By Prof. Raj Kishore Panda in Bhubaneswar, January 28, 2021: The stand-off between farmers’ union and central government on new farm laws continues even after so many rounds of talk. The intervention of the Supreme Court staying the implementation of the laws and appointing an expert committee to negotiate with all the stake holders and submit report within two months has not yielded result in pacifying the farmers and withdrawing agitation.

Instead they have indicated their resoluteness to continue with their protest until the new farm laws are outright repealed by the government. In the above context questions are raised: why are the farmers sticking to their demand and not reconciling to the government’s efforts for any compromise? Do they not want reforms in the farm sector and make farm produces competitive? Are they apprehensive of government’s move on liberalizing agri-produce marketing during this period of the economic crisis? In answering the above questions, let me explain the state of agriculture in the Indian economy and the central government’s approach towards agriculture suggesting that the farmers living under distress over the years have developed cynicism towards the government’s present move.

In the first place, as we are well aware of, the Indian economy has gone through significant structural changes over the last 70 years. The agriculture sector which was predominant in contributing about 55 percent to the country’s GDP in 1950s has fallen to hardly 15 percent at present (in 2018). But, during this period both industry and services sectors have made rapid strides in growth and their contribution to GDP has nearly doubled from 16 percent to 31 percent in case of industry and from 29 percent to 54 percent in case of services.

However, in spite of the sharp fall in the contribution of agriculture to GDP, more than 50 percent people are still depending on this sector for their livelihood. This over-dependence on agriculture by a large majority of our population for the sake of livelihood has resulted in sharp fall in rural labour productivity and widening the gap between rural and urban labour earnings. Besides, the increasing population pressure on land has led to rise in sub-division and fragmentation of land holdings, fall in size of holding and becoming unviable for a reasonable living of an average farm family.

As the data reveal the small and marginal farmers (below 2 hectares of holding) constituting the predominant section of the farm population belong to the majority of people living below the poverty. As a result, there is increasing preference among the rural youths to work in activities other than farming. A recent study (2014) by the Centre of Developing Societies, covering 18 states and 5000 sample farm households has shown that about 76 percent farmers have given their preference to leave farming. The earlier surveys of the NSSO and Census have equally shown how increasing percentage of farmers have opted for occupations other than farming. All these reveal that the Indian agriculture is in bad shape and needs a major revamping instead of small and fragmented changes.

Secondly, as regards the government policy towards agriculture we find no significant steps taken to transform the structure except the land reform legislations of the 1950s. More so, the various land reform legislations passed during those years are largely seen in their violation rather than implementation. The policy adopted in 1960s to grow more food has no doubt yielded phenomenal results and today India’s food grains production has exceeded the requirements.

However, looking at the trends in the food grains production over the years, India could have adopted crop diversification since the 1980s. The government’s policy focus could have been oriented towards encouraging the farmers in the cultivation crops other than cereals. Today there is growing demand for non-cereal products in the country and India is annually importing huge amount of non-cereal crops such as pulses, edible oil, fruits etc at a very high price to meet the domestic demand.

To the utter dismay, since the 1960s the government policy has been appeasing farmers all along to grow more food grains through a large variety of subsidy schemes including free power, assured marketing of the produce through MSP system etc. Today, the country produces food grains at a huge economic and social cost. Under the present situation the reform legislations passed in marketing of the agricultural produce is too narrow and limited in approach compared to the overhaul needed in the farm sector.

Professor S.S Johl, the noted agricultural economist has recently remarked that ‘India has moved from a problem of deficit to a problem of surpluses. This is really true. Both the farmers and Government have to realize this. The problem of plenty can be successfully managed through a well planned crop diversification from cereals to non-cereals and the government has to convince the farmers in this context.

Needless to say, our farm sector suffers from lack of infrastructure and there is urgent need for stepping up public investment in rural roads, cold-storages, warehouses and other logistics. Since the small and marginal farmers constitute vast majority of farm households there is need for strengthening their collective bargaining in selling their produce. In this context steps be taken to establish increasing number of BPOs with the help of village panchayats. By tinkering hither and thither is not the option to solve the long standing miseries of the farmers. A bold step is required at this hour by the central government to win the heart of the farmers.



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