FARMER SUICIDES IN INDIA FROM 1995 TO 2015
Despite the Centre urging the states to keep their finances in mind before announcing populist measures, Merrill Lynch analysts say the states will continue to be in breach of the indicative 3-3.5 per cent fiscal deficit numbers, a key risk to the fiscal roadmap proposed by the N.K. Singh committee this January.
Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel termed loan waivers a “moral hazard”, saying they undermined an honest credit culture. Chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian and SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya were equally critical. Left economists did bat for the move, saying if banks can have NPAs and black money continues to be stashed abroad, why can’t farmers be waived their loans?
Now consider another number: 318,528. This is the National Crime Records Bureau’s estimate of the number of farmer suicides between 1995 and 2015, which works out to roughly one every half hour. The issue was serious enough for a Supreme Court bench, consisting of Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and S.K. Kaul, to ask the Centre on March 27 to file a report within four weeks on what plan of action the states had to tackle the issue of farmer suicides. The court also wanted the government to “come out with a policy that deals with the root causes” of farmer suicides.
Curiously, the country produced its largest ever cereal crop in 2016-17—273 million tonnes (mt) as per estimates. The country has also enjoyed bumper crops in pulses, sugarcane and cotton. Budget allocation to agriculture has gone up from Rs 16,646 crore in 2015 to Rs 20,400 crore in 2016 and Rs 41,855 crore in 2017. The Narendra Modi government has in its last two budgets announced farm-focused schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, soil health cards, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, National Agriculture Market (eNAM), among others. The government has also pledged to double farmers’ incomes by 2022.
Easier said than done. As Professor Ashok Gulati of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) points out, “To realise such an ambitious outcome, in real, not nominal terms, the basic precondition is a 14 per cent annual growth in agriculture for the next five years (2017 to 2022). Agricultural growth has been fairly volatile in the past decade, fluctuating from 5.8 per cent in 2005-06 to 0.4 per cent in 2009-10 when the monsoon failed. From 2014-15 again, agricultural growth has slipped down to -0.2 per cent in the first year of the NDA government, 1.2 per cent in 2015-16, though according to advance estimates of the agriculture ministry, it has risen to 4.1 per cent in 2016-17 on the back of a good monsoon.
Why has Indian agriculture come to this pass? How is it that in the headlong rush towards development, the interests of the Indian farmer seem to have fallen through the cracks? This when 118.7 million of India’s total 1.3 billion population are cultivators, another 144.3 million agricultural labourers. In the 2001-2011 decade, there has been a fall of about 9 million in cultivators and an increase of about 38 million in agricultural labourers. Together, they accounted for 55 per cent of the country’s total workforce of 481.7 million in 2011. Yet, agriculture contributes just 17 per cent to the nation’s economy, and that includes fisheries and forestry.
So far, all political parties have responded to the current crisis in agriculture through short-term measures such as loan waivers. They have become both the preferred carrot to win votes and a stick to beat the opposition with. In the recent assembly polls, loan waivers were as much of a plank for the Congress in Punjab as they were for the