Farmers’ stir: Top-down approach has pushed farmers to the bottom
The Government, according to Jat leader Yashpal Malik, has developed virtually a vested interest in keeping prices of essential grains low due to some state schemes like selling rice at ₹2 a kilogram
Why have tens of thousands of farmers led by Bharatiya Kisan Union marched to Delhi over nearly two weeks, braving myriad hardships throughout the way, only to meet brute police action at the end of their journey? The answer to this question mainly lies in the deepening farm crisis that has been taking farmers into a virtual abyss. And yet the city-bred arbiters of economy, politics, fate and fortunes of the teeming millions are conveniently and rather blissfully clueless about this.
Majority of farmers who came, crossing the Hindon river bridge to Tuesday’s (October 2) protests at the eastward gateways of Delhi at Ghazipur, were drawn from Jat strongholds of Western Uttar Pradesh. For most of them, their little farm-holdings that came down to them from their ancestors has been slimming from one generation to the other as the families in villages grew larger.
And as decades passed by, the average land holding per family in rural parts of Western UP has gone down to barely an acre or so, from an estimated 2.5 acres in the early 1990s, says Jat leader Yashpal Malik. He says for this reason alone, he has for long been demanding a quota for unemployed Jat youth in Haryana, which he says is a necessity for families engaged in farming to have a secondary source of income.
“Agriculture alone can no longer sustain families dependent on farming in villages of UP and Haryana. Per family farmlands have been getting smaller as a result of mutation of land from generation to generation over the years throughout the Jat belt. Often the land belonging to a family is broken into little pieces or sprawls of a few bighas which are not only removed from each other, but also may well turn out to be far flung. Though the modern means of farming have reduced manual labour and farm drudgery, its per capita cost has been too high to match the income that little farms can bring. The cost of labour has risen about nine-fold in the past three decades from ₹40 to ₹360 a day. Add to this the rising cost of farm implements and other inputs like electricity, fuel, water, fertiliser, pesticides and insecticides and farming will turn out to be a prohibitively losing proposition, says Malik.
Of late, the cost of both farm equipment and some of the inputs has gone up after the GST, or Goods and Services Tax, was introduced. And before GST, demonetisation had taken its toll upon the prices of farm produce, more so in case of perishable items. These turned out to be additional factors that worsened an already grim crisis that the agriculture sector has been grappling with.
The prices of main crops like wheat in most parts of North India have gone up only by a paltry 10% or so to benefit the farmer, says Jat leader Yashpal Malik, to prove his point that the Government has mainly been helping grain traders by keeping the prices of main cereals used as staples by consumers low at the farm level. Wheat flour is sold at ₹32 a kilogram in cities, while traders buy wheat from farmers at ₹15 to ₹20 a kilogram
The Government’s procurement policy is based on MSP, or Minimum Support Price, for agricultural produce which has thus far only been selectively increased. And Malik points out that the highest rise of 30% in MSP has been in case of Bajra, or pearl millet, which is grown mainly in Rajasthan and is only scarcely cultivated beyond its confines. This, he says, has been done with an eye upon the upcoming Assembly polls in Rajasthan.
The prices of main crops like wheat in most parts of North India have gone up only by a paltry 10% or so to benefit the farmer, he adds to prove his point that the Government has mainly been helping the grain traders by keeping the prices of main cereals used as staples by consumers low at the farm level. And yet consumer is hardly getting the benefit since wheat flour is sold at ₹32 a kilogram in cities, while traders buy wheat from farmers at ₹15 to ₹20 a kilogram.
This is how farmers end up getting very little for their hard produced grains which entail high production cost. The gap between rate for procurement of rice from farmers and its cost paid by consumer is even higher than wheat. The rice sold in retail in the market is on an average about ₹75 a kilogram after it is procured from farmer at the rate of ₹25 or ₹30 a kilogram, argues Malik.
The Government, according to Malik, has developed virtually a vested interest in keeping the prices of essential grains low at the level of farmers since often it comes up with schemes in case of a few states, like selling rice at ₹2 a kilogram to poor and needy sections of the society. The rationalisation of cost in favour of farmer is not only going to be to the detriment of trader but also can well hit Government-run fair shops in case the price of farm-grown grains goes up at the initial level of procurement.
Malik says that it is not the Government that is giving subsidy to poor but in turn it is forcing farmers to keep the prices low to run state schemes. This becomes all the more glaring when essential services like education and healthcare availed by farmers like others are now becoming cost intensive. The Government has passed on the control of these services to private players who charge handsomely from their customers irrespective of the distinctions like rural and urban, or poor and rich. The Government schools and hospitals have become so degraded that none wants to avail their services any more.
This includes farmers for whom cities and city-like private services spreading to small towns and even to villages have brought a new lure, though they do not often have means to afford it. What Malik says points to a top-down approach vis-à-vis the economic priorities that have pushed farmers and the farm sector to the bottom of a heap. The solution perhaps lies in steps in reversing this and once again taking to a bottom-up route for progress and development.