But for the unpredictable nature of democracy, evident in the December election results, year 2018 would surely gone down as another Annus horribilis. Amidst the politics of hate and serial lynch-killings by murderous mobs ~ sometimes sans provocation ~ assaults on personal choice and privacy, topped by natural calamities, 2018 was assuming nightmarish proportions. The Kerala floods washed 400 lives into their watery graves with climate change repeatedly serving notice on the country. Meanwhile, poorly-conceived policies deepened rural stress, afflicting at least half of India’s population; farmer suicides became a dime a dozen with few eyebrows raised and farmer protest marches had some impact given that India’s urban masses have strong rural moorings.
The general angst over the plight of the country’s food providers did get reflected at the hustings but had little impact on the ruling dispensation and knee-jerk reactions from newly-elected state governments in terms of a futile waiving of farm loans. Farming’s deep-rooted problems are encapsulated in two Bills to which some 200 farmer organizations under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, formed after the horrific killing of farmers in Mandsaur, have been drawing the country’s attention.
Farm indebtedness is the outcome of myriad problems. Marginal farmers comprise more than 80 per cent of the farm population, work on half a hectare for a meagre produce that fetches a pathetic price. This is what drives indebtedness and a one-time waiver will offer nothing by way of a sustainable solution. Prices and costs must be addressed simultaneously as providing better returns without addressing the reasons for indebtedness will be futile. The increased returns will be sucked out by debt servicing and deepen the debt trap. Also, assured better returns through Minimum Support Price is a travesty because India does not have a system in place to procure from most farmers, certainly not in the east and north-east. Assam saw no more than 24,000 MT of rice being procured; the rest of the north-east fared worse, while West Bengal’s and Bihar’s shocking procurement infrastructure just cannot deliver MSPs to paddy farmers.
West Bengal, India’s largest rice producer (149 lakh MT this year), saw only 45,000 tonnes procured in a cynical landscape where solutions do not match the problems and MSPs are announced without procuring capabilities. Loan waivers too hardly help the marginal farmer with little access to institutional credit but only those availing of formal loans, some of a very questionable nature.
Will India find real solutions to genuine problems and make 2019 annus mirabilis is the big question, given the paltry evidence that its leaders will offer anything more than rhetoric to a hapless people.