Tackling farm distress is high priority
-The New Indian Express
Narendra Modi’s overwhelming win has pushed the burning issues around agrarian distress on the back burner; but once the victory euphoria dies down, these will be pushing for recognition again.
A crash in prices of farm produce and the demand for remunerative prices, and waiver of back-breaking loans are some of the issues staring the new government in the face. The interim budget recognised the distress by hiking the allocation for agriculture from Rs.56,000 crore to over Rs.1.4 lakh crore, taking the outlay to a record 5.2 percent of the budget. Among the highlights of the farm budget was the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, an income support scheme that promised the transfer of Rs.6,000 a year in three tranches. This is inadequate, as it translates to a meagre Rs.500 per month for a farmer.
CRISIS OF PLENTY
The farm crisis today is a crisis of plenty. Repeated successful harvests and the lack of a proper market mechanism has ensured prices have collapsed. Food grain production in 2017-18, for instance, was a record 285 million tonnes compared to 275 MT and 252 MT, in the two previous years respectively. But farmers were selling 30-50 percent below the Minimum Support Price, and often below their cost of production. This led to a bottomless pit of indebtedness. In 2017, the best year in Indian agriculture, farm loans grew 20 percent, and 58 percent of our population or 600 million Indians dependent on farming struggled to make ends meet.
Before the record harvests, since 2015, India has witnessed two major droughts, and severe crop losses due to unseasonal rains. The farmer has been left without any investible surplus for the next crop. Reliable estimates put the farmers’ suicide rate at around 45 a day, a heavy toll indeed. The droughts could have been managed had there been more investment in improving the irrigation system. Despite all talk of farmers support, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, designed to provide irrigation infrastructure, has been underfunded; and even the latest interim budget has provided just Rs.100 crore rise over last year.
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