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Understanding the politics of food, agriculture and hunger
Updated: 57 min 17 sec ago

"We have socialism for corporates, and capitalism for farmers": My interview

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 14:48
Farmer widows in a protest in Punjab. Pic- India Today 
Devinder Sharma warns of agrarian explosion THE CITIZEN BUREAUWednesday, June 14,2017MOHALI: “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 Yogi 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 non-viable. 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.

Source: "We have socialism for corporates, capitalism for farmers" The Citizen. June 17, 2017
Categories: Ecological News

The entire burden of keeping food prices low is borne by farmers.

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 16:13

A Chandigarh artist portrays the agrarian crisis. 
Farmers anger is spilling over. The violent farmers’ agitation that erupted in the Malwa belt of Madhya Pradesh, resulting in the death of six farmers from police firing, has now spread to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. The demand for farm loan waiver accompanied by higher crop prices, is now gaining momentum.

More than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide in past 21 years. Every 41 minutes a farmer commits suicide somewhere in the country. While I agree that farmer suicides is a symptom of bigger malaise that afflicts agriculture, policy makers failed to take the massive death toll as a sign of terrible economic depravity that plagued the rural landscape. How long could we expect farmers to take the hit silently. It had to happen one day, and no one knew what will trigger it. Farmers outburst we see now is simply a trailer.

For nearly three decades, more so after the economic reforms were ushered in, agriculture has been a victim of neglect and apathy. Following the World Bank prescription of moving 400 million people from the rural to the urban areas by the year 2015, successive governments had deliberately created conditions turning farming non-viable thereby forcing an increasing number of farmers to abandon agriculture and migrate to cities. To keep food inflation under control, farmers have been routinely paid less, not even to cover the cost of production, thereby driving them against the wall.

With each passing year, the economic crisis on the farm worsened. The Economic Survey 2016 tells us that the average income of a farming family in 17 states of India, which means roughly half the country, is a mere Rs 20,000 a year or less than Rs 1,700 a month. Such a dismal income, merely enough for subsistence, was the outcome of economic policies over the years. I shudder to think how these farming families must be surviving all these years. After all, it is not even possible to rear a cow in less than Rs 1,700 per month.

But I doubt if such details mean anything to mainline economists and policy makers. With the markets crashing after every harvest, and with the government reluctant to save farmers by ensuring that they get at least the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that has been announced, farmers are pushed deeper and deeper into a never ending cycle of debt. Even the MSP being given is often less than the cost of production. In Maharashtra, for instance, the production cost of tur dal has been worked out at Rs 6,240 per quintal. The MSP announced was Rs 5,050 per quintal, and in reality what the farmers were able to sell tur, and that too after waiting for a week or so in the mandis, was between Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,200 per quintal.

Take another case. A farmer in Haryana toils hard for three months, putting all his labour to reap a bountiful harvest of potato, only to find the prices crashing thereby forcing him to sell 40 quintals of potato for just 9 paise a kg. The shock a farmer gets when prices crash often turns fatal. But the fact remains the government has rarely come to his rescue. Compare this with the fall in stock markets, and the Finance Minister promises to monitor the crisis on an hourly basis, holding a press conference to assuage the investors. Have we ever seen the Finance Minister or the Agriculture Minister monitoring the deplorable condition when farm prices crash?  

Poor farmer has been left to live in indebtedness, which keeps on multiplying with every passing year. The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for his produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. In reality, it is the farmers who have been subsidisng the nation all these years. Successive governments have therefore deliberately kept agriculture impoverished. An estimated 58 per cent of the farmers go to bed hungry every night.

After Yogi Adityanath announced a farm loan waiver of Rs 36,359-crore, which will benefit 92 lakh small and marginal farmers when implemented, Maharashtra has announced a loan waiver of Rs 30,500-crore. Punjab is expected to take over at least Rs 30,000-crore of the farm bad loans. Although I am not in favour of loan waivers but in a deplorable situation that agriculture has been pushed into, farm loan waiver is a short-term relief. It is an emergency measure to bail out millions of small and marginal farmers in distress. IndiaSpend estimates a total of Rs 3.1 lakh crore of farm loan that needs to be waived. This is still far less than Rs 4-lakh crore bailout package that the telecom industry alone is seeking. Another Rs 1.7 lakh crore of bad debt is what the steel industry hopes will be written-off.

Loan waiver must be followed by policies that ensure the loans don’t pile up again. A tinkering here and there is not going to address the agrarian crisis. It needs a holistic approach, a paradigm shift in economic thinking. To begin with, the effort should be to make farming economically viable.

1) The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, which works out the MSP for crops, should be directed to factor in 4 allowances in the MSP being paid to farmers – House allowance, Medical allowance, Educational allowance and Travel allowance. So far, the MSP only covers the cost of production. Compare with the government employees, thet get a total of 108 allowances.

2) Since MSP benefits only 6 per cent farmers, it needs to be understood that the demand for providing 50 per cent profit over MSP will benefit only these 6 per cent farmers. For the remaining 94 per cent farmers, who are dependent on the exploitative markets, the need is to setup a National Farmers Income Commission, with the mandate to provide a minimum assured monthly income package of Rs 18,000 to a farmer’s family.

3) Public sector investments must come in urgently for constructing APMC mandis, and also for storage godowns. At present, there are only 7,700 APMC mandis. What India needs is to set up 42,000 mandis for every 5 kms radius. And like in Brazil, where it is mandatory for a market yard to procure anything a farmer brings, APMC mandis should be quipped to do the same. #  

Source: Farm protest rages across India. Deccan Herald. June 18, 2017

Categories: Ecological News

कृषि संकट : आर्थिक कुप्रबंधन की देन है. My interview (in Hindi)

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 11:14

देश में खेती की निर्भरता का सच क्या है? जीडीपी में योगदान का वास्तविक आंकड़ा कितना है?सच ये है कि हर प्रधानमंत्री देश को कृषि प्रधान बताता है। मगर बजट पेश करने वाला हर वित्त मंत्री बजट में एग्रीकल्चर बाटम पर व उद्योग टाप पर रखता है। लोगों को विश्वास दिलाने को कहता है कि देश कृषि प्रधान है। हम खेती को ऐसा मंच नहीं बना पाये कि खेती देश के लिये लाभकारी साबित हो सके। वास्तव में कुल 52 फीसदी लोग कृषि पर प्रत्यक्ष व अप्रत्यक्ष तौर पर निर्भर हैं। यानी  कुल 60 करोड़ लोग खेती पर निर्भर हैं। पिछली जनगणना में यह तथ्य सामने आया कि खेती पर निर्भर जनसंख्या कम होती जा रही है। अब  भूमिहीन काश्तकार का आंकड़ा बड़ा है। हम मानकर चलें कि करीब 35 करोड़ किसान भूमिहीन हैं और करीब कुल 25 करोड़ किसान खेत वाले हैं।
सकल घरेलू उत्पाद में खेती का योगदान लगातार घटा है?
जहां तक जीडीपी  का सवाल है तो यह कुल योगदान का 14 प्रतिशत है। यह धारणा फैलायी जा रही है कि खेती का सकल घरेलू उत्पाद में योगदान कम हो रहा है। जब हम किसानों को दाम का हक नही देंगे तो स्वाभाविक रूप खेती का जीडीपी में शेयर कम होगा। सीधी सी बात है कि यदि इनकम कम होगी तो उसकी हिस्सेदारी भी कम होगी। ये इरादतन कम किया गया है।
आरोप लगते रहे हैं कि सरकार कॉरपोरेट को श्रमिक उपलब्ध कराने के लिये किसानों को खेती से बेदखल कर रही है?देविंदर शर्मापहले  सरकार की नीतियों को समझना जरूरी है। वास्तव में ये नीतियां क्या हैं। वर्ष  1996 में मुझे एमएस स्वामीनाथन फाउंडेशन के चेन्नई सम्मेलन में भाग लेने का मौका मिला। वहां विश्व बैंक के एक वाइस प्रेजीडेंट ने एक आंकड़ा प्रस्तुत किया। विश्व बैंक के अधिकारी ने कहा था कि 2015 तक भारत में गांव से शहर जाने वाले किसानों की संख्या इंग्ालैड, फ्रांस व जर्मनी की जनसंख्या से दोगुनी होगी। उस समय तीनों देशों की जनसंख्या बीस करोड़ थी यानी कि 40 करोड़ शिफ्ट होंगे। तब मैंने सोचा कि विश्व बैंक हमें सचेत कर रहा है। मगर जब मैंने 2008 में विश्व बैंक की रिपोर्ट देखी तो उसने सरकार को उलाहना दिया कि अब तक ये किसान कृषि से निकाले क्यों नहीं जा सके। डेवलेपमेंट रिपोर्ट में कहा गया कि जमीन अयोग्य लोगों के हाथों में है, जमीनों का अधिग्रहण तेज किया जाये। जो लोग खेती के अलावा कुछ नहीं जानते, उन्हें कृषि से हटाया जाये। जो युवा लोग खेती से जुड़े हैं, उन्हें ट्रेंिनग इंस्टीट्यूटों में, उद्योगों में काम करने का प्रशिक्षण दिलाया जाये। इसके ठीक एक साल बाद मैंने पाया कि 2009 में तत्कालीन वित्तमंत्री पी. चिंदबरम ने तत्काल 1000 आईटीआई खोलने की मंजूरी दे दी। यह सब सोची-समझी रणनीति के तरह लोगों को खेती से हटाने का उपक्रम है। ऐसे तौर-तरीकों से विकास नहीं होता। हम ये बात अब भी नहीं समझते कि यूरोप व अमेरिका में हुए बदलावों और भारत की स्थितियों में फर्क है। इससे आने वाले वर्षों में सोशो-इकोनॉमी चुनौती से देश में भयावह परिदृश्य उत्पन्न होगा।
क्या असली मुद्दा किसान की लागत न निकल पाना है?
दरअसल, किसान की लागत और मुनाफे की तो बात ही नहीं होती। जब हमारी व्यवस्था का मकसद ही खेतिहर लोगों को खदेड़ना है तो फिर क्या कहा जाये। दरअसल, हमने आधा अधूरा अमेरिकी माडल अपनाया है। पब्लिक सेक्टर में निवेश किया ही नहीं। कोशिश की कृषि उत्पादों की कीमत कम रखिये, जिससे मजबूर होकर किसान खेती छोड़कर मजदूर बन जाये। सही मायनो में हमने वाजिब दाम दिये ही नहीं। हमने कभी किसान की लागत को वर्क आउट किया ही नहीं। आंकड़ों पर नजर डालें तो जो गेहूं 1970 में 76 रुपये कंुतल था वह 2015 में 1450 रुपये कुंतल था  यानी 45 साल में उसमें सिर्फ 19 गुना ही वृद्धि हुई। इस अवधि में यदि हम सरकारी कर्मचारियों के वेतन में वृद्धि देखें तो बेसिक पे व डीए में करीब 120 से 150 गुना, कालेज टीचर के वेतन में 120 से 150 गुना और प्राइमरी टीचर के वेतन में 280  से 300 गुना तक वृद्धि हुई है। कर्मचारियों के कुल 108 तरह के भत्ते शामिल हैं, जबकि किसान को एक भी भत्ता नहीं मिलता। यानी किसान के खिलाफ मैच फिक्स है। वह खाद्यान्न की नहीं बल्कि दुखों की खेती करता है।
क्या किसान आंदोलन  नोटबंदी के परिणामों और विपक्ष की राजनीतिक हताशा की शह से उपजा है?
मैं  आंदोलन को इस तरह से नहीं देखता। किसानों के दिल में भयंकर  गुब्बार  है। ये  गुस्सा  तो फूटना  ही था। मौजूदा आंदोलन का अभी जो आप समापन  देख रहे हैं, उसे किसी तरह हैंडल कर लिया गया। यदि हालात इसी तरह चलते रहे तो यह गुस्सा भयंकर ढंग से फूटेगा। खेती की अनदेखी की जा रही है, जानबूझकर किसान को खेती से बेदखल किया जा रहा है। ये तो अभी  ट्रेलर है, असली फिल्म अभी बाकी है।
किसानों की समस्या की असली जड़ कहा है?
मूलत: कृषि समस्या आर्थिक कुप्रबंधन की समस्या है। इसके मूल में आर्थिक असुरक्षा है। साल-दर-साल किसान पिस रहा है। सरकार की कोशिश होती है कि किसी तरह से मुद्रास्फीति को नियंत्रण में किया जाये। ठीक है लोगों को सस्ता अनाज मिल रहा है, मध्य वर्ग खुश हो जाता है। मगर सवाल यह है कि जो अन्नदाता उपज पैदा कर रहे हैं, उसे आप क्या दे रहे हैं? उसे खेती से बेदखल किया जा रहा है। उससे हम पैसा ले तो रहे हैं मगर  दे नहीं रहे हैं।
ऐसा क्यों है कि किसान की आत्महत्या की खबरें संपन्न इलाकों पंजाब, महाराष्ट्र आदि से आ रही हैं? 
ऐसा नहीं है। इस समस्या के दो पहलू हैं। एक तो जो आत्महत्याएं हो रही हैं, उसकी सही तस्वीर सामने नहीं आ रही है। महत्वपूर्ण कारण यह है कि जहां किसान का फसल के साथ रिस्क जुड़ा है, वहां से आ रही हैं। जहां कैश क्रॉप के रूप में अंगूर, कपास आदि हैं, वहां से ज्यादा आत्महत्या की खबरें हैं। कुल 70 प्रतिशत कपास का क्षेत्र संवदेनशील है। दूसरे आत्महत्या के आंकड़ों की हकीकत सामने नहीं आ रही है। विदर्भ के इलाके में स्वयंसेवी संस्था से जुड़े किशोर तिवारी ने आत्महत्या का डाटा एकत्र कर देना शुरू किया। जब यह आंकड़ा निकलकर एनजीओ व मीडिया के पास आया तो  देश को  विदर्भ की हकीकत का पता चला। यदि ये सारे देश में होता तो वास्तविकता उभरकर सामने  आती। बुंदेलखंड से  भी आत्महत्याओं की खबरें आ रही हैं। अब लोग जागरूक हो रहे हैं। मैं चार साल पहले दिल्ली से चंडीगढ़ आया। प्रिंट मीडिया से मिली आत्महत्या की जानकारी को मैंने हर रोज ट्वीट करना शुरू किया। पंजाब हॉटस्पाट के बारे में लोगों को पता चला। दरअसल, सूचना बंटेगी तो पता चलेगा। उड़ीसा में भयंकर सुसाइड के मामले सामने  आ रहे हैं। देश में क्रेश क्रॉप की इनपुट कास्ट बढ़ी है।
आने वाले वक्त में खाद्य जरूरतें कितनी बड़ी चुनौती है?
ये बात कोई समझने की कोशिश नहीं कर रहा है। वर्ष 1965 में पहली बार खाद्यान्न का आयात किया गया। वर्ष 1967 में  सबसे ज्यादा 11 मिलियन टन अनाज आयात किया गया। तब इसे हम शिप टू माउथ कहते थे। यानी जहाजों से उतरा  और सीधे खाद्यान्न के रूप में इस्तेमाल हुआ। देश में हरित क्रांति आई, इम्पोर्ट बंद हुआ। मगर आज हम उन्हीं नीतियों पर जा रहे हैं। इतने बड़े देश को फीड करना आसान नहीं होगा। जब भारत मार्केट में उतरता है तो कीमतें बढ़ती हैं। वहीं जब हम बेचने जाते हैं तो कीमतें गिर जाती हैं। भारत विश्व बाजार में बड़ा देश है तो उथलपुथल होगी। इतने बड़े देश को आयात करके खिलाना संभव नहीं है। हमें यह नहीं भूलना चाहिए कि हमारी नेशनल सिक्योरिटी खाद्य सिक्योरिटी से जुड़ी है। हम जय जवान, मर किसान का नारा नहीं लगा सकते। वर्ष 2007-08 में जब खाद्यान्न संकट हुआ तो 37 देशों में खाद्यान्न को लेकर दंगे हुए। मगर भारत की स्वतंत्र व्यवस्था के चलते हम इससे  प्रभावित नहीं हुए। भारत में खाना न हो तो क्या हो।
क्या परंपरागत फसलों की पैदावार खत्म होने व पानी वाली फसलों के प्रचलन से समस्या बढ़ी है?
असली समस्या तो लागत की है। हरेक चीज रिलेटिव  है। हरित क्रांति से पहले भारतीय परंपरागत फसलों के हालात एेसे नहीं थे कि हम पूरे देश का पेट भर सकें। हरित क्रांति के बाद दो महत्वपूर्ण कदम उठाये गये। एक तो फसलों के न्यूनतम समर्थन मूल्य का निर्धारण, जिससे किसानों का व्यवस्था पर भरोसा बढ़ा। दूसरा एफसीआई का गठन । इतने बड़े देश में खाद्यान्न को हेंडल करना व  डिस्िट्रब्यूट करना आसान नहीं था। माना कि भ्रष्टाचार  बड़ी समस्या है मगर इसे डिस्मेंटल करना आत्मघाती कदम होगा। हम फिर शिप टू माउथ की स्थिति में पहंुच जायेंगे। हमें कास्ट आफ प्राडक्शन भी देखनी है। किसान को न्यायसंगत दाम तो मिलें। यदि किसान को मुद्रास्फीति के हिसाब से मौजूदा दर पर अनाज की कीमत मिले तो शहर गये लोग गांव आना शुरू कर देंगे। अनाज का बाजार मूल्य दें और बाकी लागत उसके जन धन खाते में स्थानांतरित कर दें।
देश में अथाह गरीबी  है। कीमतें बढ़ाने से बढ़ी महंगाई से सामाजिक असमानता नहीं बढ़ेगी?
बिल्कुल नहीं। दुनिया में असमानता हर देश में है।  कुल टॉप एक प्रतिशत लोगों को मोटा पैसा मिलता है। मिडिल क्लास को छोड़ दें तो देश में 60 करोड़ लोग खेती से जुड़े हैं। देश के आधे यानी 17 प्रदेशों में किसान की मासिक आय 1700  रुपये से कम प्रतिमाह है। इतने में तो हम गाय नहीं पाल सकते। आज जब मिनिमम लिविंग वेज की बात होती है तो किसान को भी तो यह मिलना चाहिए। हमारे देश में किसान उत्पाद भी है और उपभोक्ता भी है। यदि हम किसान को खर्च के बराबर पैसा देते हैं तो हमारी सात-आठ फीसदी  के आसपास रहने वाली जीडीपी 15 तक पहुंच सकती है। तभी तो सबका साथ, सबका विकास होगा।
न्यू्नतम समर्थन मूल्य किसान के हित में कितना कारगर है?
मैं सीआईआई व फिक्की की बैठक में शामिल था तो खाद्य मंत्री ने पूछा कि एमएसपी के दायरे में कितने किसान हैं? अंदाजे से मैंने तीस फीसदी बताया। अधिकारी जबाव न दे पाये। एफसीआई को पता नहीं था, अगली मीटिंग में खुलासा हुआ कि छह प्रतिशत। यानी कुल 94 फीसदी किसान को कोई सुरक्षा कवच नहीं ।  ऐसे में किसान आत्महत्या नहीं करेगा तो क्या करेगा? कैसे जीयेगा किसान?
Source: कृषि संकट: आर्थिक कुप्रबंधन की देन है Dainik Tribune. June 16, 2017. http://bit.ly/2t8ijHb
Categories: Ecological News

Why is it that corporate never protest on streets to seek loan waivers?

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 15:12

Farmers protested in Madhya Pradesh/Maharashtra by cutting off supplies of milk and vegetables to cities. 
Just think about it. Why is that to seek loan waiver, farmers have to take to streets, block the highways, hold protest marches, face tear gas and sometime face bullets? Why is that I have never seen the corporate bigwigs sitting at a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding loan waiver? 
After the agitation in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which left sic farmers dead in police farming, Maharashtra has finally agreed to waive Rs 30,500-crore of bad loans of farmers. Earlier, Uttar Pradesh had announced striking out Rs 36, 359-crore of unpaid loans of small and marginal farmers. Farmers’ protests are now spreading to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Such is the deplorable condition of farmers that at a farmers protest in Moga in Punjab, one farmer committed suicide unable to wait to live with the promise of a loan waiver.
Already dharnas have begun with farmers demanding debt waiver. Farmer unions have also given a call for three-hour rail roko and rasta roko agitation throughout the northern regions on June 16, demanding farm loan waiver. But why is that farmers have to launch a series of protests to highlight the plight and suffering of the farming community to drive home the point that farmers desperately need loan waivers? Don’t the policy makers already know that farmers are dying all across the country? Agriculture is in an emergency situation.
In the past 21 years, more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. Every 41 minutes, one farmer ends his life somewhere in the country. Majority of these deaths are because farmers are unable to pay back loans. They are in reality buried under piles of credit taken from multiple sources. The Union Minister of State for Agriculture in November 2016 had acknowledged in Parliament that farmers are reeling under outstanding debt of Rs 12.60 lakh crore every year, so writing-off of farm loans not only makes good politics but also good economics.
But before we see how the loan waiver policy discriminates farmers, I fail to understand why do farmers have to undergo all the trouble while the corporate quietly get the loan waiver? They don’t even have to step out of their cars what to talk of organizing a protest. The question that needs to be asked is why do industrialists get a preferential treatment whereas farmers have to take to streets and face bullets? After all, both farmers as well as the industrialists draw loans from the same bank, and I see no reason why the banks should be treating industry defaulters with kid gloves and put the farmers to undergo the trouble of protesting on the streets?
Soon after Yogi Adityanath announced the farm loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh, the State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya remarked that farm loan waiver leaders to disruption of credit discipline. A few weeks later, she wrote a letter to the Finance Minister pleading to provide a bail out to the telecom industry which is reeling under an ‘unsustainable’ stressed loan of Rs 4.85-lakh crore. What I fail to understand is that why did the SBI chairperson seek a bailout package on behalf of the defaulting telecom companies? Why couldn’t the top honchos of telecom companies be made to sit on a dharna in New Delhi like the way the farmers normally do to seek a write-off?
This is how the banking system discriminates the poor borrowers, and frowns when farmers use the same clean-up mechanism that has been reserved for corporate balance sheet.
The discrimination doesn’t end here. While the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made it clear that the states will have to find resources to write-off farm loans, an inter-ministerial panel led by a senior official in the telecom ministry has been constituted to examine the possibility of bailout for debt-ridden telecom companies. Earlier, the Business Standard (Mar 23) had reported that the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) was likely to step in to resolve steel companies bad debt issue. Accordingly, the PMO, along with the Finance Ministry, was working on a fresh package for top steel companies and also for the top 40 accounts that were under stress. The total debt of these companies stands at Rs 1.5-lakh crore.
The bias against the farm sector does not end here. Ever since Maharashtra announced the farm loan waiver I find many TV channels are devoting time to misguide the people by claiming that the farm loan waiver will hit the national economy, raise inflation, raise home loan EMIs etc. Farmers are being deliberately painted as culprits whereas these points are never highlighted when corporate get the bail out. In fact, the corporate bailout is projected as essential for economic growth whereas farm loan waiver is blamed for fiscal slippage.
According to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report, roughly Rs 2.57 lakh crore of farmers’ loans, or 2 per cent of India’s GDP, is expected to be waived-off in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. But again, Merrill Lynch never told us how the humongous write-off of corporate loans affects the economy. I agree Rs 2.57 lakh crore of farm loan waiver in the next two years is a big bailout package for farmers but why doesn’t Merrill Lynch ever talk about the proposed Rs 4-lakh crore bailout to the telecom industry? By painting the farmers in bad light, Merrill Lynch is essentially trying to defend the huge corporate defaults that are routinely undertaken.
This is how the banks play the game. This is not only a moral hazard but is completely unethical. The rules of the banking system should not discriminate against the poor. #
Categories: Ecological News

Farmers don’t only cultivate a crop, they actually cultivates losses

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 09:56

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to give farmers 50 per cent more profit over the cost of production if voted to power. They voted him to power with a thumping majority. But he doesn’t talk about his promise any more. In fact, the NDA government has in an affidavit before the Supreme Court clearly ruled out the possibility of raising the minimum support price (MSP).

Before he became the Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis while leading a farmers rally had demanded the price of soyabean to be raised from the then prevailing market price of Rs 3,800 to Rs 6,000 per quintal, and that of cotton from Rs 4,000 to Rs 7,000 per quintal. But ever since he became the CM he doesn’t talk any more about raising farm prices. In fact, Maharashtra failed to even provide this year the minimum support price of Rs 5,050 per quintal for tur dal at that too at a time when production increased manifold. Farmers had waited for weeks together in the mandis to finally sell the crop at a distress price of not more than Rs 3,500 per quintal.

When in opposition, all political leaders speak loudly in favour of farmers. They promise the moon, but the moment they come into power, farmers disappear from their list of economic priorities. For 70 years, irrespective of the party, the same pattern has prevailed. Meanwhile, over the years farmers continue to be driven to the wall. Economic Survey 2016 tells us that the average income of a farming family in 17 States of India, roughly half the country, is less than Rs 20,000 a year. You can’t even raise a cow in Rs 20,000 a year; and knowing this income level is even less than a subsistence allowance I shudder to think how these farming families must be surviving.

The decimation of agriculture is all too apparent. The design is obvious. Chairperson of the State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, has made it abundantly clear how deviously the economic policies are designed to hit agriculture. She had expressed resentment at Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s decision to waive Rs 36,359-crore farm loan waiver saying that it leads to credit indiscipline, but on the other hand did not even bat an eyelid when she pleaded to bail out the telecom companies which had accumulated Rs 4-lakh crore of highly unsustainable debt. Doesn’t this smack of double standards?

To keep food inflation under check, farmers are being denied the rightful price. In fact, farmers are actually being penalized to grow food. Let me explain. Between 1970 and 2015, wheat procurement price had increased only by 19 times whereas the basic income of government employees in the same 45-year period was raised by 120 to 150 times; of college teachers/professors by 150 to 170 times; and of school teachers by 280 to 320 times. In addition, the employees get in all 108 allowances put together. Farmers don’t even get a single allowance. The match therefore is fixed against farmers. What the farmer doesn’t realize is that he doesn’t only cultivate a crop, he actually cultivates losses.
Despite the economists and agricultural scientists blaming low crop productivity for the agrarian crisis, farmers know where the show pinches. As debt continued to mount, the spate of farmer suicides grew. In the past 21 years, over 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide; one farmer ending his life every 41 minutes. The tragic serial death dance was considered to be a sign of weakness, but in reality was a farmer’s unique way of making a political statement. Every death on the farm infuriated the farmers, their families. The simmering discontent had turned into outright anger. But political leaders have always failed to ignore the warning. Not realizing that the day farmers wake up, Indian politics will change forever.

In just three days the blockade of vegetables and milk to the cities in Maharashtra brought the farmers anger to the national headlines. Breaking away from the traditional approaches of blocking highways and squatting on railtracks, the umbrella organization which led the campaign in Maharashtra –Kisan Kranti-- moved to instead stopping the flow of milk and vegetables to the cities. Disrupting the food lifeline to the cities is the right way to get attention, and this worked. In Madhya Pradesh, another group of young and educated farmers led by Aam Kisan Union, and supported by a little known faction of Bharti Kisan Union, too managed to evoke a strong response.

For the past 30 years now, I have watched with dismay how farm movements disintegrate after the launch of any big protest. Individual egos, ideologies, and political leanings have led to clashes among farmer leaders. Politics takes over. This was perhaps summed up best by what the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Prakash Singh Badal, is known to have told a delegation of farm union which went to meet him. He asked the farmer leaders did they know why no political parties treat them as a vote bank, and answered by saying because farmers are a divided lot. They either vote as a jat or a sikh or a Maratha but never as a kisan. Whether farmers are 52 or 60 per cent of the population, the fact remains they have never voted as Kisan.

I am therefore happy to see the emergence of a young and educated farm leadership. This is happening across the country. They have to ensure they don’t fall in the same trap as the old guard. Farmers are looking desperately for a new leader on whom they can have faith.Back to issues, farm loan waiver is definitely justified. When SBI is willing to provide a bailout of Rs 4-lakh crore to Telecom companies, I see no reason why banks cannot be directed to write-of the same amount of outstanding loans to millions of farmers. In addition, the demand should include:

1)  State Governments should factor in 4 allowances in the MSP paid to farmers -- House Allowance, Medical Allowance, Educational Allowance and Travel Allowance. So far, the MSP only covers the cost of production.

2)  Since MSP benefits only 6 per cent farmers as per the Shanta Kumar Committee report, a State Farmers Income Commission should be set up with the mandate to provide a minimum assured monthly income package of Rs 18,000 to a farmer family.

3)  It should be mandatory for the State governments to buy all the 24 crops for which MSP is announced. At present, only two crops – wheat and rice – are officially procured.  A loan waiver should be accompanied by a series of steps that should ensure that loans again do not pile up. #

Farmers don’t only cultivate a crop, they actually cultivates losses. Newslaundry, June 8, 2017

Categories: Ecological News

By all scientific norms, GM Mustard variety should have been confined to the dustbin.

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 17:02
The news has still not sunk in. The nation has still not been able to understand the serious ramifications of allowing commercial cultivation of GM (genetically modified) food crops. The regulatory approval granted to is actually aimed at opening the flood gates for GM foods. India is, in reality, is getting ready to be the world’s biggest dustbin for a risky, unwanted and harmful technology. 

As continues to stand firmly against GM crops, so much so that after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s firm opposition, the incumbent French President has now made it abundantly clear that he will not allow GM crops, all eyes were on India. Why India? Simply because even China, despite the communist regime, has remained wary of the risky technology. Where else could the GM industry turn to in these difficult times? 

There is no denying that science and technology will lead the world into the next century. But if in the name of technological innovation, a junk genetically mustard variety — DMH-11 — has to be given a nod for commercial cultivation, it only shows how unscientific the entire process of scientific regulations has turned out to be. I have never doubted the ability of The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to be a rubber stamp for the GM industry but the shoddy way the approval has been granted to breaks all scientific norms. It is a scientific fraud. If the has to fall over backwards to simply be in the affirmation of Niti Aayog’s recommendation to usher in GM technology to address the continuing agrarian crisis there is something terribly wrong with policy makers understanding of what has led to the prevailing farm crisis. 

Nevertheless, let’s look first at an absurd claim that has been hyped by most newspapers in the editorial columns. It is often said that repeat a lie a hundred times, and it becomes the truth. The claim that yields 30 per cent higher and therefore would be India’s best bet to reduce the Rs 76,000-crore edible oil import bill, simply falls in that category. It is a lie that has been spoken a hundred times, and since it is now generally accepted that will help cut down on imports, I find it is actually the that has been prompting it. The absurdity of the fake claim lies in the fine print. The devil is in the detail. DMH-11, the variety that has been approved, is not a high yielding variety. Its productivity is less than three other non-GM varieties that exist. DMH-11 is therefore actually a junk variety. By all scientific norms, it should have been confined to the dustbin. 

In a presentation made by a scientist of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, University of Delhi South Campus (see the attached chart) it has been conclusively shown that there already exist four mustard varieties with higher productivity. Three of the varieties are in the same DMH series and in fact DMH-4, which is a traditional variety, provides 14.7 per cent higher yield than  Two more varieties, produced by Pioneer and Advanta, too give higher or almost equal yield than the variety for which the media has falsely gone to the town saying it gives 30 per cent high yield. I therefore don’t understand how does India plan to cut down on edible oil imports by cultivating a low-yielding variety? Are public policy decisions taken by just what is planted in the media? 

In 2016-17, India had a record mustard harvest. A bumper production and the prices crashed. Reports coming from the mustard growing areas show how farmers had to resort to distress sale. Prices on an average fell by Rs 400-600 per quintal for farmers. Cultivated in nearly 65 lakh hectares, mustard has never been faced with problems associated with low productivity. The biggest problems farmers face is the failure to realise a remunerative price, matching at least the minimum support price (MSP) that the government announces. Not even remotely making an effort to provide farmers with an assured price, the has been deliberately diverting attention from the dire need to provide a higher income to as if productivity is the main problem. Neither the government not the consumers will benefit from its questionable wisdom.

I remember it was in 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi decided to reduce the current account deficit by cutting down on edible oil imports. At one stage he had asked me whether I thought raising domestic production was a better way than to go on with edible oil imports, which were the third largest import at that time. He launched an Oilseed Technology Mission, and by 1993-94 India became almost self-sufficient in edible oil imports. As much as 97 per cent of the edible oil requirement was met domestically and only 3 per cent was imported. 

The “Yellow Revolution” as it was called simply didn’t last long. Successive governments went on slashing the import duties. Against the bound rate of 300 per cent import tariffs that India could impose, the import duties were subsequently brought down to almost zero. Cheaper imports, and that too predominantly of palm oil, began to flood the domestic markets. From just 3 per cent imports, India now imports more than 60 per cent of its edible oil requirement. This forced oilseed farmers, mostly cultivating in the harsh drylands of the country, to shift to other unremunerative crops, and the domestic edible oil industry too brought down its shutters. So much so that some Indian companies had even moved to Sri Lanka, setting up processing plants and then exporting processed edible oil to India. 

If cutting down the edible oil import bill is the objective, what is required is to first provide the same enabling environment. Unless the import tariffs are raised to level that can turn imports uneconomical, any talk of reducing the import bill is meaningless. The knows this. It is aware that India will have to walk down the “Yellow Revolution” pathway if the intentions are to increase domestic production of edible oil. But cutting down on import bill is not the intention. The objective is to push in GM crops through the back door using a flawed argument of the need to raise production simply to justify the risks any GM technology brings along. 

The has also denied that the is actually a herbicide-tolerant crop in disguise. It was shocking to know that some members had even told a group of civil society representatives that they know DMH-11 will push in herbicides but since the chemicals are expensive they expect farmers will refrain from purchasing the herbicides. If this is a scientific explanation, please tell me what is unscientific.

India gearing up to be the biggest dustbin for risky, harmful technology. Business Standard, May 16, 2017. http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/gm-mustard-india-gearing-up-to-be-biggest-dustbin-for-risky-harmful-tech-117051600321_1.html
Categories: Ecological News

Whether mainline economists like it or not, the time has come for setting up a farmers income commission. There is no other way out.

Sun, 05/28/2017 - 10:23

“The Indian Meteorology Department (IMD) has forecast a normal monsoon for this year. If the monsoon is good, I am confident that foodgrain output will be a record again and boost growth rate to more than 4.4 per cent achieved in 2016-17,” stating this, the Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh shared with the media the government’s achievements in the farm sector in last three years.
A bountiful monsoon always brings cheers to the economy, and I am sure every Indian would pray for normal rains in the years ahead. This is perhaps the reason a former Agriculture Minister, the late Chauranan Mishra often used to say: “The real agriculture minister is Mr Monsoon. If the monsoon is good, agricultural production will be good and vice versa.” No wonder, food production has been at an all time high of 273.38 million tonnes this year.
After two years of back-to- back drought, in 2014-15 and 2015-16, agriculture production has looked up. The agricultural growth rate has gone up, which in turn is expected to drive up the country’s economic growth rate. But behind the statistical configurations that provide the much needed feel good factor, agriculture continues to be in the throes of a terrible distress. The dark rural underbelly has been gasping for breath for long, but has for reasons that remain largely unexplained agriculture continue to be a victim of apathy and neglect. There is hardly a day when reports of farmers committing suicides, a reflection of the grave tragedy prevailing on the farm, do not appear in newspapers in some or the other parts of the country.
In recent years, there has been a spurt in farmer suicides. Much worse, even Punjab, the food bowl of the country has now turned into a hot spot of farmer suicides.
This week, a news report highlights the pitiable condition of onion farmers in Madhya Pradesh. After a bumper crop of potato, which forced farmers to resort to distress sale, hundreds of farmers in Indore have been forced to burn the standing crop or feed it to animals. In Indore, onion was fetching a price ranging between 50 paise to Rs 3 a kg. Earlier, onion farmers in Maharashtra had to dump their crop on to the streets when they couldn’t realize a better price. Not only onion, irate farmers had been throwing tomato crop on the highways in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. During the peak season, model price for tomato in some of the Andhra mandis had prevailed at 30 paise a kg to Rs 2 per kg. The slump in market prices is often shrugged off as a seasonal phenomenon, I shudder to think of the economic blow it causes to the livelihood security of farmers who had toiled hard and yet when the time comes to reap the harvest, markets fail.
Take the case of pulses. After a stupendous rise in retail prices of pulses, the government adopted a twin approach to raise availability of pulses. On the one hand it signed a memorandum with Mozambique to cultivate and procure pulses, to be shipped to India and on the other provided an additional bonus over the minimum support price to encourage domestic production. But when pulses production, including that of tur, increased to 22 million tonnes, and the market prices crashed, it just procured enough to meet its buffer stocks requirement, and left majority farmers to face the cruelty of markets.
The food mismanagement continues. If you think 2017 was a particularly bad year for tomato farmers when over-production led to an unprecedented glut, you are mistaken. The story remained the same in 2016, 2015 and 2014. Even prior to that, farmers had suffered in 2013, 2012 and 2011. Just do a Google search and you will find the same pattern of bumper crops and dejected farmers. Search beyond tomato, and you will find the story of tomato is repeated in other crops – onions, potato, pulses, cauliflower, mustard, soyabean, cotton, chili, castor, and even in wheat and paddy in most parts of the country. And invariably, the state has failed to come to the rescue of beleaguered farming community 
Now compare this with the stock markets crash in August 2015. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had swung into action within a few hours of the crash, holding a press conference to assure the investors saying that the government was keeping a close tab. A war room was set up to monitor the developments. Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian was on his toes throughout the day. But when it comes to farmers, facing an unprecedented price crash, which results in destroying livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers, I haven’t ever seen even a fraction of the kind of alertness exhibited at the time of stock markets crash. The disparity therefore is clearly visible.
The disparities don’t end here. Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman said the other day: “Roughly about 7,000 big, small, medium, and nano measures have been taken on ease of doing business. As a result of which, we feel that states have realized that ease of doing business is a major agenda and they also see the benefit on going on that route.” In addition, the Chief Economic Advisor has already gone on record saying that writing-off of bad loans of the corporate sector makes economic sense. “This is how capitalism works.”
But when it comes to agriculture, there are not more than a dozen public sector investment programmes that can be easily counted on finger tips – Doubling Farmers Income in next five years, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY), Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna (PMSKY), e- National Agricultural Market (e-NAM) Soil Health Cards, Neem Quoted Urea, More Crop Per Drop to name a few. Besides the flagship programmes, there are a number of other initiatives like direct benefit transfer of fertilizer subsidy, market intervention programmes etc. Put together, I bet if the government can list more than 50 big or small initiatives (including some of the re-casted programmes/projects) in agriculture.
Writing-off farm loans too continues to receive flak. While India Ratings estimates that roughly Rs 4-lakh crore of stressed corporate credit is expected to be struck down, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has made it abundantly clear that it is not in favour of disclosing the names of even the willful defaulters. (see my article: https://thewire.in/119889/banking-system-farmers-loans/) Just 6,857 companies have willfully defaulted on loans of Rs 94,649-crores. RBI has already announced that it is not in favour of Rs 36,359-crore of farm loan, expected to benefit 92 lakh farmers, that has been written-off in Uttar Pradesh, thereby sending a strong message to other states under pressure to write-off farm loans to apply restraint. The honest credit culture that RBI harps on is undermined only when farmers don’t repay back. The privilege of bad debt being struck down is only meant for the corporate. This is how capitalism works, we have been told.
While the debate around doubling farmers income in the next five years has itself doubled in the past few months, I don’t see any focused attempt being made to pull out farmers from the crisis they have been pushed deeper and deeper into with every passing year. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has presented three budgets. Except for repeating the promise of doubling farmers’ income, there is no clear map laid out. To say that enhancing the farm credit limit by Rs 1-lakh crore to reach a peak of Rs 10- lakh crore is aimed at providing credit support to a sector faced with continuing distress is a clever way of diverting attention from the failure to implement its own promise of providing 50 per cent profit over cost of production.
I have always maintained that let us move to measures that can prop up farmers income, give him a little respite from the economic crisis that he has been pushed into year after year. The urgent need for instance is to withdraw the Rs 1-lakh crore addition farm credit and instead start with 50 per cent more profit as way of farm price. This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself promised before the general elections, and this is where the government has gone back, giving a written affidavit in Supreme Court saying it is not possible.
Leaving the majority farmers behind – nearly 83 per cent farmers own less than 2 hectares of land – the government policies are instead moving rapidly away from subsistence farming to promote corporate agriculture. The e-NAM initiative, which proposes to link 585 regulated wholesale markets, is in reality integral to commodity trading. A model law on contract farming has already been circulated to states, and adequate legal framework on land leasing and land acquisitions are already in offing. Seen in conjunction with a policy framework already laid out under the National Skill Development Council (NCDC), which aims to reduce the farming population from the existing 58 per cent to 38 per cent by the year 2022, the shift to corporate farming becomes obvious.
At a time when IndiaSpend tells us that on an average 2.13 lakh jobs have been created every year on an average in past three years, pushing farmers out of agriculture to join the growing army of jobless youth does not make any economic sense. Three years is quite a significant milestone for any government, to sit back, take stock and make appropriate policy corrections aimed at Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas. The first and foremost policy correction is to stop viewing record grain production as an indicator of all is well in farming. It is time to move away from policy obsession with agricultural growth rates and instead focus on farmer’s welfare, beginning with a substantial rise in farm incomes.
Economic Survey 2016 categorically states that the average income of a farm household in 17 states of India, or roughly half the country, stands at a paltry Rs 20,000 per year. This is less than the annual mobile bill of an average upward mobile citizen living in the cities. Unfortunately, Niti Aayog, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office, continues to prescribe the same faulty prescription that have led to the present crisis. Raising crop productivity, reducing the cost of production and allowing markets to discover farm prices is actually part of the same flawed decision making that has pushed agriculture into a deeper quagmire. It has invariably helped input providers, and that is how a dominant narrative is created.
Punjab has already reached the efficiency level that Niti Aayog wants the rest of the country to achieve. With 98 per cent assured irrigation (no country in the world is any way near) and with highest productivity among cereal crops in the world, I see no reason why Punjab farmers should be dying. Ignoring Punjab’s debacle and instead forcing other States to also follow the same path clearly shows that there is something terribly wrong in policy panning. It is not farmers who have failed; it is the economists and policy makers who have failed farmers.
During these depressing times, only agriculture has the potential to reboot the economy. Redrawing the economic road ahead can only happen if the government decides to discard the pathway shown by Credit Rating agencies. It is possible provided the government builds up the political courage to make agriculture the pivot of growth and sustainable development. Whether mainline economists like it or not, the time has come for setting up a farmers income commission, with the mandate to ensure that every farm household gets an assured monthly income package of Rs 18,000. The minimum income package should be linked to production and to the geographical location of the farm. That's true Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. 
Farm Output May Have Increased in Three Years But Farmer's Welfare has Not. The Wire, May 26, 2017. https://thewire.in/140464/modi-three-years-farmers-agriculture/
Categories: Ecological News

Why do tainted senior officers as well as willful bank defaulters need government's protection?

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 18:36
On April 5, 2017, Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari warned in a letter to the newly elected Chief Minister in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand that a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the alleged road scam "would have an adverse impact on the morale of the officers." and the ministry "would have to re-examine the usefulness for taking up more projects in the state".

In a news report, titled: Gadkari warns Uttarakhand Govt against CBI probe in road projects published in Indian Express, May 26, 2017 (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/nh-74-land-acquisition-nitin-gadkari-warns-uttarakhand-govt-against-cbi-probe-into-road-projects-4674098/). The previous government had detected irregularities worth Rs 240-crore in the acquisition iof farm land for the proposed National Highway (NH) -74 passing through Uddham Singh Nagar district. It had referred the case to CBI saying not all areas of probe were within its control. The news report quoted sources in Gadkari's office saying that the minister had to make the point "since the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) top brass had informed him that key officials had left the state after being summoned repeatedly by state police and project work was being affected." What a strange reasoning?

Whatever be the reasons, I think this goes against the very grain of Prime Minister's commitment of ensuring probity in public life, when he had said: Na khaaonga, Na khaane dunga.

If it is the 'morale of the officers' that has to be protected, it is the 'country's economy' that gets impacted if the names of willful defaulters who had swooned the banks of thousands of crores are to be made public. Don't forget what the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had pleaded before the Supreme Court:"the RBI had provided a list of defaulters to the court in a sealed cover and told the court not to disclose the names. During the argument, the RBI submitted that the information was obtained by it in a fiduciary capacity and any exposure will have an impact on the country's economy and reduce confidence within the business and investment sector" (DNA, Mumbai, April 13, 2016: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-any-problem-with-disclosing-loan-default-amounts-supreme-court-asks-rbi-2201529). The apex court was told that 57 rich borrowers had defaulted the banks to the tune of Rs 85,000-crore.

I was in fact aghast when I read what the then RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had to say: "The act of default happens in business. Sometimes it's not the business' fault; the demand is weak or prices are low, there is dumping going on, or government permissions don't come on time. to then put the promoters' name up without the details of why the default happened, will only lead to anxiety and a fall in business activity." (DNA, April 5, 2016). If this is true, I don't understand why the names, along with the pictures, of defaulting farmers are pasted in tehsil offices. If companies can default because of extraneous reasons, don't we know the farmers too default because of reasons beyond their control. Drought, floods are certainly not in their control. So why treat them as criminals? Just because they are poor? 

Sometimes back I wrote; "You may have forgotten something that still remains embedded in me. When the Securities Scam burst in India, and I am talking of the period when Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister, it was not only stock broker Harshad Mehta who was involved. Two foreign banks were also involved. I still remember vividly when Manmohan Singh refused to initiate any action against the erring banks, saying: "It will send out a wrong signal." (Read here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/06/bhopla-gas-tragedy-company-raj-is-back.html). Any sensible economist would agree that not tolerating corruption would send a right signal. But still, the government's use the protective shield of 'hitting business sentiments or impacting economic growth' to justify the wrongs the big players make.

And if you point to this, the answer is you still carry a Colonial mindset !

Isn't it therefore clear that corruption in high places gets a very powerful protective cover? Governments want to ensure that no action that upsets the morale of corrupt top brass should be allowed, No action against big swindle and huge bank defaults (even if you are accustomed to the defaulting game) has to be taken as it may impact economic growth, and still worse any punitive action against the big loot will send a wrong signal to investors. Sad isn't it? But, that's the truth.

You will ask me how come then the banks are after Vijay Mallaya? Well, this is what MC Govardhana Rangan lucidly explains in the Economic Times (May 12, 2017). Under the headline: Urjit Patel's should worry banks more than cheer, he says "In this context, Vijay Mallya’s stands out. Banks are after him because they are sure they can recover the last penny due to his personal and other holding company guarantees. But others who have defaulted on thousands of crores haven’t provided such guarantees, so losses fall on banks, hence the status quo. History may see Mallya more as a fool than as a crook. (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/markets/stocks/news/urjit-patels-message-should-worry-banks-more-than-cheer/articleshow/58639153.cms).

Vijay Mallaya probably didn't follow the rules of the game. If he had played the game well, following the rules of the game properly, the banks would have probably been defending him rather than end up chasing him. That's why as the ET report said: History may see Mallaya more as a fool than as a crook.

Zero-tolerance for corruption it seems is only meant for the common man. #

Categories: Ecological News

Why do tainted senior officers as well as willful bank defaulters need government's protection?

Sat, 05/27/2017 - 18:36
On April 5, 2017, Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari warned in a letter to the newly elected Chief Minister in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand that a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the alleged road scam "would have an adverse impact on the morale of the officers." and the ministry "would have to re-examine the usefulness for taking up more projects in the state".

In a news report, titled: Gadkari warns Uttarakhand Govt against CBI probe in road projects published in Indian Express, May 26, 2017 (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/nh-74-land-acquisition-nitin-gadkari-warns-uttarakhand-govt-against-cbi-probe-into-road-projects-4674098/). The previous government had detected irregularities worth Rs 240-crore in the acquisition iof farm land for the proposed National Highway (NH) -74 passing through Uddham Singh Nagar district. It had referred the case to CBI saying not all areas of probe were within its control. The news report quoted sources in Gadkari's office saying that the minister had to make the point "since the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) top brass had informed him that key officials had left the state after being summoned repeatedly by state police and project work was being affected." What a strange reasoning?

Whatever be the reasons, I think this goes against the very grain of Prime Minister's commitment of ensuring probity in public life, when he had said: Na khaaonga, Na khaane dunga.

If it is the 'morale of the officers' that has to be protected, it is the 'country's economy' that gets impacted if the names of willful defaulters who had swooned the banks of thousands of crores are to be made public. Don't forget what the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had pleaded before the Supreme Court:"the RBI had provided a list of defaulters to the court in a sealed cover and told the court not to disclose the names. During the argument, the RBI submitted that the information was obtained by it in a fiduciary capacity and any exposure will have an impact on the country's economy and reduce confidence within the business and investment sector" (DNA, Mumbai, April 13, 2016: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-any-problem-with-disclosing-loan-default-amounts-supreme-court-asks-rbi-2201529). The apex court was told that 57 rich borrowers had defaulted the banks to the tune of Rs 85,000-crore.

I was in fact aghast when I read what the then RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had to say: "The act of default happens in business. Sometimes it's not the business' fault; the demand is weak or prices are low, there is dumping going on, or government permissions don't come on time. to then put the promoters' name up without the details of why the default happened, will only lead to anxiety and a fall in business activity." (DNA, April 5, 2016). If this is true, I don't understand why the names, along with the pictures, of defaulting farmers are pasted in tehsil offices. If companies can default because of extraneous reasons, don't we know the farmers too default because of reasons beyond their control. Drought, floods are certainly not in their control. So why treat them as criminals? Just because they are poor? 

Sometimes back I wrote; "You may have forgotten something that still remains embedded in me. When the Securities Scam burst in India, and I am talking of the period when Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister, it was not only stock broker Harshad Mehta who was involved. Two foreign banks were also involved. I still remember vividly when Manmohan Singh refused to initiate any action against the erring banks, saying: "It will send out a wrong signal." (Read here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/06/bhopla-gas-tragedy-company-raj-is-back.html).

Isn't it therefore clear that corruption in high places gets a very powerful protective cover? Governments want to ensure that no action that upsets the morale of corrupt top brass should be allowed, No action against big swindle and huge bank defaults (even if you are accustomed to the defaulting game) has to be taken as it may impact economic growth, and still worse any punitive action against the big loot will send a wrong signal to investors. Sad isn't it? But, that's the truth.

You will ask me how come then the banks are after Vijay Mallaya? Well, this is what the Economic Times (May 12, 2017) had to say in a report under the headline: Urjit Patel's should worry banks more than cheer "In this context, Vijay Mallya’s stands out. Banks are after him because they are sure they can recover the last penny due to his personal and other holding company guarantees. But others who have defaulted on thousands of crores haven’t provided such guarantees, so losses fall on banks, hence the status quo. History may see Mallya more as a fool than as a crook. (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/markets/stocks/news/urjit-patels-message-should-worry-banks-more-than-cheer/articleshow/58639153.cms).

Vijay Mallaya probably didn't follow the rules of the game. If he had played the game well, following the rules of the game properly, the banks would have probably been defending him rather than end up chasing him. That's why as the ET report said: History may see Mallaya more as a fool than as a crook.

Zero-tolerance for corruption it seems is only meant for the common man. #

Categories: Ecological News

Anil Dave: Left to him, he would have steered country's environment to a safer haven. But politics weighed on him.

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 12:43

It was a shocking news. When I read Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter expressing his sincere condolences on the sudden passing away of Environment Minister Anil Dave, it took a few minutes for the tragic news to sink in. Only a few days back I was talking to him, and he certainly sounded under stress but as usual was so warm and humble.

It was a matter of routine for us. Whenever we would meet or talk on phone we would first inquire about how we were coping with life after our respective heart bypass surgeries. Knowing that I have a heavy travel schedule, he would always tell me not to stretch myself since I have already undergone an open heart surgery. “Take your medicines regularly, Devinder ji, the country needs you,” he would often say. I would just laugh it off quoting what the late journalist Prabhash Joshi often used to say: “At the pace I am travelling across the country, even the Yumraj would get tired chasing me.”

I couldn’t tell him to take his medicines regularly because he was always so particular. He always carried a box in which the medicines were neatly stacked and carried the time slot in which they were to be taken. He did his yoga regularly, and led a simple lifestyle which doesn’t give you the remotest of inkling that his days were numbered. Not many knew that he had undergone a bypass surgery some three to four years back, about two years after I had a bypass surgery. That is why he always considered himself to be my junior.

When I learnt that he had actually suffered a heart stroke, I couldn’t believe my ears. After all, he was my “junior” and going by the bypass medical history, he should have under normal circumstances lived for another 15 years or so or perhaps longer. I knew he was under severe political pressure to approve the controversial genetically modified mustard (GM Mustard) but even in my farthest of dreams I couldn’t read what was coming ahead. He had told me that given a choice he would never approve GM Mustard but at the same time he didn't want to share with me the kind of pressures that he was faced with. I had suggested to him to resign rather that give in to pressures. I even went to the extent of reminding him of the only incident I could recall when Lal Bahadur Shashtri had resigned taking moral responsibility for a train accident. “The nation respects such decisions taken on high moral grounds. You will leave behind a tradition which the country would always recall with pride,” I had told him. 

Anil Dave is no more with us to share how he couldn’t survive the pressure, but his untimely passing away has certainly left a void. As I tweeted the other day, there are hardly a handful of politicians like Anil Dave left now on the country’s political horizon. People like him wouldn’t even survive in politics; majority would never even dare to join the murky world of politics. He was not only an exception, but the fact he rose to head the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, and was then nominated to Rajya Sabha and eventually became a minister (with independent charge) and that too held a portfolio that was close to his heart speaks volumes of the strength of his character. Left to him, I am sure he would have steered the country's environment and wildlife to safer haven. 

I met him first time when he was planning to launch the annual “Narmada Samagra” drawing environmentalists, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, and concerned citizens to save the mighty Narmada River. I was in fact introduced to him one fine day by my friends Bhavdeep Kang and Atul Jain in New Delhi. I must acknowledge I didn’t even notice him sitting demurely in one corner till I was formally introduced. We sat down for lunch, and therein he shared with me what he proposed to achieve from “Narmada Samagra”. He even told me: “You may think it is a government show but all I can tell you there are good people in the government who too want to protect the rivers,” I still recall his words, and could see through the deep commitment.

I traveled to participate in the first “Narmada Samagra” held at the banks of river Narmada.

Later, I used to meet him whenever I would visit Bhopal for some event or the other. At least on two occasions, he saw me sitting in the front row while was on the stage and didn’t forget to invite me on to the stage to speak a few words even though I was not listed to speak in that session. “How can we not listen to Devinder Sharma when he happens to be amongst us,” he would say. Feeling embarrassed, I responded by telling the audience that Anil Dave’s words only reflected his respect, love and affection for my work. He would smile but still urge me on. On a number of occasions I found he would often speak with a lot of respect for some of the well-known environmentalists. "Sad, in this race to attain a higher GDP, we are mercilessly killing the environment, cutting down the trees, polluting the rivers ...."      I specifically recall when once I gave him a call, and told him I was in the city. At his insistence, I drove to ‘Nadi Ka Ghar’ where he greeted me. Took me around the building, introducing me to his colleagues, and finally we went to the top floor to his room. Before we sat down for a long chat, he presented me a copy of his book on Shivaji, and then we gt into discussing a wide array of subjects – from rivers, to deforestation and to non-chemical agriculture. “I am telling the Chief Minister to ban chemical farming around Narmada. All these chemicals – fertiliser and pesticides -- eventually flow into the river,” he told me. He wanted a massive plantation drive along the river banks, and I am glad Madhya Pradesh has undertaken that exercise.

For a man who in his heart only revered the nature, it wasn’t easy take a call on GM Mustard. As Tarun Vijay wrote: "He was to  take a final decision on an application for an indigenously-developed GM crop of mustard. Everyone who knew him was sure that he would ban it in India."  On that fateful day, after witnessing a civil society protest outside his office during the day, and later inviting a six-member team for discussions in his office, the same evening he met the Prime Minister at his residence late in the evening. As the Prime Minister had tweeted, acknowledging, he had long discussions around policy issues with Anil Dave the fateful night, it is quite obvious that the contentious issue of GM Mustard approval too must have been discussed. 

A few hours later he complained of pain in the chest and was rushed to the hospital. #
Categories: Ecological News

Rethinking Revolutions: The story of the failed Yellow Revolution, and eChoupals

Sun, 05/21/2017 - 09:56

At a time when doubling farmer’s income in the next five years has become the catch phrase, the policy emphasis is on the oft-beaten approach of boosting crop productivity, reducing the cost of cultivation, expanding the area under irrigation and providing a unified national agricultural market.

This makes me wonder. If increasing crop productivity, which is what economists and policy makers have been relentlessly asking for, then why is Punjab, the food bowl of India, faced with a terrible agrarian crisis? In a State which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the per hectare yields of wheat and rice match international levels I see no reason why should farmers be then dying. Is there something that I am missing in my understanding of agriculture or is that the policy makers have still not be able to emerge out of the tragic narrative of the past, so well crafted and hyped.

Raising crop productivity is the only paradigm within which agriculture has been understood and evaluated, says Richa Kumar in her magnificently researched book Rethinking Revolutions (Oxford University Press, 2016). Richa Kumar teaches in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Although she examines the politics of agriculture through the prism of the “Yellow Revolution”, which essentially began with the introduction of soyabean cultivation in Central India, and subsequently propped up with the advent of eChaupals, she dwells much deeper to successfully demolish the popular notion that narrow, technological solutions alone are the answer. 

The popular notion behind any ‘revolution’ – green, yellow white and blue – is the remarkable ability to frame the agrarian crisis in terms of production alone. If productivity increases, income of farmers also increases. This dominant notion, prevalent for over 100 years, has established firm roots. I must acknowledge that as a student of agriculture, I had realised early that the entire effort by way of research, education and extension is to programme (in IT parlance) the thinking of students around this dominant narrative. And let’s not forget that agricultural universities in India were initially set up by USAID bringing in educational curriculum from the Land Grant system of education from the United States.

The British built this notion to increase revenue collections during the days of the Raj, but subsequently the international influence, reinforced through expanding agribusiness interests, has put a stamp on it. Those farmers who obediently follow the scientific prescriptions to achieve higher productivity are called ‘acche kisan’ and those who carried more knowledge and wisdom were branded as unproductive, and farm scientists firmly believe they need to be pushed out of agriculture.‘Since then, it has been the primary measure used to judge the success or failure of farmers’. 

It is primarily for this reason that the technological breakthrough achieved in Punjab defies the dominant narrative. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat in Punjab stands at 4,500Kg/hectare which matches the wheat yield in United States. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000 Kg/hectare, quite close to the 6,700 Kg/hectare achieved in China. With such high yields and with so much of abundant irrigation I see no reason why should Punjab turn into a hot spot for farmer suicides. Since Punjab farmers were on the forefront of accepting every new scientific and technological input, why should then acche kisan be committing suicide and that too in droves?

Economist Willard Cochrane (1958) calls it agricultural treadmill, an idea which Richa Kumar very eloquently extends to explain the prevailing distress in agriculture: “They (farmers) are running a race against insects, but to win, they are dependent upon scientists to create pest-resistant varieties and dependent on private companies to develop ever more potent pesticides. As one fails, the next is one is ready. But there is no respite.” This is what I had always termed as chakravyuah, pushing the farmer deeper and deeper into a quagmire of financial indebtedness.

The story of the failed Yellow Revolution had little to do with technology failure. It was the result of a shift in trade policies which reduced import tariffs thereby bringing in a flood of cheaper edible oil imports. In the process, Richa Kumar revisits the famed saga of a technology-mediated development model, dissecting in detail the claims of prosperity and empowerment of farmers, and demonstrating clearly how detrimental it has been to understand the agrarian change by ignore the social – caste, class and gender, as well as the environmental factors. 

The book is neatly divided into 11 chapters, including conclusion, and I found each chapter gradually building on the argument that techno-fix solutions alone are a myopic way of addressing the farming crisis. Agriculture treadmill forces farmers to move to a more potent, expensive and sophisticated technology, providing at best a temporary solution. But the socio-economic and environmental dimension of the crisis only grows, waiting to explode at an appropriate stage. That’s perhaps the reason why India is faced with a terrible agrarian crisis fifty years after the Green Revolutionwas launched. In the past 21 years, more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. 

The ethnographic study, and the scholarly analysis provides a very powerful insight into how deceptive is the entire debate on what constitutes agriculture growth. More relevant in the present debate/discussions surrounding the promise of doubling farm income, the story of eChoupals, using information technology as an autonomous agent of change, and hailed as the lone success story to bridge the information divide. As Richa Kumar says the eChoupals very appropriately fitted into the post-liberalisation phase where the role of the state was to be replaced by private corporations in the name of market efficiency.

eChoupals were launched in the year 2000 with much fanfare. I remember some popular magazines had even done cover stories projecting how eChoupals had ‘empowered’ farmers by providing information and removing ‘corrupt’ intermediaries. What was not told was that ITC-IBD, which operated eChoupals, was also an intermediary. Its underlying objective was to procure soyabean for the international value chain. Subsequently, it was also established that the price ITC-IBD paid to soyabean farmers over the years was almost equal to what the traditional mandis were offering. The soyabean price paid to farmers was driven by the Chicago Board of Trade and the Kuala Lumpur Commodities Exchange.

Nevertheless, by 2005, the eChaupals had converted into a rural retail network of malls known as Choupal Saagars to sell FMCG products to villagers. That is why eChoupals are not even remotely mentioned in the ambitious electronic National Agricultural Market (eNAM) initiative that the government is now promoting. The eChoupal debacle therefore has lessons agalore that simply cannot be brushed aside. Dismantling the APMC regulated markets and bringing in instead the eNAM network suffers from the same ideological thinking. Let us also not forget that to up the ante even eChoupalshad received numerous awards and recognition. That’s the way dominant narrative is conveniently changed.

Richa Kumar has conclusively established that increasing crop productivity alone is a misleading yardstick in measuring agricultural growth and prosperity. Rethinking Revolutions is the outcome of painstaking research and analysis, and ignoring the powerful message it conveys will be to the detriment of not only the farming community but to the country’s overall growth and development. The entire discourse on the political economy of development needs a radical overhaul. This is a book I will recommend for all policy planners, economists, scientists and should be a mandatory reading in agricultural curriculum. #  

Source:  Not by productivity alone. The Book Review. May 2017. Volume XLI Number 5   
Categories: Ecological News

Indecent tax proposal

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 12:50

Pic: Rediff.com
A growing clamour for taxing agricultural income to shore up government revenues comes up at a time when the government is merrily providing massive tax concessions to the rich and powerful.  Isn’ this like robbing Peter to pay Paul?

But why should rich farmers not be brought under the tax regime? According to IndiaSpend, farm incomes declared by tax payers in 2014, for exemption in the assessment year 2014-15, stood at Rs 9,338-crores. Even if you were to tax this income, probably not more than a third of this amount, or roughly Rs 3,000-crore could be mopped up as tax revenue. But this is not even a drop in the ocean when you compare with the Rs 17.5-lakh crore tax concessions granted to corporate in just the three year period, 2013-16, as Parliament was informed the other day.

The question that needs to be therefore asked is whether the objective of taxing agricultural income is simply to provide a smokescreen to the massive tax concessions being given to the industry each year. As per a reply given in Parliament, Rs 6.11-lakh crore of tax concessions was given in 2015-16 alone. In the past 13-years, between 2004-05 and 2016-17, the total tax concessions given to the industry, clubbed under the category of Revenue Foregone in Budget documents, exceeds a whopping Rs 55-lakh crore.

Yes, you heard it right. Rs 55-lakh crore.

When I brought this up in the TV discussion, a BJP spokesperson said that it reflected a “colonial mindset”. I wasn’t surprised, after all a similar argument was raised when the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had waived Rs 36,359-crore of farm loans. While the RBI governor Urjit Patel had decried the farm loan waiver as disrupting an honest credit culture, he didn’t find any fault with the massive corporate loan waivers. The Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam had even gone to the extent of justifying the corporate loan waiver as good economics, stating ‘this is how capitalism works’.

According to India Ratings, Rs 4-lakh crore of bad debts of corporate is expected to be written-off in near future.

The entire controversy erupted after Niti Ayog member Bibek Debroy made a strong case for bringing agriculture under the tax net with a view to increasing the resources of the state. For reasons explained above, I see no justification for taxing farm incomes unless the corporate tax concessions are not scrapped. Even the distinguished scientist-administrator Dr M S Swaminathan had questioned the move to bring agriculture under tax bracket but had agreed to taxing the rich who treat agriculture as a parking lot for black money. He tweeted to say: “There could be other methods of taxing rich farmers with multiple sources of income.”

I too agree. If some States can impose tax on certain kinds of agricultural incomes, like plantations (including tea, coffee, rubber, spices etc), I see no reason why the State governments cannot evolve some mechanism to tax farm incomes from dubious sources. But to bring the entire farm sector under tax net, making small and marginal farmers to file annual returns is simply a stupid idea.

But just imagine, at a time when Economic Survey 2016 tells us that the average income of a farm family in 17 States is a paltry Rs 20,000 a year, to even talk of income tax shows how disconnected the policy makers are from the ground realities. According to the National Crime Record Bureau, more than 3.18-lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 21 years, and many states are grappling with the possibility of waiving outstanding farm loans on the lines of Uttar Pradesh loan waiver.

At the same time, I see no justification in allowing the multinational seed company, Monsanto India, to claim tax exemptions of Rs 94.40-crore from agricultural income. Another seed giant, Kaveri Seeds, claimed Rs 186.63-crore exemption and made a profit of Rs 215.36-crore before tax. As Bibek Debroy points out in an article: Twelve Reasons Why (Indian Express, May 3, 2017), in 2015, at least 307 individuals had reported an income exceeding Rs 1-crore per year. They certainly need to be brought under the tax net. There have also been reports of some of the well-known political leaders claiming huge returns from agriculture, which of course defies all logic, and should therefore be taxed.

I see another disturbing trend. Many bureaucrats and businessmen are buying land simply to park their unaccounted income. This trend is growing, and should be a cause for worry. My suggestion is that for the salaried class, any combined income (including from farming) shown beyond the taxable income limits should be taxed. The reason is simple. The tax exemption should be available only to those who work as full-time farmers, not to people who get regular salaries which mean they have no time for farming. Then how can they claim tax exemption for an activity they have not participated in? Similarly, for the business class, any combined income (including from agriculture) beyond the Rs 15-lakh annual limit should be brought under the tax net. The reason why I say so is the same, as before. Unless they are full-time farmers, they should not be allowed to take advantage of agriculture tax exemptions. But first, the provision to allow seed companies tax exemption under agricultural incomes should be immediately withdrawn.

Taxing the rich farmers (owning sprawling farm houses and having income from multiple sources, including agriculture) is long overdue. But this has to be accompanied by scrapping the provisions of doling out massive tax concession so the corporate. Otherwise, it will turn into a self-defeating exercise. # 

Categories: Ecological News

How come mega cities like Bangalore never give an inkling of a severe drought in its own backyard?

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 14:30

This is Bangalore. Hustling and bustling with life

Just two hours away from Bangalore, life in this village is at standstill
I travel to Bangalore very often. At least four times a year, if not more. But every time I go to Bangalore I have never even remotely felt that Karnataka has been reeling under a severe drought. Life in the mega city does not even provide an inkling of a severe drought prevailing just 30 kms away. I am told as many as 139 of the 176 taluks have been declared drought hit this year. Still worse, Karnataka has reeled under drought for 11 years out of the past 16 years.

Just two hours away from Bangalore is the Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh. A report in New Indian Express (April 28) brought tears in my eyes. “Has my father come back?” asks a 12 year-old Divakar, as he runs into the house straight from the school. “No, he will come back next month and bring you lots of toys from Bangalore,” replies his uncle, Eswarayya. The child is distraught, dumps his school bag, changes his dress and gets on his tricycle to ride along an empty street lined with an endless sequence of locked houses.

Journalist Harish Gilai’s account of how Andhra’s Anantpur district town and villages have become empty is an insight into the tragedy of rural India that no one wants to read. Kutapalle village in Nallamada mandal of Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh is a ghost town, he writes. Half the houses there were locked. You either find the aged walking about or the kids playing in the street. In another news report, Aditi Mallick and Geetika Mantri, who were part of fact finding mission tells us (TheNewsMinute, May 9) heart-rending stories of how elders in the family have migrated in search of menial jobs leaving behind their children to take care of themselves (to know more, click here: http://www.kisanswaraj.in/wp-content/uploads/Rapid-Assessment-of-Drought-in-Anantapur-and-state-of-citizens-entitlements.pdf)

“Twelve-year-old Bukya Syamulamma, a tribal girlin Kareddipalli village in Anantpur district, lives all alone with her two younger siblings. A petite figure, she lugs 25 kilos of ration to and fro from a PDS shop located in the neighbouring village. Having lost her father to alcoholism last year, Bukya is now responsible for taking care of herself and her brother and a sister.” This seems to be a scene out of a Bollywood blockbuster but let’s not forget this is for real.

“Another 15-year-old in Kareddipalli lives by herself after her parents migrated to Kerala searching for employment. Rama Devi says that she sometimes fears for her safety.” But the bigger question that concerns me is how acute must be the suffering that Rama’s parents must be undergoing that they were forced to leave behind their only girl child in search of a job. Their choice was limited. I am sure no parent would ever think of leaving their children behind. This certainly is not a scene from Hollywood’s popular movie Home Alone. Hundreds of children have been left behind by parents who have migrated in search of whatever little job they can manage.

Anantpur district is reeling under the 6thconsecutive year of drought.

In Kerala, no longer God’s own country, families survive on 10-15 buckets of water a week in the Palakkad district. Writing in the Indian Express (May 8), Shaju Philip takes us to Attapaddy, which is faced with the second consecutive year of drought. Kerala is facing its worst drought year in 115 years. All the 14 districts of Kerala were declared drought hit by October, 2016. And yet, if you travel to Thiruvanthapuram or Kochi or Kozhikode or for that matter any of the major cities or towns you don't get a feeling as if Kerala is reeling under a drought.

Concluding his five-day yatra through the drought-hit parts of Tamil Nadu, Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan lamented: “The indifference shown by the Union Government has paralysed the State’s machinery and is taking a heavy toll on the farmers in state,” adding: “Cattle deaths are only an indicator of a possible famine in the State.” The recent protest by a handful of Tamil Nadu farmers at Janta Mantar in New Delhi wanting a Rs 40,000-cr loan waiver had attracted a reasonably good media coverage but failed to move the nation. “It’s an unprecedented situation,” S Panneerselvam, Prof of AgroMetereology at the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University told IndiaSpend. He said the drought had affected 21 of the 32 districts of Tamil Nadu. Incidentally, the State is reeling under the worst drought in 140 years. But again, if you were to travel to Chennai or Coimbatore or for that matter any other town in the State, you don’t get a feel of a severe drought prevailing just a few kms outside the city.

I find it too strange. After all, have you ever pondered why is that while drought hits the region as a whole it is only people living in the villages who bear the brunt? Why is that drought rarely, if at all, strikes the cities and towns? I am sure the God’s were not so unfair so as to ensure that crippling drought strikes only the rural constituencies. I am sure God did not want to punish the people living in the villages for no fault of theirs. So how come the divide that leads to the terrible consequences of drought being inflicted on the rural people has become so targeted?

Latur town in the dry Kuchh region in Gujarat may be an exception but it is very rare that the city of Chennai for instance is faced with severe water crisis requiring water trains to carry water. Not only water shortage, drought normally brings along a whole lot of problems, which are rarely felt in the cities. This must be the outcome of an inequality woven through the process of development. In my understanding, the development process is so designed that the cities have been made drought proof over the years. The rural-urban divide is so apparent. All efforts have gone to ensure that the urban population does not have to suffer the consequences of a drought. The rivers and canals flowing into the countryside can go dry, but worse-cum-worse the tap water supply in the cities is available for a few hours every evening and morning. Even if water for New Delhi has to be fetched from as far as Renuka dam in Himachal Pradesh or the water supply in Mumbai has to be sucked from the adjoining regions of Western Ghats, life in cities remain oblivious to the terrible cost that is inflicted in the bargain on the rural populace. 

This is primarily the reason why people living in the cities are so disconnected from the realities of rural India. They are happy in their own world, and they give a damn to the extent of human suffering just a few miles away in their own backyard. Well, this is where the civilized world has led us to. In a world of selfies, selfishness has reached the limit. #
Categories: Ecological News

'What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years' -- My Interview

Sat, 05/06/2017 - 18:23
If the government is willing to change the credit culture in our country and give a leg-up to farmers, it will help transform millions of lives and fuel economic growth, award-winning agricultural expert DEVINDER SHARMA tells RASHME SEHGAL

Tamil Nadu farmers had been protesting for 41 days in the capital and demanding a Rs 40,000-crore drought relief package and farm loan waiver as also the setting up of the Cauvery Management Board. The government has so far not come forward to okay this financial package. Is this because of paucity of funds?Tamil Nadu farmers have brought the plight of the farmers onto the national scene. Agriculture throughout the country has been faced with grave difficulties for the past few decades and successive governments have failed to do much, simply trying to push the crisis under the carpet. Over the past 21 years, as per the National Crime Record Bureau, more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. The serial death dance on the farm has continued unabated, a stark reminder to the dark underbelly in a country which claims to be on a growth trajectory. The demand of the Tamil Nadu farmers to waive Rs 40,000 crore is clearly indicative of how deeply indebted farming has become over the years. People living in cities can’t even imagine the extreme distress that prevails in several parts of India reeling under continuous drought for several years now. Parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Jharkhand, and Bihar have somehow been surviving with droughts continuing for as many as six to seven years at a stretch. What shocks me is that even in Bangalore, people have no idea of the extent of drought prevailing just 50 km away from the mega-city. That’s the kind of disconnect that exists between India and Bharat.The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for their produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years.Farmers are in distress throughout the country, be it in Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra or UP. Why has the situation reached these extreme levels and what can be done to reverse this trend?The Economic Survey 2016 had clearly pointed to the severity of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the average annual income of a farm family in 17 states of India is a paltry Rs 20,000. This means, the average monthly income for a farm household in these 17 states is less than Rs 1,700. I shudder to think how farmers survive with such meagre income. Most of us who live in cities have a monthly mobile bill exceeding this. I thought this revelation alone should have shocked the country and forced policy planners to undertake immediate steps to address the grave tragedy. But unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened.Except for routine lip-service, I don’t see any concrete measures being spelled out. In fact, what is being proposed by Niti Aayog as solution to this vexed crisis clearly shows how misplaced the emphasis is. The solutions that Niti Aayog suggests shows our planners can’t even think beyond what is prescribed in textbooks. Increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation and reducing the cost of production as the way forward actually show that our economists haven’t learnt any lesson from the farm debacle.Let me make it clear. Farmers are dying not because crop productivity is low. They are dying even in those areas where productivity is the highest in the world. Take the case of Punjab, where 98 per cent of the cultivable land is under assured irrigation. The productivity of wheat is 45 quintals per hectare, the highest in the world; and for paddy at 60 quintals/hectare, it is close to the 67 quintals/hectare of paddy productivity in China. With such high yields, amongst the highest in the world, and with 98 percent assured irrigation, Punjab farmers should have done remarkably well. But unfortunately what is not known is that there is hardly a day when two or three or four farmers don’t commit suicide. Punjab has now turned into a suicide hotspot. The problem, therefore, is not one of low productivity but that of lack of remunerative and assured farm incomes. But if you look at the policy direction, all thrust is on production alone.

In Punjab, 98 percent of rural households are in debt, and in 94 per cent cases the expenditure is more than the income they get. It clearly shows that the economic prescription being doled out to pull the farmers out of the crisis is simply flawed. In any case, the people who have been at the helm of affairs when the agrarian crisis was building up cannot be expected to provide the right solutions.Yogi Adityanath waived the farmers loans in UP. This led the Reserve Bank governor and others to complain that writing off loans on this scale would hurt the credit culture of the country. But the distress of the farmers can be seen from the fact that the Tamil Nadu farmers had brought the skulls of dead farmers along with them to protest government apathy and were willing to drink their own urine and eat faeces to highlight the enormity of their problems.I was very disappointed to read RBI governor Urjit Patel’s statement when he said that farm loan waivers disrupt an honest credit culture. I have never understood why only farm loan waivers hurt the credit culture. Why is it that the corporate loan waiver is seen as a step towards economic growth whereas cancelling the outstanding loans of poor farmers is considered wrong? Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian has gone on record saying that corporate loans have to be written off, adding that this is how capitalism works.These are double standards. We cannot have a dual approach when it comes to corporate loans versus farm loans. In the three-year period, between 2013 and 2016, more than Rs 17-lakh crore worth of tax concessions have been given to the corporate sector. Despite these massive tax concessions, and numerous other instances of economic largesse under the ease of doing business including land acquisitions at a heavily subsidized price, a newspaper reported that as much as Rs 7-lakh crore has either been written off or restructured in the past few years. Is that honest credit culture? The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament estimates Rs 6.8-lakh crore to be the accumulated bank default of which 70 per cent belongs to corporate and only 1 per cent caters to farmers. India Ratings tells us that more than Rs 4 lakh crore of NPAs is expected to be waived in the near future.Yogi Adityanath has taken a remarkable step by writing off Rs 36,359-crore of outstanding loans, which will benefit over 92-lakh small and marginal farmers. This is not only good politics but also good economics. Andhra Pradesh/Telangana has already written off Rs 50,000-crore farmer loans. Maharashtra is toying with the idea of waiving Rs 30,500-crore farm loans, and Punjab is under pressure to waive Rs 36,000-crore farm loans. Add all these figures, and they still equal Rs 1.5 lakh crore, the total value of NPAs that the steel industry alone is seeking to be cancelled.Should the credit culture of industry and corporate houses be compared to agriculture? It seems to me that both sectors are in distress. The fact is that the impact of a distressed agricultural sector is also felt by the manufacturing sector.Yes, there is no economic rationale in looking at farm loans and corporate loans separately. Both the corporate sector and farmers take loans from the banks. We cannot make exemptions for the rich and penalize the poor. This is bad economics.But the credit culture is so disguised that people fail to see how cleverly it is designed to help the corporates. When it comes to farm loans, the finance ministry wants the state governments to underwrite the write-off. The argument is that since agriculture is a state subject, states have to take responsibility. But when it comes to the corporates, the banks do not need the state’s nod to strike down the bad debt. Why these exemptions for the corporate loan waiver? After all, industry, too, is a state subject and going by the norm the states should be asked to underwrite the waiver.Let me illustrate. Maharashtra has outstanding farm loans of Rs 30,500 crore that it is struggling to waive. The bad debt of Essar Steel, according to media reports, exceeds Rs 33,000 crore. The corporate office of Essar Steel is in Mumbai, and I don’t find the RBI asking Maharashtra to stand guarantee for the steel giant’s bad debt waiver. This is grossly unfair. The state should therefore refuse to underwrite farm loans. Just like the corporate loans, banks should be directed to write off farm loans without disrupting the state’s finances.Part of the problem in agriculture is fragmented land holdings, dependence on an erratic monsoon, high cost of  seeds and fertilizers and, of course, the impact of climate change. How do farmers deal with a slew of these problems? Are we reaching a stage where agriculture will have to subsidised in the way it is being subsidised  in the West?There is no denying that agriculture faces a number of problems. Fragmented land holdings are certainly a major cause for worry. But still I don’t see any reason why farmers should be pushed out of agriculture. It was in 1996 that World Bank directed India to move 400 million people out of agriculture into the urban sectors. This was to be accomplished in the next 20 years, by 2015. Successive governments have only been following the economic prescription blindly. The argument has been that no other developed country has been able to grow with such a large population engaged in farming.Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had said that that the best reform would be when we are able to move out the bulk of the farming population into the cities. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms going.  No wonder, the public sector investments in agriculture have been deliberately pruned. In the 11th Plan period, a total of Rs 1 lakh crore was invested in agriculture in the five years. In the 12th Plan period, it was raised to Rs 1.5 lakh crore. The tragedy is that MNREGA’s budget is more than the total investment in agriculture, which employs 60 crore people.The point I am trying to make is that agriculture has been deliberately kept impoverished all these years.In the long run, can we go on writing off agricultural loans indefinitely?Loan waiver is only a temporary relief. The bigger challenge is to ensure that farmers don’t relapse into debt again. This can only be made possible if the focus of economic reforms shifts to agriculture. I am of the firm opinion that at a time when the world is witnessing a jobless growth, and when all developed countries are faced with an economic slowdown from which there seems to be no way out, only agriculture can reboot the economy. Only agriculture can provide an ever-lasting solution to the demographic disaster that awaits the major economies. Imagine if the 60 crore people engaged in farming, directly and indirectly, were to get more income in their hands. It would send the economy galloping. More income will create more demand, which means the wheels of industrial growth will kickstart. A profitable agriculture will reduce the pressure on cities, and will bring back some sanity to enable planners to restore global warming to manageable levels. This, I think, should be the foundation of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas.Linked to this is the key question that India is fast losing its water resources largely through mismanagement. The result is that the southern states are facing the worst drought in the last 100 years and more.The environmental disaster that the world is witnessing—and India is no exception—is also the outcome of the policies underlying economic growth. The commodification of natural resources, including water, has taken its toll. Global warming is already drawing a collective stand among nations. But unfortunately, while international agreements on restricting soaring temperature, which also has its impact on water mining, are keeping the international community actively involved, I don’t see much hope unless the G-20 group of countries makes a sincere effort to make urgent corrections to the economic policies that pushes for higher growth.As an agricultural expert, what are the immediate steps you believe the government must take to help the agricultural sector?We tend to forget that the farmer is also an entrepreneur. The only limitation has been that unlike the huge support provided for urban entrepreneurs like Start-Up India, farmers have remained largely neglected. Since the underlying effort has been to encourage migration from rural areas, rural youth has not received an equal amount of support. I, therefore, suggest a three-pronged approach to tackle the continuing agrarian crisis:
  1. Write off the bad debt in agriculture. This will enable the farmer to emerge out of the burden of indebtedness that he has been pushed deeper and deeper into. Unless he emerges free, there is no way farming can be turned into a profitable venture. The parliament has estimated that Rs 12.50 lakh crore is the level of farm indebtedness that prevails.
  2. Provide farmers with a profitable price. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) fixes minimum support price (MSP) for 23 crops, but procures only two crops—wheat and rice. The government must announce procurement for all the 23 crops for which MSP is announced. It must also re-designate the CACP as the Commission for Farmers Income and Welfare, with the mandate to provide an assured monthly package to farmers. I see no reason why farmers’ monthly income should be around Rs 1,700 per month whereas the chaprasi gets a basic salary of Rs 18,000 per month.
  3. At present, only six percent farmers get the benefit of MSP. Ninety four percent of farmers are dependent on the markets. If these markets were efficient, there is no reason why farming should have been in a terrible crisis. The focus, therefore, should be to expand the network of APMC mandis, to set up a regulated mandi in 5-km radius. This would require investments to expand the existing network of 7,700 APMC mandis to 42,000 mandis. This expansion must also include setting up warehouses and godowns in at least 50 prominent locations spread throughout the country. The country has failed to manage surplus, often forcing farmers to dump tomato/potato crops onto the streets, and it is here that infrastructure development is desperately required. This has to be followed up by various initiatives to provide cheaper credit, land and other measures to prop up agriculture.#

Source: 'Farmers are dying not because crop productivity is low' APNLive.com May 5, 2017. http://www.apnlive.com/india/farmers-dying-not-crop-productivity-low-15343
Categories: Ecological News

Payment for Ecosystem Services can Guarantee Farm Income and lead to Sustainable Agriculture

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:36

Pic courtesy : World Economic Forum 
I am sharing below a commentary published in Economic & Political Weekly (April 29, 2017 issue). I only hope it initiates a global debate on the need to compensate farmers for the ecosystem services they render. ​http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/17/commentary/payment-ecosystem-services.html#

Paying farmers for ecosystem services that they provide could be a novel way to achieve multiple goals of doubling the farm incomes, reduce rural–urban migration, reduce pressure on urban infrastructure, and at the same time, incentivise sustainable agrarian practices in India.
Authors: P Indira DeviLalit KumarD Suresh KumarManjula MPranab MukhopadhyayP RaghuDevinder SharmaR SridharL Venkatachalam
India has seen a steady decline in the proportion of national income coming from the primary sector overlaying a rapid decline in rural farm incomes and this has impacted the demographic dynamics too. Between 2001 and 2011, the growth rate of rural population declined by 5.9%, while the urban population growth rate increased by 0.3%. This steady rise has been by way of (i) migration from rural areas, (ii) increasing density of habitation spaces in urban fringes, and (iii) emergence of new towns.The rapid growth in urban populations has put an immense strain on urban infrastructure, quality of life and raised doubts of sustainability of well-being despite a rapidly increasing per capita income in India. Parallelly, in rural India, household ownership of land has declined from 107.2 million hectares (ha) in 2002–03 to 92.4 million ha in 2012–13 (NSSO 2013). The declining farm income is reflected in the rising number of farmer suicides—an estimated 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past 21 years beginning 1995 according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The latest estimates show that 12,602 farmers had committed suicide in 2015, an increase by 2% from 2014. Thus, guaranteeing a farm income that ensures a decent living for the farmers is an urgent need of the hour.Ground Reality and Policy ResponseIn response to this crisis, while presenting the union budget of 2016, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced the government’s intention of doubling the farmers’ income in the next five years. This is a welcome intention in the context of the severe agrarian crisis, and the rising spate of farmer suicides.According to the Economic Survey 2016–17, the average farm household income in 17 states of India stands at a paltry ₹20,000 per year, that is, an average monthly income of ₹1,666. According to the estimates from the 70th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS), the average farm household income was ₹6,426 per month, including ₹3,345 from non-farm activities. These are clear indications that the extent of farm income insecurity is primarily responsible for prevailing agrarian crisis.In contrast, the recently announced Seventh Pay Commission guarantees a minimum basic pay of ₹18,000 per month for the lowest paid government employee. Farmers who undertake the critical task of providing food to the nation are somehow left to the vagaries of weather variations and market fluctuations, and have no secure means of income.The most talked about minimum support price (MSP) mechanism to ensure fair farm incomes is unequal to the task on at least two counts: first, it has not kept pace with the rise in farm costs, and second, as admitted by the Shanta Kumar Committee, only 6% of the farmers get the benefit of MSP.1 Doubling the farm income, therefore, seems an impossibility using the MSP as a tool.The other two ways by which net incomes could be enhanced are: growth in agricultural productivity or reduction in production costs (if prices are stable). While agricultural productivity has stagnated over the years on an average across the country, Punjab has shown that even raising crop productivity does not automatically lead to an end to the agrarian crisis. With 98% assured irrigation and wheat yields of 45 quintals/ha and paddy yield of 60 quintals/ha, Punjab is on the top globally when it comes to crop productivity and yet has emerged as a suicide hotspot. Reductionin the cost of production may in any case be mostly influenced by market forces than individual actions. Therefore, none of these strategies seems to be a feasible mechanism to meet the policy goal of increasing farm incomes.PES as a SolutionOne mechanism which is inclusive and would ensure increase in farm incomes is by compensating farmers for ecosystem services that they generate. Ecosystem services are those benefits generated by the ecological systems that contribute to human well-being both directly and indirectly. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) classified the ecosystem services into four broad categories: provisional, regulatory, support and cultural services. Except for the provisioning services, the other ecosystem services are not traded directly in the market, which necessitate generation of surrogate methods for valuing these services. Providing a monetary value for the ecosystem services is an important method to raise awareness and convey the importance of ecosystem services to policymakers (Ploeg and de Groot 2010).One of the first attempts to estimate monetary values of global ecosystems services was done by Costanza et al (1997). They estimated the contribution of ecosystem services to be $33 trillion per year and then revised this estimate to $125 trillion per year in 2011 (Costanza et al 2014). A series of efforts were made to compute the values of ecosystem services and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative made significant progress in this aspect. It led to the creation of the Ecosystem Service Valuation Database (ESVD) with about 1,500 global peer-reviewed publications on ecosystem services valuation covering 22 such services from 16 biomes. The values were standardised to the base year 2007 and the normalised values were expressed in terms of per year and per hectare. As de Groot et al (2012) point out, these are estimates “of their benefits to society—benefits that would be lost if they were destroyed or gained if they were restored.”Potential of agriculture in providing ecosystem services is gaining research attention globally. Agriculture conventionally supplies food, fibre, and fuel—“provisioning services” in ecosystem service parlance (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). Apart from provisioning ecosystem services, the agricultural ecosystems supply “regulating services” like climate regulation, water purification, surface water flows, groundwater level, and waste assimilation and breakdown (Robertson et al 2014). Thus, agroecosystems provide beneficial ecosystem services to society at large and currently there is no mechanism to compensate the farmers for it (Power 2010).In India, we already have a precedence in the forestry sector where a compensation mechanism is in place for changes in ecosystems services—the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) fund. The policymakers then could use the same framework to compensate farmers for ecosystem services from agroecosystems.Within the agricultural systems, the type of production system determines the scale and capacity for generating ecosystem services as these are vulnerable to land-use changes as well as techniques of production (Björklund, Limburg and Rydberg 1999). For instance, intensive agricultural production with increased use of agrochemicals, and pesticides has a negative impact on generation of ecosystem services and can cause irreversible damage to environment.The objective of this exercise is to examine payment for ecosystem services (PES) as a mechanism to compensate farmers for the net economic value for ecosystem services that flow from agroecosystems in India. These values could be integrated into a well-defined mechanism for PES. The PES mechanism can be used to correct for natural externalities and help adapt sustainable measures which would help increase the net stock of natural capital. This can form one component of the guaranteed income basket being proposed for the farming community.We draw from estimates of Ploeg and de Groot (2010) to arrive at the ecosystem services values for “cultivated areas.” The total economic value (TEV) of the various services (food, water regulation, climate control, biodiversity, soil quality, air quality, etc) is estimated to be $3,839 per year per hectare (at 2007 prices) (Table 1: col 2). In order to make this compatible to Indian prices we have converted the dollar to rupee values in 2007 (using the 2007 exchange rate of ₹45/$1) (Table 1: col 3). We have then used the gross domestic product (GDP) deflator to project the values for 2016 (Table 1: col 4).A back of the envelope calculation translates this to a figure of about ₹2.77 lakh. If we were to deduct the values for food and recreation (provisioning and cultural services which could be marketed), we would arrive at a figure of ₹1,74,800 per hectare per year translating into a payment of ₹14,570 (approximately) per hectare per month. This would fulfil the objective of doubling farm incomes from the existing NSS-estimated income and at least be in proximity to the seventh minimum basic pay promised to the lowest paid government employee.Promoting Sustainable AgricultureAgricultural operations could not only provide ecosystem services but also deplete ecosystems and natural assets. The major disservices observed in Indian agriculture are excessive water extraction, overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, air quality deterioration (stubble/straw burning), decline in biodiversity, and so on. For instance, one of the important concerns is the dramatic decline in groundwater table, which is mainly linked to irrigated agriculture, especially in states like Punjab. Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, the lowering of the water table is more pronounced in Maharashtra (14.8 metres), Tamil Nadu (9.8 metres), Punjab (7.2 metres), Karnataka (4.1 metres) and Rajasthan (3.3 metres) (CBG 2010, 2014). The guaranteed income from ecosystem services must be adjusted for the loss of ecosystems.On the flip side, there are farmers who are contributing more ecosystem services than the average farmer because of farming practices such as organic farming. They should receive a higher payment than others who are not following natural capital asset enhancement through their farming practices. The adjusted values thus derived could form part of the proposed guaranteed income basket of the farm household.ConclusionsThe PES approach would help fulfil the promise of a guaranteed income to the farmers while prompting them to adopt sustainable farming practices. Unlike many other schemes of the government, the PES would not be a subsidy but a payment for benefits generated by farmers for which they have not been compensated, due to lack of a market mechanism. PES schemes have been experimented with in China on large-scale starting with their “Grain for Green” programme (Zhang et al 2010). Similar proposals have been floated in Europe too (Bernués et al 2014; Maes et al 2016). Efforts to reorient farming practices towards sustainable agriculture by paying for ecosystem services are being experimented in the Midwest of the United States (Robertson et al 2014). A suitable institutional mechanism can be evolved in India with stakeholder participation. This would help achieve multiple goals of doubling the farm income, reducing rural–urban migration, reduce the pressure on urban infrastructure, and lead to adoption of ecologically sustainable production techniques. Agriculture, in turn, would become a profitable and attractive profession to pursue.Note1 “Recommendations of High Level Committee on Restructuring of FCI,” 22 January 2015, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=114860.ReferencesBernués, Alberto, Tamara Rodríguez-Ortega, Raimon Ripoll-Bosch and Frode Alfnes (2014): “Socio-Cultural and Economic Valuation of Ecosystem Services Provided by Mediterranean Mountain Agroecosystems,” PLoS ONE, Vol 9, No 7.Björklund, Johanna, Karin E Limburg and Torbjörn Rydberg (1999): “Impact of Production Intensity on the Ability of the Agricultural Landscape to Generate Ecosystem Services: An Example from Sweden,” Ecological Economics, Vol 29, No 2, pp 269–91.CBG (2010): “Groundwater Scenario of India, 2009–10,” Central Groundwater Board, Government of India.— (2014): “Groundwater Scenario of India, 2013–14,” Central Groundwater Board, Government of India.Costanza, Robert et al (1997): “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital,” Nature, Vol 387, pp 253–60.Costanza, Robert et al (2014): “Changes in the Global Value of Ecosystem Services,” Global Environmental Change, Vol 26, pp 152–58.de Groot, Rudolf et al (2012): “Global Estimates of the Value of Ecosystems and Their Services in Monetary Units,” Ecosystem Services, Vol 1, No 1, pp 50–61.Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005): Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis, Washington DC: Island Press.Maes, Joachim et al (2016): “An Indicator Framework for Assessing Ecosystem Services in Support of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020,” Ecosystem Services, Vol 17, pp 14–23.NSSO (2013): “Key Indicators of Land and Livestock Holdings in India,” National Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.Ploeg, Van der and R de Groot (2010): “The TEEB Valuation Database: A Searchable Database of 1310 Estimates of Monetary Values of Ecosystem Services,” Foundation for Sustainable Development, Wageningen, Netherlands.Power, A G (2010): “Ecosystem Services and Agriculture: Tradeoffs and Synergies,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol 365, pp 2959–71.Robertson, Philip G et al (2014): “Farming for Ecosystem Services: An Ecological Approach to Production Agriculture,” BioScience, Vol 64, No 5, pp 404–15.Zhang, Qingfeng et al (eds) (2010): An Eco-Compensation Policy Framework for the People’s Republic of China: Challenges and Opportunities, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/28010/eco-compensati....- See more at: http://www.epw.in/journal/2017/17/commentary/payment-ecosystem-services.html#sthash.1h0s6nUg.dpuf

Categories: Ecological News

If the common man, more importantly farmers, start using social media effectively I am sure the dominant narrative will change.

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:24
If only farmers started using Twitter and Facebook, the dominant narrative will change -- Pic Business Today

The other day Ram Kumar called me. He is a farmer from Saharanpur and has been calling me time and again for several years now. “Sir, maine aaj appka article padha,” he said, and added: “bahut achha lagaa. Par iska farak to koi nahi padta. Sarkar to lagta hai aapka article padti hi nahi..”

Without showing any signs of irritation, I replied: “Maine to apna kaam kar dia. Par Ram Kumar aapne apna kaam nahi kiya isliye Sarkar ko koi fark nahi padta.” I think he was taken a little aback. And when I explained to him that as a reader it was also his duty to share the article with fellow farmers which is the only way to build up public opinion, he wasn’t still convinced. I tried to tell him that in a democracy what matters most is public opinion and because the majority keeps quiet or refuses to be drawn into a public debate, the good cause is invariably lost.

“Main kya kar sakta hoon, Sir. Kaash mere paas ek akhbar hota to main bhi likhta; kaash mere ko TV bulata to main bhi jor se apni baat rakhta.”I had to tell him that just because the mainline media is not in your hand, it does not mean you cannot play a role in creating wider awareness about what you feel strongly about. Don’t always blame the media saying it is owned by big business and therefore they don’t publish news about farmers or about agriculture. Most people try to cover up their failure by shifting the blame to mainline media. Because that is the simplest way to escape responsibility, to ensure that the fault lies elsewhere and not with them.

Actually, the fault lies with us.

I asked Ram Kumar: “Aapke paas smart phone hai?” He replied in the affirmative. I asked him whether he had WhatsApp on his phone. When I asked whether he had ever used WhatsApp for sharing the article or any news relating to crop damage or about his farmers, he replied: “hum to saab photo hi bhejtain hain.” That’s the problem, I said. I had to explain to him that while mainline media is not in your hand but now technology has brought the social media in your hands. Social media is a much bigger and powerful tool in your hand but most people prefer to blame the inaccessible media but fail to use the social media which is right in their hands. The reason why the voice of the common man is not heard at all is because the common man or the farmer does not know how to use the social media to communicate and if he knows it he still prefers not to use it. It is easier to blame others than to look inwards and see where you have been at fault.

The tragedy is that with the changing times, the majority population has not been able to keep pace. To explain, I told Ram Kumar that people need to follow the example set by the Prime Minister. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi realises the importance as well as the power of social media. With the entire media and the official machinery always talking and promoting every decision that he takes, each and every activity of his is keenly followed by the media and yet the Prime Minister uses the social media very effectively. There is hardly a day when he does not send at least 7 to 10 tweets, and also use several applications to reach out to the people. “If the Prime Minister can do it, the question that needs to be asked is why you feel so ashamed in using social media,” I asked Ram Kumar.

In fact, the Prime Minister has gone a step ahead. Addressing recently the BJP leadership, he advised them to become active on social media, to use the social media to disseminate the programmes and activities of the government. But the tragedy is that while the Prime Minister realizes the importance of social media, which includes twitter, facebook and instagram, to spread the message, to reach out to people; it’s the average person on the street who still is unwilling to use the same technological tool to reach out to the powers that be or to at least convey what he wants to convey. If the aam aadmi starts using social media effectively I am sure the dominant narrative in the country will change.
Everywhere I go I am told that the media is indifferent to the needs of the farmers. Most people I met have accused the media for siding with big business. But when I counter by saying that why don’t you become your own media, I encounter a deafening silence. The reason why so many people hurl abuses or threats on social media is simply because the majority prefers to keep quiet. This is what I call as the conspiracy of silence. Just because we keep quiet, we refuse to raise our voice where it is required those who are loud and bullying on the social media get heard. Their number is far less but just because the majority keeps quiet, they get away with screaming, abusing and threatening.

Every time I write a tweet saying that so many farmers have committed suicide today, I face a troll. I get abusing trolls saying that why do I write about farmers dying, they should in any case die. They are a burden on the society. They drink, splurge on the daughter of their children, and don’t work. Farmers are dying because they are lethargic. This based opinion proliferates simply because the farmers do not use social media, keep quiet, and their voice is rarely heard on twitter or facebook. Because farmers think it is not their job to be on social media, the hooligans have taken over that space.

Still worse, I find the farmer leaders and the NGOs working with farmers refraining from social media. The good and saner voices therefore are eclipsed from the social media. In the absence of saner voices, the social media is being used by anti-farmer voices that do not spare any opportunity to lash out at farmers. The protest by Tamil Nadu farmers in New Delhi for instance is being ridiculed on the social media just because farmers are keeping quiet. Now, don’t tell me “hamme to English main aata nahin hain likhna”. You can write in Hindi, or Punjabi or whatever is your mother tongue, but please get on to social media and raise your voice. Come on, tell youngster in your family to tweet or use facebook. Ask them to send out tweets and spend at least half an hour every day to know what is trending on the social media. If nothing else, at least, get inspired by the Prime Minister. Start by tweeting every morning, and believe me the sarkar will listen. #
(My tweeter handle is @Devinder_Sharma)
Categories: Ecological News

The grave tragedy that Indian agriculture is faced with has its genesis in the failure of markets.

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 10:51

The problem begins once the crop is thrashed and the harvest is brought to the mandis. Farmers rarely get the right price -- Pic CIAT/Flickr
When the leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge recently urged the government to grant an additional bonus of Rs 1,000 per quintal over the minimum support price (MSP) for tur dal, he was demanding a respite for the farmers who were faced with the collapse in prices pushing them deeper into distress. After two years of back-to-back drought, a bountiful monsoon in 2016 was expected to bring cheers for farmers. Backed with a promise of a higher procurement price, farmers had put in all efforts to achieve a record harvest.

But the excitement of a bumper crop was short-lived. Open market prices crashed. Even the MSP failed to provide any assurance. Against the procurement price of Rs 5,050 per quintal, farmers across the country had got not more not more than Rs 4,200. That too after waiting in the mandis for nearly 10 days on an average.

According to the Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, the total cost of production works out to Rs 6,403 per quintal. Compare this with the price the farmers were able to get, it was roughly Rs 2,000 per quintal less than what they had invested in. And to make matters worse, Mallikarjun Kharge said this year the government imported 27.86 lakh tonnes of tur dal at the rate of Rs 10,114 per quintal (last year 57 lakh tonnes were imported). He therefore rightly demanded the government to also procure at the same rate from within the country.

Tur dalis not an exceptional case. All pulses crops, including moong and urad, faced the same dreaded consequences. What happened in case of pulses also happened in case of mustard, which recorded a 15 per cent increase in production thanks to an increased area planted, more stable yields and better weather. Against the MSP of Rs 3,700 per quintal, farmers were unable to realize even Rs 3,500 per quintal, and the prices had generally prevailed at about 5 to 9 per cent less. Stories of tomato, potato and onions thrown on to the streets by irate growers in several parts of the country had appeared in the media, and even red chilli, a cash crop in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana had met the same fate.

Unfortunately, the fall in prices of agricultural commodities is always seen as nothing more than a game of numbers that is played routinely year after year. Pick up newspapers of yesteryears or if you were to make a Google search, you will find the prices invariably crashing after every harvest. But what is not being realized is that behind these numbers lies the poor farmers, and their toiling families, the tragic fallout it has on the livelihood security of millions of farmers is never revealed, never talked about. The grave tragedy that Indian agriculture is faced with reflected through the unending spate of farmer suicides, has its genesis in the failure of markets.

The other day a 21-year old young girl, Sheetal Yankat, jumped into the well, ironically located in her own crop fields in Latur, Maharashtra. She left behind a suicide note wherein she wrote that she was ending her life because she didn’t want her father to come under more debt. Already, unable to get a higher price with two crop years gone to continuous drought, her father was under a heavy debt. Because the middle-men were not willing to lend him more money, her marriage had been delayed by two years. She could see how her parents were desperately trying to borrow more money to somehow get her married. Ending her life was a better option than to put her parents under more debt.

But I doubt if such stories, poignant tales of the grave human tragedy on the farm, mean anything to mainline economists and policy makers. With the markets crashing after every harvest, and with the government reluctant to save farmers by ensuring that they get at least the MSP that has been announced, farmers are pushed deeper and deeper into a never-ending cycle of debt. For instance, when a farmer toils hard for three months, putting all his labour to reap a bountiful harvest of tomato, only to find the prices crashing to 30 to 50 paise a kilo, the government has never come to his rescue. Even the promise of Rs 500-crore intervention prices fund that we hear about actually has been created to help the consumers and not the farmer.

Poor farmer is left to live in indebtedness, which keeps on multiplying with each passing year. Even in Punjab, where 98 per cent of the rural households are in debt, 94 per cent of the households under debt have less income and more expenses. In other words, the farm distress that we see is clearly ‘market-driven’. The failure of markets results in more indebtedness, and therefore the growing demand for farm loan waiver. The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh therefore took the right decision immediately after being sworn-in by writing off Rs 36,359-crore of farm loans benefitting a little more than 92 lakh small and marginal farmers. This is not only good politics but good economics as well. Imagine how many children can now hope to get married with a maximum of Rs 1-lakh struck off for each family. Not a big amount but ask those who are living under a perennial debt. 
    Taking a cue from UP, more State governments are likely to waive outstanding loans to farmers. Economists are frowning at it, and so is the business media. Foreign Brokerage firm Merill Lynch has gone a step ahead to estimate that the total burden accruing from such farm loan waivers will touch 2 per cent of country’s GDP by the time the country goes into 2019 polls. But I don’t remember why Merill Lynch never gave us the estimates of loss to GDP when corporate loans are written-off. Already, India Rating expects Rs 4-lakh crore of corporate loans to be written-off in near future. How much will that be of country’s GDP?

Since the Corporates were provided with massive tax concessions to the tune of Rs 17.15 lakh crore in the three year period 2013-16, and are routinely given land almost free of cost with promises of cheaper power and water besides income tax holidays, I see no reason why the list of willful defaulters should continue to rise. According to IndiaSpend, Rs 56,521-crore is what 5,275 ‘wilful’ defaulters owe to the banks. But neither does this staggering 9-fold increase in past 13 years worries the economists nor is Merill Lynch willing to tell us the loss it accrues to GDP. I have never heard of any businessman whose company has gone bankrupt taking the fatal route. Their extravagant lifestyle remains the same. The hulla-gulla we hear is only when the farmers gets a loan waiver. They are instead expected to commit suicide. # 

Indian Agriculture's grave tragedy has its genesis in the failure of markets. The Wire. April 22, 2017 https://thewire.in/127112/indian-agriculture-markets/
Categories: Ecological News

"Farmer suicides are a symptom of the bigger malaise that afflicts Indian agriculture." My Interview

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 18:34

A hundred years after Mahatma Gandhi set foot in Champaran in Bihar, not much has changed for the Indian farmers. Earlier, it was the British who exploited them. It is now the Indian elite, backed by policy makers and mainline economists, who are out and out to create such conditions that farmers are left with no option but to quit agriculture. In an interview with a foreign publication I looked at the reasons behind the unparalleled crisis that prevails. 

1. Why do Indian farmers lose hope and commit suicide? What makes so many farmers kill themselves? The weather, the policies or other factors?

In the past 21 years, over 318,000 farmers have ended their lives in India. As per the latest data provided by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) every 41 minutes one farmer commits suicide somewhere in the country. Farmer suicides are a symptom of the bigger malaise that afflicts Indian agriculture. While the reasons for the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails are complex and varied, mounting indebtedness over the years is the primary reason the drives farmers to take the fatal route through suicides. Inclement weather, drought, floods etc certainly add on to the risk that farming is undertaken. But primarily it is because of a wide disparity in farm incomes vis-a-vis the rising cost of production that has turned farming economically non-viable. The extent of income insecurity that farmers are faced with, and it has been rising with each passing year, is certainly driven by policies. It is not the farmers who have failed themselves but agricultural economists and policy makers who have failed farmers.   
2. Are farmers across the country facing the same difficulties, regardless which states they belong to or what kind of crops they grow?

Yes, the reasons may vary but it is primarily the denial of a living income that is leading to the crisis. Whatever crops farmers grow, and they grow a large number of crops depending upon the region and the agro-climatic zones, it is income insecurity that is primarily responsible for the agrarian crisis that prevails. According to the Economic Survey 2016, the average income of a farming family (which means a family of 5 persons) in 17 States of India is Rs 20,000 a year, which means less than Rs 1,700 per month. If this is the average monthly income of a farming family in roughly half the country, the plight of farmers can be well imagined. I sometimes wonder how do they survive year after year.  
3. Farmers in every states want loan waivers, however the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out farm loan waivers by the Centre. Do you think the central government should announce a loan waiver for all farmers across the country?

It is true that farmers in every State of India want loan waiver. Even though Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out farm loan waivers, I think the farmers deserve to be bailed out. After two back-to-back droughts in 2014-15 and 2015-16, the farming crisis has only worsened. I don't see any reason why the farmers cannot be given a loan waiver when the Indian industry receives economic bailouts at the drop of a hat. According to information provided in Parliament, India farmers are under debt for Rs 12,00,000-crores in 2015. This is a huge burden they carry and unless they are able to offload this I don't think they will ever be able to be on the economic pathway that Urban India is passing through. It is estimated that nearly 58 per cent of the farmers sleep empty stomach. Look at the paradox, the people who produce food for the country going to bed hungry themselves. A hungry India can never dream of being a super power. I am therefore not asking for the entire outstanding loan to be waived off but certainly bad loans of small and marginal farmers can be written-off to begin with.  
4.  It is certain that waiving off loans can only be a temporary relief for the farmers. What do you think is a permanent solution for farmers across the country?

Yes, waiving-off farm loans is a temporary relief.  This has to be accompanied by measures that ensure that farm loans do not pile up again. It requires structure changes, including public sector investments in agriculture, and more importantly immediate steps to make farming profitable and economically viable. I have being saying for long that what India needs is a Farmers Income Commission which determines how can farmers receive a monthly assured income package, which commensurate with the salaries of the lowest rung of government employees. But more importantly, all this can only be achieved if the Govt realizes that agriculture alone (directly or indirectly engaging 52 per cent of the population) can boost the economy, and by making farming profitable more demand will be generated which in turn will lead to more industrial production and growth. This requires a paradigm shift in economic thinking.   
5. Why are farmers' issues not taken seriously? Do you think the public is paying enough attention to this?  Is Modi administration doing enough to tackle the problems?

Farmer issues are not taken seriously simply because the mainline economic thinking is that unless population in agriculture is moved out to the cities, economic growth cannot take place. This is what the World Bank had directed India to do way back in 1996. Accordingly, India should move out 400 million people out of the rural to the urban areas in the next 20 years. Successive governments have followed this prescription. The former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan used to say that the best reforms will be when farmers are moved out of agriculture into the cities. The best way to achieve this is to make farming economically unviable thereby forcing farmers to abandon agriculture and move to the cities. At the same time, the policy focus remains on keeping food prices low so as to maintain inflation as a result of which the farmers are being denied a legitimate price for their produce. The way China has moved people out of agriculture is an example that India wants to follow. But unfortunately what is not being realised is that even China is now faced with huge unemployment problem with cheap labour advantage going to Africa, and food shortage is forcing China to take people back into farming.  
6. Do farmers have any job options to fall back on when cultivation fails? Is it possible for them to look for jobs in the cities?

Some years back, a National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) study had stated that 42 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture if given a choice. Such is the economic disparity that agriculture encounters that farmers are willing to give up farming. But unfortunately, employment generation has not kept pace despite the high economic growth being witnessed. Between 2004-05 and 2015-17, during which period economic growth has remained around 8 per cent annually, only 16 million jobs have been created whereas every year 12.5 million people join the employment queues. That is why I have been of the opinion that making farming profitable and sustainable is the only way to create economic opportunities for 52 per cent of the population. Moving them out of the villages into the cities will add on to the socio-economic crisis arising from lack of job opportunities. This will also have serious political implications if we simply try to brush the issue under the carpet. #
Categories: Ecological News

A daughter commits suicide to save her father, a farmer, from the anguish, tension and financial burden that her marriage brings.

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 11:09

From the pages of Dainik Jagran, April 16, 2017
Sometimes I find the kind of human compassion that should exists in any society has simple disappeared. I am so pained to hear well-known economists, academicians, agricultural scientists and others often blaming farmers for the extravagant expenses that farmers incur on the marriages of their children (along with their drinking habit) to be primarily the reason behind the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails. The argument is that farmers don't use the farm credit they take for the purpose it is intended to but spend on the marriages of their children. I have been questioning this stupid belief saying that when there is no income left in agriculture the only way a farmer must maintain his lifestyle (whatever is left of it) is by taking money on credit. If the average farmer family income in 17 States of India is a paltry Rs 1,700 per month (as per the Economic Survey, 2016) what do you expect the farmer to do?  

When I read a heart-rending news report in Dainik Jagran today (April 16, 2017), it was difficult to stop my tears. I wish all those who blame farmers for the crisis, were to read this upsetting news report which carries a poignant message. A 21-year-old young girl, Sheetal Yankat, daughter of a Maharashtra farmer, committed suicide. Unable to bear the terrible stress her father was undergoing to get her married, she ended her life by jumping into a well, situated in her own crop field (in Latur/Maharashtra). In the suicide note that she left behind, she writes: "My parents are extremely poor and have been unable to raise money for my marriage. I am committing suicide because I don't want my parents to come under a debt burden. Along with, I hope this will end the dowry system that prevails in my community. The economic condition of my family has worsened over five years because of the failure of crops. My two sisters got married somehow with very simple marriage ceremonies. My father is trying his best for my marriage. But since the middlemen are not able to led money, my marriage has got delayed for two year. Therefore, I am ending my life with the hope that my father will not be burdened by anymore debt and perhaps my death will also end the dowry practice."(translated by me).  
The tragedy that struck this farmer's family symbolises the tragedy of the entire farming community. Let us stop looking at farm crisis from the narrow prism of our own specialisations. I find people giving different solutions depending on which areas of specialisation they come from. Someone says drip irrigation is the answer, another says contract farming is the solution. I have got tired of such experts.   
This brings me back to another suicide note left behind a college student, son of a Maharashtra farmer. Some months back, in my blog post entitled: Continuing Agrarian Crisis is behind the Massive Silent Maratha Rallies in Maharashtra' (http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2016/10/the-harsh-truth-behind-silent-maratha.html) I had quoted from a suicide note left behind a college student: "In a suicide note left behind by a 22-year-old graduate student, Gopal Babarao Rathod, son of a small farmer from Yavatmal in Maharashtra, who died in the last week of August, a question he asked reminds us of the flawed economic policies. In his letter he explained how the rural youth, like their lucky counterparts in the cities, too carry an aspiration. But he asks: “A teacher’s son can easily afford to pay a fee of Rs 1-lakh to become an engineer but tell me how a farmer’s son can afford so much fee?” He then goes on to say “why is it that the salaried employees get dearness allowance without even asking for it whereas farmers are denied adequate compensation for their produce?”
The fact of the matter is that a farmer too needs a living income. Rs 1,700 per month net income is not a living income that can sustain a family. If a chaprasi can get Rs 18,000 per month as the basic salary (which the employee unions think is the minimum wage required for a minimal standard of living) I fail to understand why do the educated people think that Rs 1,700 net income of farmers (in 17 States of India) is good enough for survival. Reducing the cost of production, increasing crop productivity, soil health cards etc have been proposed as the way to enhance farmers income. Unfortunately, what is not being accepted is that it is actually the same policy approaches that have driven farmers' to the edge. I don'y know how many more lives are required before the nation sits back and takes steps to put a stop to the bloody serial death dance on the farm. #

Categories: Ecological News

Why I think Yogi Adityanath is on the right track to revive UP agriculture.

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 11:50

I am not sure whether Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath realizes that his decision to scrap outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers up to a maximum limit of Rs 1-lakh each and at the same time expand wheat procurement operations, aiming to purchase 80 lakh tonnes of wheat at the minimum support price (MSP), signals a paradigm shift in agriculture.

At a time when farmers are increasingly sliding into a debt trap, the decision to waive-off loans worth Rs 30,729-crore will definitely lessen the financial burden for 88.68 lakh small and marginal farmers. In addition, the state government will also strike Rs 5,630-crore of bank default, termed as Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in banking language, belonging to 7 lakh farmers. These are the farmers whose assets would have been put up for auction in case the state government had not come to their rescue.

Adding both these categories of loan waivers, Rs 36,359-crore is the total amount that has been written-off. As per the government estimates, this will benefit 95.68 lakh of Uttar Pradesh’s 2.15 crore small and marginal farmers. While I agree that the loan waiver does not meet the electoral promise of writing-off of the entire outstanding loans of small and marginal farmers, the political courage demonstrated to write-off such a huge amount, including loans taken from nationalized banks, has to be applauded. More so at a time when policy makers are not keen to provide any loan waiver for the farming community. The State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya has already lamented that farm loan waiver destroys ‘credit discipline’ making farmers habitual defaulters.

I have always maintained that both the industries as well as the farmers default the nationalized banks and should therefore be treated in the same manner. Between 2012 and 2015, Rs 1.14-lakh crore of corporate NPAs has been written-off. Surprisingly, no state government was asked to bear the burden from its own revenues. Even for the Rs 4-lakh crore of NPAs that credit rating agency India Ratings expects the banks to write-off in near future, no State government is being asked to take on the burden. The question that needs to be therefore asked and I hope Yogi Adityanath raises it, is why should the UP government be asked to waive farm loans from its own resources? Why can’t nationalized banks do it the same way as they do in case of corporate loan waivers?

Nevertheless, the entire farm loan waiver that UP has provided is less than the bad debt of just one big steel company -- Jindal Steel & Power, which owes Rs 44,140-crore. Bhushan Steel too has a bad debt of Rs 44,478-crore. These two big industries are among the steel companies, which together are seeking a loan waiver of Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Unlike farm loans, no state government is being asked to write-off corporate loans from its own revenues.

With UP picking up the courage to write-off farm loans, pressure will now build up for similar loan waivers in other states. The newly-elected government in Punjab too is staring ahead at a farm loan waiver of approximately Rs 36,000-crore. Maharashtra has been demanding Rs 30,500-crore for farm loan write-off. Similarly, demand for farm loan waiver will get an added impetus in Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, and the Northeast States. Considering that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide across the country in the past 21 years, and roughly 70 per cent of these suicides are related to mounting indebtedness, UP farm loan waiver will turn out to be a game changer. 

In addition to the loan waiver, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has very clearly laid a road map for the betterment of agriculture in future. In my understanding, the decision to procure 80 lakh tonnes of wheat, for which 5,000 purchase centres are being set up, is the single most important initiative that can herald a new era for agriculture. At a time when the entire policy directive is towards dismantling Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) regulated mandis, and in the process deny an assured price by way of MSP to farmers leading to agrarian distress, Uttar Pradesh is likely to reinvigorate farming by ensuring an assured price to farmers. The target of purchasing 80 lakh tonnes is a quantum jump considering only 7.97 lakh tonnes were procured against a target of 30 lakh tonnes in the 2016-17 wheat procurement season. Since low incomes are the primary reason for the growing agrarian distress, providing an assured price and ensuring a market for the wheat harvest will act as a shot in the arm for the beleaguered farming community.

Expanding the procurement system holds the key to the transformation of Indian agriculture. According to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) there are more than 7,000 APMC regulated mandis in the country. If markets have to be provided in a radius of 5 kms from a village, India needs 42,000 APMC mandis. Such a vast network of mandis, if constructed, can be the only preventive mechanism to avoid distress sales and in turn ensure income security for farmers. If UP takes the lead, it will emerge as a trendsetter and in fact create a new model for agriculture.

At present, a strong network of mandis exists in Punjab, Haryana and to some extent in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. It is primarily for this reason that every year farmers from western UP have been seen carrying truckloads of wheat to be sold in the neighbouring border districts of Haryana. This is an ample indication that wheat farmers in UP were not able to sell locally at the support price. I only hope UP is able to announce a bonus over the MSP for the next paddy crop. An economically attractive agriculture is the first step to stop rural to urban migration. And that’s what Yogi Adityanath has said his aim is – to stop migration from rural areas. #  

Trend Worth Following. Orissa Post. April 11, 2017

Categories: Ecological News