Recently, the Prime Minister iterated his Government’s commitment to double the income of Indian farmers at a National Conference held in New Delhi. Mr Modi stressed on the imperative to implement a four-pronged strategy encompassing (i) reduction in cultivation costs; (ii) ensuring profitable prices; (iii) processing farm waste and (iv) creating non-farm source of income.
Earlier, on 13 April 2016, the Prime Minister formed a high-powered Committee under the chairmanship of Ashok Dalwai, a former Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture to prepare a series of reports on the strategies to double farmers’ income.
The Committee was of the view that doubling of farmers’ income meant increasing real or inflation-adjusted income of farmers and laid down certain principles for follow-up on behalf of the Government. The adoption of the basic four-pronged strategy was based on the report of the Ashok Dalwai Committee.
According to population figures made available by the Registrar-General of India, the total population of farmers or cultivators is 118.7 million while 144.3 million are agricultural workers /labourers which makes up 33.55 per cent of the rural population.
Therefore, the pledge of the Government to double farmers’ income is of no mean significance as it has a great bearing to enhance the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) of the net Indian population to a great extent.
But considering a dismal contribution of a mere 17 per cent by the farm sector to the GDP of our country despite the involvement of a mammoth work force, the commitment to double farmers’ income seems quite challenging, if not an uphill task.
In order to add worry, the report published under the Chairmanship of Shanta Kumar titled “Restructuring, Buffer Stock, PDS and Food Security and Direct Benefit Transfer” criticised inept functioning of the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
The Committee made caustic remarks regarding the role of the FCI and mentioned that hardly six per cent of Indian farmers could avail of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) declared by the Agriculture Ministry each year for principal crops like paddy, wheat, sugar cane, cotton and tomato.
MSP is the price at which Government purchases crops from the farmers, whatever may be the price for the crops. It happens to be an important part of India’s agricultural price policy.
It helps to incentivise farmers and thus ensures adequate foodgrains production in the country. It gives sufficient remuneration to farmers, provides foodgrains supply to buffer stocks and supports the Food Security Programme through PDS and other programmes.
MSP helps to procure adequate foodgrains through FCI, state agencies and co-operatives. The PDS network through the policy of issue price delivers it to the weaker sections.
MSP is a price fixed by the Government of India to protect farmers against excessive fall in the price during bumper production years. It aims to bring a balanced realisation of sufficient food production and consumption needs, at the same time ensuring adequate and affordable food grains to all the people.
The challenge to double farmers’ income by 2022 is no doubt very critical and relates closely to ensuring MSP to Indian farmers. However, considering the Shanta Kumar Report, the pledge to provide MSP appears a difficult task as every year only six per cent of Indian farmers get its benefit. Still, the imperative to double the income of the farmers is very critical.
The fundamental problem seizing the mind of modern civilization across the world remains embedded in the consciousness towards the portrait of a farmer – ill clad, half fed, enmeshed in abject poverty coupled with ill health.
Though the concept of ‘Gentleman Farmer’ is doing the rounds in the modern era, the idea seems to be essentially allegorical. Despite the advent of cash-rich powerful farming class of people in certain pockets of rural India, the Indian farmers as a whole are still an impoverished lot.
An NSSO survey revealed that about half of Indian farmers had confessed they had no option but to languish in agriculture to garner their livelihood. The Cost of Cultivation (CC) has increased manifold due to a very steep rise in the price of seed, fertilizer, pesticide and irrigation water amongst others.
Due to the introduction of HYV seeds and overall farming practice, the task of cultivation has become capital intensive. Agriculture has become a loss-making business unable to render a bare minimum profit for those who toil on the soil.
The declaration of Prime Minister’s multi-point strategy is indeed a welcome gesture. But the problem seems to remain in the pricing policy of agricultural vis a vis industrial items.
Polymer is one of the basic ingredients to produce dress materials and who can deny the apparel Industry is one of the most popular and fast growing in the industrial sector? The cost of one kg of Polymer is between Rs 100 and 200, depending on the quality.
To produce a baby’s frock costing Rs 100 needs 50 grams while a three piece suit costing Rs 10,000 needs one kg. Most of the industrial units are set up from bank loans and many big industrialists are known to be intentional defaulters.
On the other hand, an Indian farmer can hardly get a profit of Rs 10 on a Rs 100 cost of cultivation.
If such a stark discrepancy remains, how can farmers double their income? Moreover, when their present income is near zero, what does doubling the income mean? The problem remains embedded in the pricing policy.
Why should a farmer have to sell tomatoes at Rs 30 a kg instead of Rs 300? Why is the average quality of rice sold at Rs 42 a kg instead of Rs 400? Why is the Government is unable to pay the MSP when it routinely provides repeated bailout packages to nationalised banks ridden by ‘bad debts’ due to the crime of the rich yet habitual defaulters many of whom are top industrialists?
The comprehensive development of India would be possible from the gradual transition from Dichotomy (D) between rural and urban areas towards Continuum (C) between the two in order to ultimately attain Assimilation (A).
Once assimilation in Indian society is possible, the inter regional and inter sectional backwardness could be done away to a large extent and there might be less need to draw a charter of section-specific development plan of action.
The farmers can then get mingled with the national mainstream and they could enjoy ‘at par’ status in every sphere of life including income. The malady of our nation remains embedded in the colonial hangover and thus only sectional demands usually get attention, and mostly remain unfulfilled.
The writer is Associate Professor of Sociology, Maulana Azad College, Kolkata.