ENARADA, New Delhi, February 28, 2016
By Sri Krishna
Even as the NDA government prepares to present its third budget and projecting growth in an unusually wide range of 7-7.75% for fiscal year 2017, but at the same time doesn’t paint a very optimistic picture of agriculture which has been the mainstay of a large section of the population.
The observation in the Survey that “rapid industrialization and climate change are raising the scarcity value of land and water, respectively.”
In this backdrop it is imperative to note that the ongoing agitation by Jats in Haryana seeking reservation in jobs leading to violence and also similar agitations in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh by the farming community are indications that all is not well in this sector.
The Survey notes that evolving dietary patterns are favouring greater protein consumption. To adopt to these changes, agriculture requires a new paradigm with the following components: increasing productivity by getting “more from less” especially in relation to water via micro irrigation; prioritizing the cultivation of less water-intensive crops, especially pulses and oil-seeds, supported by a favourable Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime that incorporates the full social benefits of producing such crops and backed by a strengthened procurement system.
The recent agitations by dominant castes like Jats, Patels and Marathas who till yesterday were doing well in the agriculture sector now demanding job reservation does show that there is indeed a serious agrarian crisis.
This agitation which recently took a violent turn in Haryana confirms the study by a premier social sciences research institute and what policymakers and media have been talking about the past few years—that India is going through a deep agrarian crisis.
The Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), based in Delhi, found that given an option, majority of farmers in the country would prefer to take up some other work. Poor income, bleak future and stress are the main reasons why they want to give up farming.
Around 18 per cent of respondents surveyed said it was because of family pressure that they are continuing with farming said the report, “State of Indian Farmers”,
Taking into account the violent agitations and growing unrest among farmers and increasing suicides by them, surely there is need for extending more benefits to them and ensuring that farmers do not abandon their land.
The irony of the ongoing agitation is that this same community which is demanding reservation were the dominant class and had opposed it.
As observed by Professor Hira Singh of York University in Toronto, “dominant groups will resist any opportunity being made available to traditionally oppressed groups because first, they don’t want to lose control over labour power, and second they are unwilling to share status symbols such as modern education and jobs.”
Seeing the rapid decline of the economic status of the communities which depended on agriculture and now seeking jobs in urban areas and unable to get suitable employment has indeed led to further frustration and resentment.
Clearly, there is an imperative need to ensure that these agriculture communities remain in their land and so the 2016-17 budget should extend benefits to them.
The Economic Survey saying that there is need to increasing productivity by getting “more from less” especially in relation to water via micro irrigation, prioritizing the cultivation of less water-intensive crops, especially pulses and oil-seeds, supported by a favourable Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime that incorporates the full social benefits of producing such crops and backed by a strengthened procurement system; and finally re-invigorating agricultural research and extension in these crops.
These do look very impressive but the question is how are the agriculture community who are on the warpath going to be assured that they will benefit if they return to their land.
What is indeed very tragic is that the agrarian crisis is not restricted to one particular region where farmers are committing suicide but the farmer suicides are increasing rapidly and not just in the hotspot areas of Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha but what is considered the prosperous state of Punjab where the green revolution had begun as also in Karnataka as well. Farmers’ suicides are no longer limited to the drought and poverty stricken areas of the country. Now farmers in the most productive agricultural regions such as Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharastra are ending their lives because of their massive
Surely seeing this crisis in the agriculture sector, there is need to speed up reforms in the agriculture sector and extend all assistance to the agricultural community.
Even as this crisis continues, the Economic Survey seeks to paint a rather rosy picture saying that growth would move up marginally to around 7.6% over the next year based on continued softness in the global economy and a normal monsoon.
A closely related factor is how inflation is expected to behave during the course of the next year. The Survey takes a sanguine view of the current deflationary scenario and further expects CPI to trend downwards in the region of 4.5-5%. Given the rigidities in the supply side of the economy, especially in the services category, and the possible impact of the 7th Pay Commission, CPI could end up being higher than forecast by the government.