India Today - - COVER STORY - Source: NCRB

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

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