Or how to make the farmer beat the debt trap
Successive droughts have contributed immensely to the rate of farmer suicides in India. Most farmers in India, being subsistence farmers, do not have enough savings to cushion the impact of a failed monsoon. In the event of a crop failure, the cycle of indebtedness only grows.
HOW TO FIX IT
Reduce farmers’ dependence on the monsoon, introduce crop variation, along with extending irrigation facilities.
Fix imbalances in government policy. At present, such policy, says, Gulati, is biased in favour of the urban consumer rather than the farmer. For instance, the recent policy of importing sugar duty-free had disastrous consequences since it depressed the prices of sugar below sustainable levels. Similarly myopic was the policy of zero duty import of pulses despite a good crop in 2016-17.
Give farmers crop insurance. In this regard, the Modi government launched its ambitious Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) in January 2016. The PMFBY covers cereals, vegetables, pulses, oilseeds and even spices grown by all farmers. This year’s Union budget allocated Rs 9,000 crore to the scheme, almost double the Rs 5,501 crore allocated last year. In 2016, the PMFBY covered 3.7 crore farmers for the Kharif season for Rs 1.41 lakh crore, an amount more than double the Rs 69,307 crore allocated for the 2015 season, which covered 3.1 crore farmers all over the country. Even critics of the NDA government have praised the scheme. Says Abhijit Sen, former member of the Planning Commission, “The Modi government’s flagship programme PMFBY is a sound, innovative policy which will have a long-term positive effect on the rural economy and will strengthen infrastructure such as rural roads.” However, Gulati points out that when floods hit UP in 2016, the insurance company did not pay farmers compensation on the pretext that neither the central government nor the state government had been paying their premium on time.
If it is serious about its commitment to double farm incomes, Gulati goes on to say, the government must work sincerely towards correcting policy distortions. Its aim should be to empower the farmer. Unless farming becomes sustainable and viable in the long run, the vicious cycle of rural indebtedness and rising farmer suicides will never end.