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    Beyond the dole

  • Date : 03 June, 2019

    Agriculture must now become a sub-set of rural development if we intend to double farm incomes by 2022

    Powered by a mammoth verdict from the vast hinterland of India despite a serious agrarian crisis, the first thing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new Cabinet did was to send a message to the farmers that he cared about them and was thankful for trusting him with their mandate. Ground reports have indicated that direct cash transfers had significantly swung the vote, topping a slew of other programmes like Awas and Ujjwala. So the government has extended the PM-KISAN scheme, which promises poor farmers an annual payout of Rs 6,000 in three instalments, to all farmers. The new move will benefit around 15 crore farmers. The Cabinet also cleared a pension scheme for them and small traders. Undoubtedly, the revised populist scheme means a likely expenditure of Rs 87,217.50 crore in 2019-20, up from Rs 75,000 crore envisaged in its earlier version. And though intended to kickstart the agriculture sector, the growth rate of which has fallen from five per cent to less than three per cent over the last year, the government has a serious challenge of provisioning for this measure in the face of an economic slowdown. There is undoubtedly a marginal utility of cash benefits helping farmers claim ownership of their resources and taking care of their basic needs, thereby perking up rural consumption. But still, it is too paltry to meet sustenance demands, leave aside using as inputs for farms. A farmer invests at least Rs 10,000 in one cropping season on at least two hectares of land, factoring in steep prices of fertilisers, seeds and hired labour. Then there are larger issues of irrigation and mechanisation. Besides, freebies and doles build up a sense of entitlement that discourages initiative and creates a burden on the economy, the cascading effects of which are all-round. In the end, such a cash transfer can at best be a palliative and runs the risk of being seen as a reactive strategy to comparative models elsewhere. The Telangana government’s Rythu Bandhu scheme provisions an income support of Rs 8,000 per year, paying 50-50 during the kharif and rabi seasons. The Odisha government provides an income support of Rs 10,000 per family while the Bengal government has pledged Rs 5,000 per acre before two sowing seasons.

    But now that the ruling BJP has made inroads even in some of these States after the elections, it should move away from just addressing the farm crisis and tackle the bigger crisis in the rural economy. One must realise that the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is declining very rapidly and is at a dismal 13 to 15 per cent. Second, given the non-remunerative nature of farming, the current generation of the rural workforce is moving out to the service sector, taking up jobs or even starting their own micro-businesses. Joblessness on the industrial front is further compounding the desolateness. India’s agriculture crisis is as real as joblessness and needs a turnaround model that is beyond politics. We cannot afford more farmer suicides driven by bankruptcy, the figure of which keeps spiralling out of control. More than half of the agricultural households in India are in debt. Revising MSP isn’t enough for the farmers to attempt a recovery. With improved cold chains, use of technology and unsold yields, progress is only pushing up farmers’ anxieties. That’s why a bigger budgetary allocation needs to be made on rural roads and mandi infrastructure, village schools, skilling centres and enablers of micro-economy so that everyone is equipped with a Plan B of non-farming alternatives. Simultaneously, courtesy improved agro-processing facilities, agriculture itself can slowly be linked to industry and even diversified without the fear of price crashes during a glut. Apart from a  demand-driven agriculture module, we need to cut down food imports and boost exports. Perhaps, the appointment of Narendra Singh Tomar as Union Minister in charge of both Agriculture and Rural Development is an attempt to integrate two sectors that have individually scored hits and misses without pooling in resources and synergising them to double rural incomes by the deadline of 2022. No matter which political party champions the cause of farmer’s rights, the time for Band-aid solutions is gone and it is time to redraw the contours of the rural economy. Rescuing the agricultural economy must be a national revival mission now.

    Source-Daily Pioneer

 















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EDITOR'S NOTE

19 Jan 2016

Crop insurance scheme brings cheers

In view of the growing volatility in the agriculture sector caused by vagaries of nature as well as market fluctuations, it is heartening to see the new Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)