Farmers' fury, govt must intervene

Champaran to Naxalbari and now Mandsaur, peasant agitations in India have always been sporadic and short-lived, reminding one of Karl Marx’s description of peasants in his 1851 essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. The current disturbances in Madhya Pradesh and other states like Maharashtra are, however, of a different nature. They are rare expressions of farmers’ fury that cuts across geographical, primordial and socio-economic differentiation. Ironically, the agitation has taken a violent turn in Madhya Pradesh, a state that has registered an annual agricultural growth rate of 10% for a decade and 14% during the last five years. The only explanation is that higher agricultural growth has not translated into higher income for farmers.

With minor variations, the coexistence of bumper crops and impoverished farmers has become a permanent feature of agriculture sector all over India. Agriculture has progressively become an unprofitable occupation on account of rising input costs and the inability of governments to pay a lucrative support price for the produce. The procurement of agricultural produce by the states is messy and ridden with corruption. The market is fragmented and heavily tilted in favour of intermediaries. Instead of addressing the root causes, the government interventions treat only the symptoms. The public sector banks are first forced to advance loans to farmers that are not ploughed back into agriculture. Whenever the distress in the farm sector becomes unmanageable, the governments resort to populist measures such as loan waivers.

Such a penchant for populism can sometimes backfire. Early signs of distress were visible when farmers started burning their crops. There was no let up in farmers’ suicides and even the granary of India, Punjab, turned into a hot spot. In this atmosphere of uncertainty and doom, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s decision to waive farm loans acted as a trigger for the agitation snowballing in other BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Clearly, neither loan waiver nor artificial intervention in pricing can address the distress. The Narendra Modi government has committed itself to doubling farmers’ income by 2022, but without articulating a strategy for reaching this goal. The irrigation sector is plagued by unfinished projects and corruption, and more than half of India’s farms still depend on the vagaries of rain, which is becoming increasingly uncertain in the era of climate change. The Centre must work towards a long-term policy that awards a profitable price for farm produce without disturbing other sectors of the economy. This is a tall order but one that has to be accomplished.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry