NEW DELHI: Months before crisis struck the BJP-ruled states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, when distressed farmers took to the streets, the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra chaired a meeting at South Block to discuss measures to liberalise agriculture from controls and restrictions that affect farmers’ income.
Top bureaucrats including Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha and Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian were invited to the brainstorming session. Now, the killing of farmers in Mandsaur is the grim reminder to country’s bureaucracy that it cannot address the brute reality of farmers’ suffering through customary power point presentations. The latest government note meant for internal discussion shows: “468 million or approximately 40 per cent of Indians are dependent for their livelihood on farming that is underperforming and failing to even generate for their needs, consistently driving them to the brink and crushing the present and the future of farm families.”
The NDA government, which has set a target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, has a daunting task at hand. Only innovative solutions and right support prices for produce can revive the agricultural economy. This is not the first time farmers have agitated demanding better support prices. For years, they have been appealing to Central and State governments on the issue.
The government says farm loan waivers are not a viable option. Instead, it calls for a mechanism to protect farmers from price fluctuations. “A large number of crops and States are facing discrimination in price support policy of Central government as MSP is effective only for three crops. With country moving towards direct benefit transfers, large-scale procurement of rice and wheat will also not be required. This requires new instruments to safeguard farmers against prices dipping very low.”
As per the government note, 67.10 per cent farmers in the country are marginal and hold less than one hectare land. Those farm families’ struggle for survival is even greater in states like Bihar, where the figure of marginal farmers is 91 per cent, while it is 79.45 per cent in UP and 77.19 per cent in Tamil Nadu.
The successive regimes at the Centre brought the various agriculture policy many times over the last 67 years, but the fortune of farmers hasn’t changed even once.
The government officials even privately admit that unviable farm size and unfair price are the real cause for farmer’s woes, pushing them under excessive debt and producing the bitter harvest. The government note observed that they require “innovative solutions with long-term commitment” to bring prosperity in the farm families.