machinery and farmers has become wider and wider”.

Another area which needs special care is updating of farm technology and making it more relevant to local conditions, specially keeping in mind the needs of small and medium-sized farmers. This requires availability of funds for need-based farm research.

Also, it is worth remembering that bad seed, bad technology, bad supervision and bad marketing cannot produce good results. We need to upgrade the marketing infrastructure and support services like mandi facilities, telecommunications, market information systems, roads and grading system of grains. Equally vital is the national attention on linking agricultural policy to population. Well, the alarm signals are very much there, Mr Prime Minister. Unfortunately, the authorities concerned tend to conduct themselves like the three mythical monkeys. They see no problem, they hear no problem and they refuse to talk about the real problems. Small wonder that debt-ridden farmers feel depressed. So is the rest of society!

It is not yet too late to realise that social progress, individual freedom, cultural and spiritual fulfillment, right technology, improved farm productivity, faster economic growth, better employment opportunities and poverty reduction are all inter dependent. Those at the helm must come down from their ivory towers and act, not make false promises!