The farm cri­sis is re­ally a jobs cri­sis

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Front Page - R Jagannathan is ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor, Swara­jya The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

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.

PTI

Pro­test­ers throw milk on the road out­side the col­lec­tor's of­fice, Thane, Mum­bai

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