Tuesday, October 24, 2017
MOHALI: “We have socialism for corporates, and capitalism for the farmers,” summed up agrarian expert Devinder Sharma, worried and distressed about the crisis. As he said, the current spate of protests are just a “trailer, the bigger picture has yet to come as the crisis is very serious, very deeprooted and somehow we just do not want to accept this.”
Sharma who has been writing on the agrarian situation and like all experts including Dr MS Swaminathan knows the distress to be a sign of economic distress in the agricultural sector was not particularly confident of the governments recent efforts to “handle” the situation. In an interview with The Citizen from Mohali, Sharma said the measures being suggested at best temporary, and certainly not a solution for the crisis that has taken hold of the rural areas. He has been warning of this for a while now but successive governments have turned a deaf ear.
Sharma said that the crisis was linked basically to economic deprivation. And for at least 25 years if not more successive governments had decided to keep agriculture “deliberately impoverished.” He said that just the other day he want to the vegetable market and bought 3 kilos of cauliflower for just Rs 10. He said he asked the vegetable seller what then the farmer would be getting out of this absurdly low amount and was astounded to be told that the seller himself was the fourth middleman through whom the produce had passed!
To further illustrate the point that agriculture was deliberate being kept impoverished, Sharma pointed out that Punjab had 98% assurance of irrigation, the highest in the world. The United States had 11.4% irrigation assurance. And yet 3-5 farmers were committing suicide a day in Punjab despite good monsoons and bumper crops as the price of produce was so low that the farmers could not meet the cost of farming.
Criticising the media of which he was himself once a part. Sharma said that the press also joined the governments and the corporates in blocking any possible increase in the price of produce for the farmers, apart from other measures. He said even now when the loan waiver was being discussed by television channels the words used by the anchors were “humongous”. “Look at the disparity,” Sharma said, “when it comes to loan write offs for sectors like Telecom it is part of economic growth and more productivity, but when it comes to waivers for the farmers it is fiscal slippage.”
Sharma said that the protests would escalate now as “for how long can a poor man be pushed against the wall without speaking out.” Asked about voices of protest emerging now from Uttar Pradesh where Chief Minister Yopgi Adityanath had been the first to announce waiving off loans Sharma explained, “ there are 2.14 crore farmers in UP, of these loans of just about 93 lakhs are being written off. What about the rest? Obviously this is not going to be acceptable?”
Citing recent examples Sharma spoke of the farmer who tied his five year old son to his back and jumped into the canal. Both drowned. In his suicide note the farmer said that he was deep into Rs 10 lakh debt, and he knew his son would spend an entire life trying to repay it, so to prevent this he was taking his son with him.
In another incident a schoolgirl killed herself and in her note said her farmer parents were already deep in debt, impoverished, and yet trying to collect money to get her married. Where will they get it from, it is better I remove myself, she said.
Sharma, however, pointed out that loan waivers in itself was not a solution. It could be a one time concession by the government to give the farmers a fighting chance through the development of an agrarian model where they would get better rates for their produce, and where agriculture through a slew of reforms and measures would be converted into a productive profession. He said it was strange that governments, moving on World Bank proposals, were bent on making agriculture non-remunerative, drive the rural population into the cities, and provide jobs as the solution. “They want to bring 60 crores of farmers into the cities and make them daily wage labourers, is that any solution” he asked.
Sharma said that despite announcing various measures the Modi government had been able to create just 6.5 lakh jobs in the three years, when the basic requirement was for the creation of 1.25 crores jobs per year. “This is not even a drop in the situation and they are set on targeting the agrarian economy, and messing around with 60 crores in the villages instead of making agriculture self sufficient,” he pointed out.
Sharma spoke of the low remunerative prices fixed for food. As he said the wages of Professors had increased 200 times over between 1970-2015, of school teachers almost 300 times, but of farmers the increase was just about 19 times. As he pointed out, if the wages of bureaucrats had remained static over these years, as well as of others, they too would have been committing suicide.
The Niti Aayog keeps referring to two desirables, increasing productivity and the lower cost of production. The media repeats this ad nauseum. But this does not resolve the issue for the farmers, for whom increased productivity has spelt a death knell, as it has lowered food prices and made agriculture unviable. The need is to strengthen agriculture, to bring in reforms, and to make farming a viable venture.
Where do they want the farmers to go, to Timbuctoo, Sharma asked. He said that it was clear that the government was just trying to “handle” the current crisis with some announcements, and was not looking at long term measures to deal with the crisis. He said that even if the stir subsided now, this would only be temporary as the situation will explode.