While we wait with abated breath to listen to you on Mar 22, I thought it appropriate to share my Mann ki Baat with you. I am not sure whether my thoughts will in any way influence your decision making, but at least I can share the plight and suffering of farmers – an outcome of deliberate economic policies over the years to keep me impoverished – with you. Knowing that you believe in sabka saath, sabka vikas I am hoping that you will not abandon the saath of 60-crore farmers in a quest to ensure vikas for a few.
You know it very well that the path to economic growth in India passes through its 6.4 lakh villages. Mahatma Gandhi had always talked of gram swaraj. In your election campaigns, you had quoted extensively from Mahatma Gandhi and promised to make agriculture economically viable. You had promised to provide 50 per cent profit to farmers over and above the cost of production. Whichever part of the country you campaigned, you talked about the terrible agrarian crisis. You talked of sugarcane farmers. You talked about cotton farmers. You reiterated again and again on the need to bring in more prosperity to the farm.
Farmers are now asking whether what you promised to them was also a chunavi jumla.
Soon after you became Pradhan Mantri in May 2014, a shortfall in monsoon had hit farming operations. Instead of rescuing farmers with an economic package, the government merely increased the minimum support price (MSP) for rice by Rs 50 per quintal, a rise of 3.8 per cent against an inflation rate of 7-8 per cent. For wheat in rabi season, the procurement price was also raised by a paltry Rs 50 per quintal. At a time when government employees get 107 per cent DA, does it not mean that farmers are being penalized for food inflation?
On top of it, the Food Ministry has directed the State governments not to provide any additional bonus to farmers. Procurement of rice and wheat is now being aggressively restricted, in Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh only 15 quintals per farmer are being procured while the rest is to be left to the exploitation by markets. Instead of expanding the network of APMC mandis the government is dismantling the existing ones. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has warned of a civil war within the country if MSP is withdrawn.
An international crash in commodity prices in 2014 has hit farmers. Cotton, sugarcane and basmati farmers have suffered a huge blow as a result. Prices have slumped by 40 to 60 per cent. As if this is not enough, unseasonal rains have devastated the standing crop in various parts of the country. More than 500 farmers have committed suicide in Telengana, Vidharbha and Marathwada regions since the beginning of this year, and there is an unprecedented gloom prevailing in the countryside.
According to the 2014 National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) the monthly average income of a farming family is only Rs 3078 from farming operations. Some studies estimate that nearly 62 per cent farmers depend on MNREGA to augment income, and almost 58 per cent farmers go to bed hungry. While the employees unions are demanding a minimum monthly basic salary of Rs 26,000 for a chaprasi in the 7th Pay Commission, a farmer is left to survive on a pittance. Why can’t we have a Farmers Income Commission that provides for an assured monthly take home package? Why should farmers alone be made to bear the burden of keeping food inflation low?
Agriculture crisis is not because of lack of technology but because of the deliberate effort to keep farm incomes low. BJP manifesto had opposed the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, but the government now appears to be aggressively pushing GM crops in the name of ‘more crop per drop’. There is no GM crop which increases crop productivity, and what is little known is that even in America, GM crops have failed to withstand the raging epic drought that continues for the 4th year in California and Texas. ‘More crop per drop’ is possible only with non-chemical agriculture, not with GM crops.
It is also being said that industry has to be provided with finances and tax holidays so as to generate revenue that can be used for agriculture and rural development. This thinking must change. A farmer is not a burden on the society. Neither do the poor lack entrepreneurship. It’s only that they are being denied an enabling environment. A poorest of the poor women in a village wants to buy a bakri. She gets a loan of Rs 8,000 from a micro-finance institution at 24 per cent interest, which effectively becomes 36 per cent on weekly repayments. On the other hand, Tata’s get a massive soft loan for their Nano car factory at an interest of 0.1 per cent. If only the poor women had got the loan at 0.1 per cent I bet she would be driving a Nano car at the end of the year. Similarly, there are some 25-crore landless farmers in our country. They are also hard working, and toil endlessly. If only the government could provide them 1 or 2 acres each, you will see the economic turnaround they bring.
Evicting farmers from their meager land holdings and teaching them skills to become industrial workers is what the World Bank had told India to do way back in 1996. It had wanted 40-crore people to be moved from rural to urban areas in next 20 years, by 2015. World Development Report 2008 had asked India to hasten the process by going in for land rentals. Further, Niti Ayog deputy chairman Arvind Panagariya has acknowledged in an article that if farm land is not acquired forcibly how the industry and infrastructure will get cheap labour. Pradhan mantra ji, please don’t relegate farmers to the level of dehari mazdoor. Neither do they want to pull rickshaw in cities.
Farmer’s land is his only economic security. They can turn it into an economic dream if you provide them even a fraction of the support that is doled out to the industry. In past 10 years, Rs 42-lakh crore has been given as tax concessions to the industry. In 2015 budget, Rs 5.90 lakh-crore was given as tax exemptions. Such a massive dole has failed to generate employment, and failed to increase industrial output. If only Rs 2-lakh crore a year was given to agriculture, and spent meaningfully, it would have not only created gainful employment for millions but taken vikas to every part of the country. That will truly be sabka saath, sabka vikas. #