The finding of a nation-wide survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) that 50 per cent of 90 million farm households in the country are indebted to moneylenders or financial institutions is unbelievably true. Uttar Pradesh tops the list, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Suicides of farmers continue unabated, particularly in Maharashtra, though they do not capture the headlines in the media because of their regularity. That does not make it any less a serious issue. The fall in agricultural prices in the global market, which has adversely affected Indian farmers, is one of the reasons for the distress. The Modi government has not been able to make an appreciable impact on them.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had in its election manifesto promised the farmers that they would be able to get a profit of not less than 50 per cent on the investment they make. Forget profits, the farmers are not even able to recover the cost of inputs. In many cases, they find it more profitable to keep the land fallow than to cultivate it. In Kerala, rubber cultivators have not been tapping the trees for months because of the fall in rubber prices. When farmers are in distress, the first thing that happens is that they default on loan repayments. The NSSO survey found that 50 per cent of the loans were taken for buying seeds, fertiliser and other implements.
If the Modi government is keen on redeeming its promise to the farmers, its first full-fledged budget due for presentation next month is an occasion for it. If the experience of the past is any indication, the farmers’ problems seldom get the attention they deserve. On the contrary, the corporates are able to influence the government better because of the financial and political clout they wield. The government should in no case overlook the concerns of the farmers. It should not be forgotten that, ultimately, it is agriculture which drives rural demand for goods and services. Farm sector can’t remain stagnant.