Leav­ing the farmer in his agony

The BJP gov­ern­ment is set on in­tro­duc­ing poli­cies which will deepen the agrar­ian cri­sis in­stead of re­viv­ing the ru­ral econ­omy

Down to Earth - - LAST WORD - DOWN TO EARTH

Wphysi­cian gets his di­ag­no­sis of your HEN YOUR ail­ment right, that’s half the battle won. But if he then puts you on a reg­i­men that will only worsen your con­di­tion then you won­der about his mo­ti­va­tions. He doesn’t care? He has more promis­ing op­tions else­where? That’s the puz­zle over Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley’s 2015 bud­get.He was spot on when he said there were five ma­jor chal­lenges that hob­ble the health of the In­dian econ­omy,the first of th­ese be­ing the stress on farm in­comes. It was a prob­lem that he re­ferred to more than once in his bud­get.

Yet, Jait­ley’s so­lu­tion to this was more than odd. He cut the out­lay on agri­cul­ture by a whop­ping

5,648 crore com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year’s bud­get. He also re­duced the flow of vi­tal drips pro­vided by the Cen­tre,leav­ing it to the states to han­dle the re­vival.That’s akin to say­ing public health cen­tres should be tak­ing care of pa­tients in in­ten­sive care.

In­dia’s farm­ers have been seething more than ever in re­cent months. There is the usual crop of prob­lems that farm­ers have been con­tend­ing with: the steep rise in cost of in­puts while prices of com­modi­ties have been plum­met­ing; stub­born lev­els of in­debt­ed­ness that is push­ing more and more farm­ers to the brink. Sev­eral fac­tors are at play here.One is chang­ing na­ture of farm­ing with hor­ti­cul­ture be­com­ing more dom­i­nant in the agri­cul­ture bas­ket and con­comi­tantly the in­creas­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity of cul­ti­va­tors to mar­ket and cli­mate risks.The lat­ter is a prob­lem that few of our farm­ers are equipped to deal with given the poor state sup­port and the capri­cious crop in­sur­ance poli­cies it pro­motes.The re­cent un­sea­sonal rains and hail­storms,com­ing af­ter a pro­longed drought in sev­eral parts,has left swathes of de­struc­tion across the north­ern states, mak­ing liveli­hoods in the farm­ing com­mu­nity even more pre­car­i­ous.

Eco­nomic Sur­vey 2014-15 had warned of “a deeper shift in agri­cul­ture...which calls for greater at­ten­tion to this sec­tor” and urged that “the re­sponse in the short run must be to en­hance tar­geted sup­port for the vul­ner­a­ble in agri­cul­ture, namely the small farmer and agri­cul­tural labourer”.

Jait­ley has not heeded this. In­stead, he has taken away crit­i­cal sup­port to the small farmer while be­ing lav­ish with busi­nesses in­volved in the farm sec­tor. Like his pre­de­ces­sors,he is of­fer­ing colos­sal bank credit to the tune of 8,50,000 crore,up from 4,75,000 in 2011-12.As this col­umn has re­peat­edly pointed out (see ‘In the name of the farmer’, www.downtoearth.org.in, March 29, 2012),the bulk of this has gone to busi­ness houses, trade and the big farmer. Here, too, the Eco­nomic Sur­vey had put in a cau­tion. Among its wor­ries on the huge jump in credit to a sec­tor that has not grown com­men­su­rately, the Sur­vey says: “There has been a sub­stan­tial in­crease in share of agri­cul­tural credit out­stand­ing that em­anates from ur­ban and metropoli­tan ar­eas, which is deeply puz­zling.”

As the sky dark­ens for the farm­ing com­mu­nity which is chalk­ing up an un­nerv­ing num­ber of sui­cides, the bjp gov­ern­ment is set on poli­cies that will only deepen the agrar­ian cri­sis in­stead of re­viv­ing the ru­ral econ­omy which is the pri­or­ity now.Naren­dra Modi’s gov­ern­ment needs to lis­ten to the thou­sands of farm­ers who have been flock­ing to Delhi’s Jan­tar Man­tar protest grounds since Fe­bru­ary in ever grow­ing num­bers.Their gripe is not just about the Land Ac­qui­si­tion Or­di­nance but a host of is­sues that make farm­ing even less vi­able than it was a year ago.They want to know if Modi’s prom­ise to them that costs of cul­ti­va­tion will be cov­ered 150 per cent will be made good or re­main an­other of the bjp’s hol­low prom­ises.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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