Can ‘Mann ki Baat’ Assuage Farmer’s Distress?

Indian farmers have to rely on seasonal rains for their crops to thrive and for them to prosper. No produce to sell leaves them with little investment to grow the next round of crops or look after their family. They have to borrow from scrupulous moneylenders who levy high interest rates on them. Ridden with large debts, failure of timely monsoon rains and reduction in crop prices, the plight of the Indian farmers aggravate with time and then committing suicide becomes the last option for them to escape from the savageries of life.

Soon enough in the din of noise about agrarian distress, the incumbent government takes some steps which are nothing but palliatives and end up causing more harm than good. In West Bengal, mountains of rotting tuber are driving the potato growers to commit suicide. Prices of commodities such as soyabean, wheat, cotton, sugar, milk and rice have collapsed driving farmers in Vidarbha region in Maharashtra to take the extreme step. Marathwada region in Maharashtra received abysmal rainfall – about 20 percent less rainfall last year. In Uttar Pradesh, collapse in prices of sugar hurt not just the farmers but the sugar industry too.

Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to the radio and through his show ‘Maan ki Baat’ tried to assure the farmers, the news of farmer suicides kept trickling in from all over the country. Mr. Modi appealed to the farmers to support his contentious land acquisition bill stating that the Opposition is doing everything to destroy his propaganda. He has asked the officials to take stock of the situation and articulated that his government is aware that the losses are caused due to delay in the rains and are doing everything to help the distressed agriculturists.

To all this, the government responds by waiving off loans and launching food-for-work programmes. The adversity of such programmes is immense. The last time the government waived off the loans of 60 million rural farmers in 2008, it pinched them a whopping $16.17 billion. By doing so, the government is waiving off the repayment of interest and the large debt overhang, but that leaves the farmer with no money to invest and as a result agricultural produce and growth suffers. To survive for the next season, the farmer gets into the vicious cycle of borrowing money so that he can harvest. This is hardly a solution to the build-up.

The agriculture sector in India is largely dependent on the agro-climatic or ecological regions of the country and the weaknesses are specific to the crops and commodities in question. For example – in West Bengal because of inadequate storage space and administrative failure of the state government, the farmers are suffering. Similarly in Uttar Pradesh, it is the political economy and monopoly of the sugar mills because of which farmers are suffering. Maharashtra government can be blamed for the lack of risk management practices and for the farmers’ deaths. A loan-waiver may be seen as an appropriate response to the situation temporarily, but it is not the permanent solution to kick the can further down the road.

Though the central government has taken certain measures to ensure that farmers don’t kill themselves like launching insurance scheme for all citizens, skill enhancement programmes etc. but these will take some time to have an effect. Until then our farmers will continue to be hostage to the inclement weather.      

Yogesh Tripathi (have 103 posts in total)

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