Oct 2, 2011

Dear farmer, your eviction notice

It is happening as per design. The demographic transition being witnessed - cities, towns and municipalities growing faster and bigger - is perhaps at a little slower pace than what was envisaged. But it is moving as planned. If you have read the World Development Report 2008, you would know what I mean. It called for land rentals and for setting up a network of centres to train the displaced farmers to become industrial workers. 

And this is exactly what the then finance ministerP Chidambaram did when he presented his last budget. He made a budgetary allocation for setting up 1,000 industrial training institutes across the country to provide training to the young from the rural areas who, as per the report , do not know anything except farming. 

In the next decade, between 2011 and 2021, India is expected to add another 95 million to its urban population. The process to expedite the demographic transition - by forcing farmers to abandon agriculture, and by usurping land, water and natural resources in the name of development - actually began much earlier. It was in 1996 that I first heard Dr Ismail Serageldin, a vice president of the World Bank and also the then chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research warn of the rapid swing in population from the rural to the urban centres. 

The Bank had projected that in the next 20 years - by 2015 - the number of people migrating from the rural to urban areas in India alone would be equal to twice the combined population of UK, France and Germany. The combined population of UK, France and Germany is 200 million. So the Bank had in 1995-96 estimated that 400 million people will move out of rural areas in India by the year 2015. I thought this was a warning, but looking at the way agricultural policies were being re-written to usher in corporate farming, and appropriate laws being introduced to acquire fertile land and groundwater for real estate and industry, it became obvious that the bank was actually laying the ground rules. Heeding the advice, Prime MinisterManmohan Singh, too, has called for a population shift saying that agriculture employs 70% more people than what is required. 

Over the years agriculture has been deliberately turned into a losing proposition as a result of which farmers are keen to move out. With over 250,000 farmers taking the fatal route in the past 15 years to escape the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness, and with over 42% farmers expressing the desire to quit agriculture, the terrible distress that prevails in the countryside has been all too apparent. 

The massive death toll has failed to make any difference, though. Ironically, more than 40 years after the launch of the Green Revolution , the average monthly income of a farm family hovers around a paltry Rs 2,400, which includes Rs 900 from non-farm activities. Those who feed the nation are going hungry. No wonder, an estimated twothird of MNREGA workers are actually land owners. Following the policy directives of World Bank/IMF, the government has been on a fast-track mode to divest farmers from their meagre land holdings. Rural India is literally on a boil. In the past decade , more than 2 million hectares of cultivable land, equivalent to the total arable land of Kerala, has been acquired for non-farm purposes . 

The next decade will probably see eight times more cultivable land being acquired in the name of development. Uttar Pradesh alone is set to acquire 6.6 million hectares for the proposed expressways. Several studies have shown that India will turn into a major food importer somewhere around 2017-18 , back into the days of 'ship-to-mouth' existence. Forcibly driven out from their only source of economic security, thousands of people are trudging out of the countryside everyday in the hope of a better future. They are swarming the smaller towns, cities and metros, which are bulging at the seams. Not only from Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh , Bihar and West Bengal, increasingly farmers from the frontline states of Punjab, Haryana , and western Uttar Pradesh are quitting agriculture. 

The ablebodied men are the first to move out, leaving behind the old and the weaker sex. They comprise the new breed of agricultural refugees . With 70% of the 60-crore farming population officially not required, the world's biggest environmental displacement is going to be witnessed on the farm in India in the decades to come. Not realising that what India needs is a production system by the masses , and not for the masses. 

Source: The Times of India, Oct 2, 2011. Link: http://bit.ly/o9AJs3


RKRAO said...

dear sharmaji,
That is a great article and should have desired center page;what should be done tp prevent this calamity?you should start a forum with like minded people

Abhishek said...

Dear Sir,

This is indeed a very useful information. I think Indian Govt. should take some proactive action to promote agriculture in our country. Afterall We are and were agriculture based country. I being in Software industry is preety much interested in doing agriculture myself and help our farmers. Just need some direction how and where to start..
Thanks again for useful information.