Evaluating the consequences of the centre’s agriculture policy is as im-portant as keeping the Prime Minister informed when things are going wrong.
With elections just around the corner, it is too late for a course correction vis-a-vis policy-making for the farm sector. It is, however, an opportune time to doc-ument the unintended consequences of half-baked policies for the next five years. Otherwise, the momentum of existing policies will continue to feed India’s rural economic misery.
Agriculture GDP growth plummeted just as India’s agricultural trade surplus, which had recorded a 10-fold increase between 1991-92 and 2013-14, fell by 70 per cent, mainly on account of depressed international commodity prices and back-to-back droughts. The GDP time-series data clearly indicates growth was already declining when UPA II passed on the baton to the present regime. Therefore, not all the blame can be heaped on this government. It is true that the response of agriculture policy to the dire rural circumstances not only creat-ed a credibility crisis for the government but aggravated the problem on every farm. As a consequence, farmer suicides continue unabated.
UPA II basically lost the support of the people as it was unable to control infla-tion, while this regime faces a backlash for artificially deflating the economy. The MSP increase was a knee-jerk reaction to the deflation. The government excelled in politically attractive slogans like “doubling farmer incomes” even though problems were bound to arise when it tried to implement the impractical message through schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY). Even BJP-ruled states are not receptive to the centre’s policies. Haryana is a good example.
Every supposedly positive step like the GST has a cost, especially if not thought through. Similarly, the architecture of PMFBY is flawed. Haryana insured the crops of 6,40,000 farmers but only 1,053 farmers (0.16 per cent) voluntarily opt-ed for crop insurance. In 2016-17, the premium collected was Rs 368 crores and even though the corresponding claim payout was Rs 280 crores, the premium for the next year rose to Rs 460 crores. Closer to my village, in Sirsa district, crop premiums per hectare increased manifold; for cotton from Rs 1,320 to Rs 5,936 and for maize from Rs 1,000 to Rs 6,225. Surprisingly, there are crops like gram (Rs 9,837/ha) where the premium is more than the actual cost of sow-ing.
Even though the crop automatically gets insured (without consent) when farmers avail of a crop loan, across India, the number of farmers insured has dropped. BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra have found ways to circumvent the implementation of the scheme by issuing notifications only two days in ad-vance of the expiry date of enrolment, thus limiting the fiscal damage. If Raja-sthan was to notify PMFBY on time, the premium payout may be more than the state’s agriculture budget.
The latest order to stop the export of all livestock indefinitely, impacting the livelihood of millions is another inexplicable one. The government should not even pretend that the vigilantes are the voice of a trivial minority. The leadership is busy being in-charge, while it is supposed to be responsible for those in their charge. In the Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien said: “…in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.” The farmer can only hope that will come true in India.
Academicians supportive of the government and respective ministries may hawk PMFBY, demonetisation, food parks, soil health cards, e-NAM and job creation as great successes. By misrepresenting facts and keeping the leader in the dark, they only deceive the Prime Minister. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, one is keen to remain an infinite optimist.
Farmers wonder why the union minister for agriculture and farmer welfare is conspicuous by his absence every time significant farmer-related decisions are announced. It was equally intriguing to hear a question at a recent meeting in the North Block: “Why does not someone tell the PM?”