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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 19 New Delhi April 28, 2018

Farmers’ Income

Saturday 28 April 2018

by Samit Kar

Recently, Narendra Modi reiterated his government’s commitment to double the income of the Indian farmers at a national conference held in New Delhi. He stressed on the imperative to implement a four-pronged strategy regarding: 1. Reducing cultivation costs, 2. Ensuring profitable prices, 3. Processing of farm waste, and 4. Creating non-farm source of income.

Earlier, the Prime Minister formed a high-powered Committee on April 13, 2016 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, for example, the adjusted income of the 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 the population figures made available by the Registrar General of India, the total population of farmers or cultivators is 118.7 million and 144.3 million are agricultural workers/labourers who consist 33.55 per cent of total rural population. Therefore, it goes without saying that the pledge of the government to double the 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 a challenging, if not an uphill, task. In order to add to the worry, the Report published under the Chairmanship of Shanta Kumar titled ‘Restructuring, Buffer Stock, PDS and Food Security and Direct Benefit Transfer’ criticised the inept functioning of the Food Corporation of India (FCI). The Committee made caustic remarks regarding the role of the FCI and mentioned, hardly six per cent of the Indian farmers could avail of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) declared by the Agriculture Ministry each year for certain principal crops like paddy, wheat, sugarcane, cotton and tomato.

MSP is the price at which the 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 the farmers and thus ensures adequate foodgrains production in the country. It gives sufficient remuneration to the farmers, provides foodgrains supply to buffer stocks and supports the Food Security Programme through the PDS and other programmes. MSP helps to procure adequate foodgrains through the 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 the 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 foodgrains to all the people.

The challenge to double farmers’ income by 2022 is no doubt very critical and relates closely to ensure MSP to the Indian farmers. However, considering the Shanta Kumar Report, the pledge to provide MSP appears not an easy task as every year only six per cent of the Indian farmers on an average can get the benefit of the same. Still, the imperative to double the income of the farmers is very critical.

The fundamental problem seizing the mind of modern civilisation 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 instead of having a mundane presence. 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, about 50 per cent of the Indian farmers had confessed, they had no option but to languish in agriculture to garner their livelihood. The Cost of Cultivation (CC) has become manifold due to a very steep rise in the price of seed, fertiliser, pesticide, 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 the toilers of the soil. The declaration of the 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 1 kg of polymer is between Rs 100/- and Rs 200/- depending on the quality. In order to produce an apparel from a baby frock to a three-piece suit, the volume of polymer needed is between 50 gram-1 kg and the price varies between Rs 100/- and Rs 10,000/-. 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 could hardly get a profit of Rs 10/- from Rs 100/- —as his cost of cultivation.

If such a stark discrepancy continues unabated, 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 be forced to sell tomatoes at Rs 30/- a kg instead of Rs 300/-? Why the average quality of rice is sold as Rs 42/- a kg instead of Rs 400/-? Why is the government unable to pay the MSP accordingly when the government is providing repeated bail-out package 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 could 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). With the attainment of DCA, 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 a lesser 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 their lives including income. The malady of our nation remains embedded in the colonial hangover and thus, sectional demands usually get the attention which, more often than not, fails to be fulfilled.

The author is an Associate Professor of Sociology, Maulana Azad College, Kolkata.

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