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In distress again

In distress again
Highlights

On Monday, some of the farmers, who had been agitating in Delhi for long, stripped in front of PMO. Just a few days earlier, UP CM had waived farm loans worth Rs 36,359 crore. In Tamil Nadu, the High Court had ordered loan waiver benefit to all farmers, without any strings. The farmers who are on warpath in Delhi hail from TN. 

On Monday, some of the farmers, who had been agitating in Delhi for long, stripped in front of PMO. Just a few days earlier, UP CM had waived farm loans worth Rs 36,359 crore. In Tamil Nadu, the High Court had ordered loan waiver benefit to all farmers, without any strings. The farmers who are on warpath in Delhi hail from TN.

Despite waiver, they are seeking all steps necessary to redress a raft of issues plaguing them. Their stripping shall bare the stark realities nudging thousands of farmers to suicide every year. Is there any other profession which reports such a staggering rate of suicides a year anywhere in the world? Governments have not taken any cognisance of farmer suicides in absence of any strong public outcry. So, when loan waivers are bandied about, desperate farmers who are being sucked into debts, lap them up willy-nilly.

Loan waivers are essentially alms doled out to placate incensed farmers during agitations or to win their votes during elections, as was done by Modi during the UP polls. Huge farm loan waivers by the Centre in 1990 and 18 years later and also umpteen waivers at state-levels, the latest in Punjab and Tamil Nadu, have not improved the lot of farmers in this country.

Instead, they induce farmers to willfully default each time an election is around. It hurts credit discipline and those who repay honestly. Consequently, banks squeeze credit to such farmers, and governments are hamstrung as they are left with less funds for welfare schemes.

Modi, who introduced promising crop insurance and electronic mandis, not just desired but promised to double the income of farmers by 2022. Let alone doubling incomes, even to provide succour, he shall realise it is essentially a case of half-baked reforms.

Why is it that even 7 decades after independence, more than half the nation cries for attention, produces only about 17% of nation’s output, but loses thousands of sons of soil to crippling conditions? Though, compensation is assured now even if crop losses are at 33% as against 50% earlier, it does not match even half the expenditure. Also, crop insurance eludes a large percentage of farmers, mostly small and marginal farmers and tenants, who are outside institutional lending.

Experts also argue for directly subsidising farmers instead of routing them through fertiliser industry. Market committees essentially act as cartels; hence, farmer should be allowed to sell to any buyer he wants.

Largely small holdings (nearly two-thirds), huge rainfed farming, lack of rights to tenant farmers, dearth of institutional credit, low investments, spurious seeds, increasing costs of agri inputs and labour, lack of support for allied activities like livestock, poultry and fishing, low productivity and lastly denial of remunerative prices are the bane of Indian farmers.

Add to it the declining quality of soil health. As time is running out, Modi needs to immediately draw an action plan, and implement it earnestly. Centre should take states along, as agriculture is a state subject. It has to depend on states to implement its schemes – it just gives funds.

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