The farm crisis is really a jobs crisis
produce. Is it then any surprise that farmers are angry over what they get as procurement prices and subsidies?
Evidence from some of India’s other mini mutinies also merge into this narrative. Consider who all have been agitating for jobs and reservations. Over the last two years, we have seen the landed Patidars of Gujarat, the Gujjars and Jats of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the Kapus of Andhra Pradesh, and the Marathas of Maharashtra resorting to agitations to demand job reservations. These are all castes that have in the past depended on agriculture for livelihoods. But instead of talking farm prices and subsidies, they are talking jobs reservations. Clearly, they know that their families have outgrown the farms they own, and now need to look for jobs. This proves that half the problem in farms has to do with excess hands who need to find incomes outside the farm.
But this is what has stalled in a world where manufacturing and agro-industry jobs are increasingly being mechanised, and labour laws militate against hiring more people. This is what needs fixing.
The road to farm rejuvenation involves increasing farm sizes (currently 85% of India’s farmers are categorised as small or marginal) by allowing surplus labour to find other jobs, so that those who remain farmers can borrow and invest in raising productivity by adopting modern technology and mechanisation. The money now going down the loan waiver drain needs to be re-routed to investments in farm infrastructure — irrigation, canals, cold chains, etc. And yes, India needs to become one market for farm produce, by encouraging states to bring down the barriers to interstate movements.
Last, the Land Acquisition Act needs to be scrapped, and the focus shifted to creating a genuine market for land in rural areas. Most farmland near cities or highways now costs at least ₹50 lakh an acre. Which marginal farmer will not sell his land at true market prices if he can earn an annuity income of ₹30,000 a month without having to do any work?
The best way to serve farmers is to allow millions of them to exit farming, by allowing them to reap market prices for the one real asset they own: Their land. The UPA’s land Act militates against easy encashment of this asset by making land prohibitively expensive for infrastructure-building or expanding urban growth.
Protesters throw milk on the road outside the collector's office, Thane, Mumbai