One of the most talked about topics in today’s media is the distress of Indian farmers. The numerous suicides, low levels of income and the below average living conditions of the nation’s food providers are well known to us. We see protests being staged very frequently. Yes, this is an issue everyone is talking about. But, what is the conclusion? What is the solution? What, if anything at all, is being done to tackle this issue? In a country like India which boasts of having the second largest population in the world, there are innumerable mouths to feed. So ideally, the nation’s food providers must be the richest! Ironically, they are the poorest and the most exploited. This has been an issue since pre-independence. India has always been a nation of farmers. Agriculture has been our predominant form of occupation since the earliest civilizations. Given our rich network of rivers and the climatic conditions, agriculture has been the most important medium of income.
However, this took a negative turn during the British Rule in India. The British predominantly looked at India to maximize their profits. They modified cultivated crops to suit their export needs, focussing only on crops that could be exported for money. Hence, only cash crops and commercial crops began to be produced, and food crops were neglected. This led to stagnation of Indian agriculture, and thus began the plight of farmers. It is also important to note that this is the point where the farmers were reduced to mere cultivators, as pricing and selling was done by the British authorities and the Indian landlords.
This is the source of the problem. The farmers of today are just mere cultivators with almost no control over pricing and selling of their yields. Everything is in the hands of the middlemen who appropriate a huge portion of the profit while giving the farmers very little. This, coupled with a host of other problems like insufficient rain, lack of proper irrigation and infrastructure, lack of proper credit facilities, etc. are the major causes of the plight that the Indian farmers face today. Rainfall is something we do not have any control over. But the remaining factors are well under the purview of the government and can be solved by adequate state attention.
Every year, the government allocates enough allowance in the Union Budget for agricultural infrastructure such as proper irrigation facilities to be installed, proper transport and storage facilities to be provided. But very little of this fund actually is put in the use for which it is mandated. Similarly, there are a lot of provisions for providing special attention to the rural sector credit needs under the Financial Inclusion initiative of the government, such as setting up of bank branches and ATMs wherever there is a lack of proper access to credit institutions, opening of no-frills (zero standing balance) accounts for farmers, the Kisan Credit Card schemes, that aim at providing easy access to cheap credit to farmers so that they are not subject to the exploitative practices of rural money lenders. Yet, somehow, all these initiatives seem to be doing no good as we see a steady rise in the number of farmer suicides every year.
In the face of this, it is also important to evaluate the latest scheme the government has come up with to help this segment of the Indian population. Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, in the interim Union Budget 2019, announced the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme. According to this scheme, the government promised to transfer a sum of Rs. 6000 per year directly into the account of all small and marginal landowners (those with less than 2 hectares of land) in three equal installments of Rs. 2000 each. A sum of Rs. 20,000 crores have been allocated for the same in FY19 and another Rs. 75,000 crores for FY20.
Let us put this into perspective. A sum of Rs. 6000 annually means just about Rs. 500 a month. Given the current state of affairs, this sum is too meager an amount to substitute the farmer’s income. This sum will neither help the farmer to take care of his family efficiently, nor improve his farming techniques, nor enable him to pay off his debts. This seems to just be a way to absolve the state of taking a more comprehensive and effective action in tackling the issue. This, in simple terms, is a propaganda stunt to gain votes. If the effort has to be made to truly elevate this section of the society, then it should be more direct and active.
Steps are not being taken towards enabling the farmers to be able to repay their loans themselves but farm loan waivers are announced as a temporary respite just before the elections. The government is not looking into better ways of pricing the farm produce and instead came up with a direct income transfer scheme which yields so little benefit to the farmer and his family. Very recently, there was a farmers’ union protest staged in the country to bring out the fact that the minimum support price at which the government directly procures grain from the farmers was not as much as was promised to them. Here, we can clearly see that that all these policies that are made for this sector are actually not benefiting them. So what is important at this point is an in-depth analysis of the exact nature and causes of the problems that are being faced by this sector and then tackle them head-on. It is high time we stop treating this issue as a “go-to” election propaganda strategy and start prioritizing the lives of our feeders.
Picture Courtesy- HuffPost India