In the past few days, at least four farmers have committed suicide in the frontline agricultural state of Punjab. In just two districts – Sangrur and Barnala – more than 3,000 farmers have taken the fatal route in the past decade to escape the humiliation that comes along with increasing indebtedness. If a more detailed and exhaustive study of agrarian distress was to be conducted, I am sure Punjab would emerge on the top leaving behind even the suicide-prone belt of Vidharba of Maharashtra.
Punjab is faced with a terrible agrarian crisis at a time when the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has signed agreements worth Rs 50-crore for the sale of sophisticated
farm technology and seed. This was announced at the end of a four day Agri-Tech fair that concluded in Chandigarh last Monday. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was among those who attended, and lauded the role of agribusiness industry in boosting food security. Industry heads, senior bureaucrats and agricultural experts lined up to promote expensive technological products.
There can be nothing more paradoxical. Heavy-duty farm machinery being sold at a
time when farmers are grappling with the worst-ever crisis on the farm front. On top of it, Punjab’s deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had expressed his inability to help farmers in distress saying that the State has no finances left to take care of the farming community. After paying for the staff salaries, and making budgetary allocations for various sectors, Punjab is left with no money to help farmers, he said at the agri-tech fair.
This makes me wonder for how long Indian farmers will continue to be systematically looted, not only by the middlemen and money-lenders but also by the agricultural scientists, input suppliers like seed, fertiliser and seed companies, and of course by the government through the unjust procurement prices. It is time that the farmers throw away the yoke of economic slavery and emerge out into a new age of economic freedom. Why shouldn’t farmers’ be demanding a direct income support instead of being misguided to use all kinds of external inputs as a way out to increase production and in turn increase his income. This is a faulty pathway. It helps only the industry.
For some years now, I have been asking for direct income support for farmers. I strongly feel that direct income support is the only way to bail out the beleaguered farming community. It is also the correct pathway to pull farmers out of the cycle of indebtedness that he is reeling under, and to show him the bright future ahead. Punjab, being the food bowl of the country, has to show the way. I don’t know why Punjab government doesn’t realize that farmers deserve to be at least equated with a chaprasi in the government. This is the least we can do for the people who provide us with our daily bread.
Why chaprasi, you will say? Well, because an ungrateful nation is not even willing to pay him one quarter of what it pays to a chaprasi. I am often told that to ask the policy makers to provide an average farmer a monthly income equivalent to that of a clerk in the government would be asking for too much. This is not true. At least a beginning be made, even if that means bringing the farmer at par with a government chaprasi.
A government chaprasi (peon) receives a monthly income of Rs 15,000 under the 6th pay Commission. The average monthly income of the Indian farmer was worked out at Rs 2,115 in 2003-04 by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). That was the last time the NSSO computed the farm income. Compultation of farm income was stopped thereafter probably because the government felt too embarrassed by the existing ground realities.
For Punjab, the average monthly of a farming family comes to not more than Rs 3,200 per month. The only other two States where farmer’s income is more than the national average are Jammu & Kashmir and Tamil Nadu. In other words, farmers earn not more than what a NREGA worker get in a month. Isn’t it therefore shocking to see farmers of India, who feed the country, being paid less than a NREGA worker? But more shockingly, I don’t see any section of the intelligentsia, agricultural scientists and the policy makers ever talking about the desperate need to enhance farm incomes.
I have often said that Rs 2000 is what I pay to my maid servant who comes to clean my house and wash the utensils twice a day. She works one hour and walks away with Rs 2000 a month. The poor farmer works 24x7 with his family of five members and yet is unable to earn more than what a maid servant makes in one hour of daily work. This is how we treat our farmers, our annadata.