Or how to make the farmer beat the debt trap

India Today - - COVER STORY - —with Asit Jolly, Rahul Noronha, Amar­nath K. Menon, Ki­ran D. Tare

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.


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.

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