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Thee ongoing agri crisis has shaken the nation’s conscience – one may even say it has evoked the guilt conscience to an extent. It appears to have come out of the blue – at least the politicians and the mainstream media would have us believe so. However,a little scratching below the surface would show that it has been a long time in the making – the recent incidents merely brought it out in the open.
The WTO and the world bank have been trying for long to alter the agrarian nature of India. In 1996 World Bank had given the target of moving at least half of our rural population out of the villages by the turn of the millennium. It tried various incentives and disincentives but the rate of migration is nowhere close to it. In 2016, the bank issued a reminder to expedite the process – sort of smoke people out of villages to have cheap labour for industries . Also, to grab prime land for commercial purposes.
Though agriculture in India was never a cash cow , suicides were unheard of .However ,post liberalisation things went from bad to worse . Even as the incomes of farmers increased their relative position vis- a -vis other sections kept slipping. Besides, every aspect of agriculture – from input to labour costs became far too expensive while the prices couldn’t even provide the basic expenses – what to speak of profits .Minimum support price did offer some succor but only to a small section , that too for a limited crops. In their bid to check retail inflation esp. in food items govt. stopped agri bonuses and didn’t raise the MSP –all of which eventually misfired. Farmer gets exploited right from inputs – usurious loans to output- marketing cartelisation in the Mandis. The current crisis has to be seen in the wider political template . Whenever BJP is in power agriculture takes a hit since it is not their core constituency. Besides their main supporters being brokers and middlemen the exploitation increases. Thus in the saffron regime, the question is not whether agriculture would suffer but how much?
About a decade ago, Madhya Pradesh embarked on a focused approach on Agriculture .Punjab had plateaued while M P had pristine land ; Manmohan Singh had waived off farmers’ loan and many dams had now come up – it was in this context the state’s output grew exponentially. For ten straight years it registered a growth in high double digits and bagged the Krishi Karman award four times. However , it failed to do value addition simultaneously – as a result growth followed the law of diminishing returns. In the past five years there was drought for 2 yrs wherein the farmer suffered and when good monsoons came last year there was bumper crop resulting in market crash .This combined with demonetisation pulled the trigger on the farmer and Mandsaur incident happened.
The firing incident is symptomatic of a systemic failure. It is an executive failure in that despite the bumper crop last year and good monsoons this year it failed to anticipate the crisis , it is a bureaucratic failure in that the administration couldn’t anticipate the flash point. Even if the growth rate is assumed correct – was it not logical that there would eventually be a crash.
Productivity and production increased but producer didn’t benefit .The benefits were cornered by corporates and middlemen. Assuming that the data is correct , it ought to have reflected in related data viz. reduction of poverty , decrease in infant mortality rate etc. It hasn’t according to a survey by an Independent agency Commissioned by the government. That the crisis management was poor is clear in that the authorities failed to guage the Patidar angle as also the involvement of Opium smugglers – bureaucracy is too centralized to have its ears on the ground.
Politically , the farmers have never been organised which is why their fate has gone from bad to worse .There have been farmer leaders but no major political party of farmers .However , the present crisis has the potential of throwing up some political alternatives .The fallout this time could be much more far reaching than the earlier farmer protests.
Economic consequences of these protests has meant loan waivers across the country in some form or the other running into lakhs of crores. That combined with matching write offs of NPA’s implies that the economy slows down – since both are non- productive acts.
Socially too the portents are ominous – since no section of society came out in the support of farmers – which showed a grave disconnect of others with farmers- an undercurrent of tension is brewing. This has been further fuelled by the fact that the gap between farmers and other sections has widened post liberalisation. Better connectivity and information has made us an aspirational society and too wide gaps are unsustainable.
Trends in the sector do not invoke any high degree of confidence : ban on cattle slaughter , surreptitious introduction of GM crops , the mismatch between imports and demand , WTO, RCEP ( Regional comprehensive economic partnership ) – looking at lifting the duties on dairy products and the whole lot.
The Madhya Pradesh government shamelessly tried to deflect the crisis blaming Congress and opium smugglers alone. During the period BJP’s Kisan Sandesh Yatra too was booed .A lot of right noises were made to douse the immediate fire- Announcing a Judicial inquiry, launching the Girdavri App, support price for Soyabean announced beforehand , no auctioning or confiscation of land of indebted farmers ; even defaulters eligible for further loans , interest on loans waived and buying onions at 8/- a kg.; besides, it was announced that FIR would be registered against any trader who doesn’t buy at the MSP- before being hastily withdrawn the next day.
However , the point is – Giradawri app ought to have been brought in earlier when the state had a bumper production of onion last season .Why were warehouses not built thru the year when there was bumper crop last time too? Why has not even a single FIR filed against cartelization in Mandis ?
Meanwhile ,the onion procurement too has been somewhat of a scam – in inflating transportation charges ,lack of storage –resulting in over 40 cr. loss to the exchequer. GOMP is trying to come up with its own crop insurance scheme to complement the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. It has also come up with the Bhavantar Yojana – a scheme to pay the farmers the gap between a model price and market rate directly. It is rumoured that offering a 50% profit could be one of its poll planks in 2018. All this combined with the Central govt’s avowed aim of doubling the farm income by 2022 should logically placate the farmers ,yet they appear dissatisfied . Why ? It is so since all the previous schemes and promises have turned out to be more hype than hope. For instance , the Bhavantar scheme merely ensures that at best farming losses are covered – it doesn’t en sure profit which is the slogan of GOMP. Morever , the biggest beneficiaries are the traders- BJP’s traditional vote banks.They cartelise to reduce the price when buying during Bhavantar period and later hike them. This results in govt .paying the major portion of the difference. Similarly , the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana clearly benefits the insurance companies – mostly cronies of govt.- much more than farmer. It is proven by the GOI data. In any case some farmers getting insurance is no substitute f or all farmers receiving fifty percent profit.
All said and done , the immediate demands are two – to fulfill the promise of giving one and half times the input costs as promised during elections and ensure elimination of the debt trap ( Not merely loan waiver ).As a short term initiate some kind of Universal basic income( UBI) -Telangana has started something on these lines- at least to small and marginal farmers to begin with and simultaneously renegotiate with WTO. In the mid term constitute a Kisan commission – for regular raise of farm incomes ; cooperativisation ought to be supported alongwith promoting corporatisation : Perhaps in basic and cash crops respectively –make it mandatory for corporate to deal with cooperatives ; bring farm loan waivers in ratio of corporate write offs; Improve storage and marketing facilities.; create many more local mandis ; remove middle men and marketing cartels- have Farmer mandis- need to empower and enable the farmer .Eventually , in the long term separate the organic and the inorganic economy , share economy and transactional economy , cyclical economy and linear economy, needs economy v/s wants economy –the former to be seen as employment generator and redistribution economy, latter as growth segment ; the ratio ought to be linked to India’s development. Decentralise Agriculture to the Panchyat level – at l east the non-cash crops – it ought to be a Panchayat subject.
A Vision- preferably till India@ 100 is needed and a Blueprint to actualise it. India must aim to be the biggest Food aid giver globally an its farmers must have an higher average income than citizens ( as in the case of some western countries).
Even if the production is doubled as is aimed for 2020 – that is not going to be enough. For , even that would not make the gap between the agri classes and others small enough to match the rising aspirations and be sustainable. The idea ought to take the minimum income of farmers to 18 thousand p.m at current prices- equivalent to the salary of the lowest govt employee. Since it is a systemic failure ,a systemic change is needed.A full spectrum- continuum approach is called for.There is a need to work at all levels : invest in agri infrastructure – it will get rural jobs as well as boost the rural economy; input ,incentives , safety , marketing et al. It is not the question of agriculture alone but that of all related aspects – environment , social unrest , climate change Any piecemeal measures would result in the civil war in slow motion; the million mutinies brewing now will gather pace and succeed.