The monsoon season is over. With 14 per cent shortfall in the amount of rains, and with nearly 39 per cent of the cropped area in the country hit by a crippling drought, I was expecting the Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan to announce a series of monetary benefits and exemptions in credit repayments for farmers. Reeling under drought for the 2nd consecutive year, farming continues to be faced with a terrible crisis.
Instead, Raghuram Rajan completely ignored agriculture when he presented the monetary policy last week cutting commercial bank’s lending interest rates drastically. This move is expected to provide a boost to the markets and will also help banks tidy their balance sheet. Only a month back, the government had infused Rs 20,000- crores in the public sector banks to help improve their financial health. This is nothing but an economic bailout package for the banks. The cut in rep rate will also help reduce the monthly repayment installments for those who have sought loans for homes and cars.
The continuing indifference towards 60-crore farmers does not stop here. The Government has through an affidavit in the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that it is not in a position to raise Minimum Support Price (MSP) for crops by providing 50 per cent profit as suggested by the Swaminathan committee. But the government didn’t wince even once when it released an additional 6 per cent DA installment to central government employees and that too at a time when the wholesale inflation rate is zero. This will entail an additional expenditure of Rs 10, 879-crores every year. No questions have been asked as to from where will this amount come from. Twelve-lakh employees working with loss-making Indian railways will get a bonus equivalent to 78 days salary.
For the farmers, the increase in procurement price by Rs 50 per quintal in case of both wheat and rice constitutes only an increase of 3.25 per cent over what was paid to farmers last year. This is just half of one of the DA installments that the employees have been paid this year. As you know, employees get two DA installments every year. Even the retired soldiers have been promised one rank one pension after a long struggle, entailing an additional expenditure of Rs 8,500-crores every year. But when it comes to farmers, the government invariably comes up with an apology saying it has no money. The step-motherly treatment to farmers therefore is clearly evident. While the government does not miss any opportunity to assure farmers of its commitment, the fact remains that farmers are being treated as if they are the children of a lesser god.
In another few months, the much-awaited report of the 7th Pay commission will be released. It is expected that the pay commission’s report will be implemented from January. The monthly salaries of central government employees and retirees will see a raise of 30 per cent in basic salary structure. This will bring in an additional burden of roughly Rs 2-lakh-crores for the central government. State government’s financial position will further buckle for the additional expenditure in wages for their employees. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has already assured the country that the huge burden of increased salaries will not be a fiscal constraint. His government is in a position to bear the additional cost. If this is true, I wonder why the government is unable to pay a higher MSP when it comes to farmers.
An Rs 100 per quintal increase in procurement price results in an additional expenditure of Rs 1,500-crore only. I see no reason why should the government express helplessness when it comes to farmers. For the farmers, such an increase in procurement prices will pull out millions of families from a virtual death trap. According to the latest socio-economic survey findings, 67-crore people in rural areas somehow survive on less than Rs 33 a day. Considering that a majority of the 70 per cent population living in rural areas comprises of farmers, the plight of farming community is clearly visible. Only the policy makers refuse to see it. Moreover, as per a study by the Chandigarh-based Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) the average farm debt has multiplied by 22 times in Punjab alone, the most progressive agricultural frontline state. From Rs 0.25 lakh per household in 2004 it has gone up to Rs 5.6 lakh in 2014. It is however Chhattisgarh which tops the chart with an average debt of Rs 7.54 lakh followed by Kerala with Rs 6.48 lakh per household. Punjab figures at number three. About 98 per cent of the rural households are in a debt in Punjab.
The serial death dance continues unabated throughout the country. A record number of farmers have committed suicide in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Marathwada and Vidharba in Maharashtra, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This year, since the beginning of January, ever thing appears to have gone wrong for farmers. First, the incessant rains and hailstorm hit standing crops at the ripening stage in the months of April-May. This was followed by drought in the months of August-September. In addition, more than Rs 10,000-crore of arrears remain unpaid to sugarcane growers; potato farmers were forced to distribute potato free of cost to the public; a severe attack of whitefly post on cotton devastated standing crop in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and on top of it the slump in commodity prices globally has hit farmers of basmati rice, soybean, coffee, cotton and milk is expected to be the next casualty of the falling global prices.
Such is the depressing scenario that a major national newspaper has launched a drive to collect food for the annadata in Marathwada. Since January, more than 660 farmers have officially committed suicide in Marathwada alone prompting the newspaper to make an appeal. Imagine how bad the situation must be when food is being collected for those who produce food for the country. But for the government, it doesn’t matter. The death dance in the countryside doesn’t make any difference. When the report of the 7th Pay Commission is implemented, the GDP is expected to rise by about 2 per cent. The government will then project GDP growth as its achievement.
I have nothing against government employees. Please give them a higher salary, and also increased allowances that comes along with the pay package. But why discriminate against farmers? They too are citizens of an Independent India. They too have families to take care of. They too need a living income to survive. Two steps therefore need to be taken urgently: 1) Provide immediately an economic bailout package for farmers. If banks can be provided with a bailout package of Rs 20,000-crore and all kinds of sops be given the industry, including for exports, there is no reason why farmers cannot be given an economic bailout package of at least Rs 3-lakh-crores. 2) Set up a Farmers Income Commission that works out the minimum assured monthly take home income package. If it is proposed to give a chaprasi a monthly salary of Rs 29,000 under the 7th Pay Commission, I see no reason why farmers should earn less than the prescribed wages for daily wager workers. #