There are two institutions that form the foundation on which this country has been built — a jawaan (the soldier) and a kisaan (the farmer). In this vein, former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had proudly proclaimed, “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan”.
This government, within 18 months of being in power, has brutally cast aside both the jawaans and the kisaans of this country.
Agriculture forms the backbone of the Indian economy because not only does it contribute nearly 18% to GDP but, by a number of measures, also engages more than 50% of our labour force. In 2008-09, when global recession crippled even the most economically powerful nations of the world, demand and consumption in rural areas were able to pull India through and the country recorded 8% growth in GDP because of its rural population.
Since the Modi government has come to power at the Centre, the state of agriculture and the rural economy have dwindled. In 2013-14, 4.7% growth was recorded in agriculture. After the UPA handed over the reins to the NDA, this figure has fallen to 1.1% in 2014-15. If the present condition persists, we may record negative growth in the agriculture sector. Since the Prime Minister often speaks of his ambition of “double-digit growth” for the country, it is perhaps important to offer him a reality check — according to official figures, 4% growth in agriculture is essential to 9% GDP growth and we are a far cry from it.
Agricultural exports climbed during 10 years of UPA rule, from $7.5 billion 2003-04 to $42.6 billion in 2013-14. On the contrary, the Modi government’s indifference is likely to lead to a decrease of nearly 29% in the exports of three crops alone i.e. wheat, rice and corn in 2014-15 itself. However, in the din of slogans to ‘Make in India’ and to ‘enhance the ease of doing business’, the government has abandoned the farmers in their most trying times as they head for a fourth consecutive crop failure.
Currently, almost 50% of the Indian land mass stands drought-affected, with 302 of the 640 districts having recorded 20% less than normal rainfall. On account of the El Niño phenomenon, this is the second consecutive year of drought with 12% less than average rainfall this year and 14% less than average rainfall last year across the country. On account of an unusually dry winter and low soil moisture, there has been a shortfall in the planting of rabi crops such as wheat (less by 20%) and pulses (less by 12%) in the coming season. With unseasonal rains having destroyed crops in March-April earlier this year, the farmers of this country are at the behest of the vagaries of nature. In the event of such dire rural distress, there is a desperate need to augment rural incomes by giving generous minimum support prices (MSPs) for the crop that is produced and providing supplementary employment opportunities through the MGNREGA.
This government has failed miserably on both counts. During the 2013-14 kharif season, the UPA government had offered MSP increases of Rs 450, Rs 135 and Rs 300 for tur (arhar), maize and black soybean, respectively. Despite knowing these are unusual drought years, the MSP increases offered by the NDA government during kharif 2015-16 for the same crops were Rs 75 (16.7%), Rs 15 (11.1%) and nothing, respectively. During the 2014 election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that MSPs of 50% over input costs would be provided to farmers. Instead, he has now announced that any state found giving bonuses over and above MSP would be disqualified from FCI procurement. The MGNREGA, despite being the largest employment generation scheme of its kind in the entire world, has been subjected to step-motherly treatment at a time when it is perhaps needed most. The number of persondays generated under the scheme has fallen sharply from 2.2 billion in 2013-14 to 1.32 billion in 2014-15. The delay in the payment of wages, compensation and unemployment allowances has risen drastically from 39% in 2012-13 to 72% in 2014-15. So much so, that the Hon’ble Supreme Court felt the need to rap the Centre over improper implementation of the MGNREGA in November 2015.
With no ray of hope in sight, the farmers of the country have grown increasingly despondent. Burdened by crippling debt and with no alternative source of livelihood, they are being compelled to drastic measures such as suicide or ‘loaning’ their children for forced labour. The Marathwada region alone has recently surpassed an unprecedented 1,000 suicides this year. In such a situation, it is not an obligation but the dharma of the government to intervene and provide relief to the farmers.
When a similar situation gripped the rural economy in 2006-07, the Congress government took the decision to waive loans worth nearly Rs 72,000 crore. Nine states have officially declared drought and sought central relief to the order of Rs 25,000 crore. The need of the hour is to ensure adequate compensation to farmers and compel insurance companies to pay amounts truly due to them on payment of premiums, and that loans are waived and electricity bills recovered from the next crop earnings. But what we have instead is a government refusing to acknowledge the problem, let alone discuss it. From my native Madhya Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state, there are heart-wrenching stories everyday of surveys being doctored and the state government introducing absurd conditions to exclude 90% of the people from claiming compensation. It is high time that the government woke up from its deep slumber, walked the talk and delivered ‘Acche Din’ for the ‘Makers of India’ — the farmers of this country.
Jyotiraditya Scindia is an MP and the Congress party’s chief whip in Lok Sabha. The views expressed are personal.