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Ecological News

An encounter with Kadar tribes, faced with extinction

Ground Reality - Tue, 01/17/2017 - 14:28

Deep in the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats, I met Maya. She is a tribal belonging to the Kadar tribe. Faced with extinction, there are only about 1400 Kadar in the world, of which about 850 live in the tribal settlements in Thrissur district in Kerala (about 150-200 kms from Kochi in Kerala) They depend on forest resources for their sustenance. Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon. Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them. Maya, along with a few more, had camped on the big rocks on the banks of a rivulet. To learn more about them, Usha Soolapani and Sridhar R from Thanal in Thiruvanthapuram and I decided to walk up the rocks to meet some of them camping there. With just bare necessities, which includes a few aluminum utensils, a few clothes and a couple of bed sheets, Maya has been camping here for about two months. A frail puppy was tied outside the makeshift tent. The condition of the tent can be seen in the accompanying picture. 

Usha and Sridhar did the talking being able to converse in Malayalam as well as Tamil. Maya told us that the entire family gets out into the forests to search and collect some tubers which are used in cosmetics, along with honey and a couple of minor produce. Sridhar Radhakrishnan tells me this tuber plant is called Manjakoova in Malayalam. It is an Yellow Arrowroot. She gets about Rs 100/kg for the cut and dried root tubers. You can see a picture of it in her hand. 

It is heartening to know that WWF-India had earlier initiated a dialogue with the Forest Department to set up a simple honey filtration unit for the Kadar communities. A benefit sharing mechanism from honey sale through the Forest Development Agency was also worked out. I am not aware of how this mechanism works. Since the Kadar have immense knowledge about ethnobotany I see an immense potential of documenting the traditional knowledge of some of the lesser known properties of the plant species found abundantly in these forests. It will be good to know of the benefits in monetary terms, if any.   

When they move to inside of the evergreen forest they put their essentials on a machan so that it escapes the eyes of wild animals. I asked Maya if she was content with her living conditions. She said yes and when I suggested why doesn't she move to the nearby town she flatly refused. She told us that she and her family were very happy with what they are doing. But perhaps the next generations will look at it differently. Her four children are in a school for tribal. I only hope the next generation helps improve the lifestyle, and helps strengthen the bonding with nature, using modern technology and expertise while at the same time making an economic transformation. But I only hope the next generation does not push for a complete abandon of the tribal culture.   

Categories: Ecological News

A framework for an assured income for farmers.

Ground Reality - Mon, 01/16/2017 - 10:06

I am back from a two-day workshop held at the Kerala Agricultural University.  Why I am keen to share the outcome of this workshop is because of the tremendous implications it is expected to have in formulating a mechanism to provide an assured income to farmers every month.
Take for instance the hit farmers have received by way of a severe drop in incomes, mostly in the range of 50 to 70 per cent, from notebandi. While farmers are suffering silently, the impact demonetisation will have on the livelihood security of small farmers will last for several months, if not years. Comparatively, the income of employees in the government and the private sector are not impacted just because they get an assured monthly salary package. Come what may they keep on getting the monthly salary.
Nothing wrong. But if employees can get an assured monthly salary package, why can’t we put in a mechanism whereby farmers too get an assured monthly income, a kind of a take home income package every month? After all, they produce food for the country, and the final price of their produce is fixed by the government. This is exactly what we, a group of ten economists and researchers, were trying to figure out at the recent workshop in Kerala.
It isn’t as easy as many of us think. Ever since I started demanding a Farmers Income Commission which works out the assured monthly income a farmer must get, there have been a lot of questions by policy makers. While most people agree on the need to provide farmers with an income package, what remains unanswered is how to do it? I have been asked this question time and again.
The Kerala workshop was second in the series of attempts I have made to ascertain a mechanism or a formula by which a minimum income for farmers can be assured. It was in the month of November last year that I brought a team of researchers, economists and key leaders from NGOs together for a three day brainstorming session at Hyderabad. The good news for farmers is that the Hyderabad workshop came out with very positive outcomes. We were able to broadly identify the contours under which a farmer’s income can be calculated and have made some projections. I am hoping by the end of March we will be able to provide a definite framework for working out the farmer’s income.
The Kerala workshop was an effort to value the ecosystem service farmers provide. The concept of ecosystem services is relatively new and includes the monetization of ecological services of natural resources. While the monetary calculations have been broadly worked out for forests, wetlands and even rivers, the Kerala workshop for the first time has been able to provide an economic value to the kind of ecosystem services farmers provide when they take to cultivation. Payments for these ecosystem services have been denied to farmers so far.
Before we go any further, let’s first look at the prevailing levels of farm incomes. Economic Survey 2016 tells us that the average income a farmer gets from farming activities, including what he keeps for his family consumption at home, in 17 states of India is Rs 20,000 a year, the government has promised to double farmers’ income in the next five years. This is much below the poverty line, and by all standards is not even a living income – an income on which a farm family can survive.
But we are told increasing productivity and bringing down the cost of production is what the government intends to do. Expanding irrigation is a necessary input for raising productivity, too has often been emphasized. Everywhere I go I find the ministers, policy makers and economists repeating this. 
I am not denying that crop productivity is low in several parts of the country. But productivity alone is not the factor that has brought India into the grip of a terrible agrarian crisis. If crop productivity alone was the factor, I see no reason why Punjab farmers should be committing suicide. In 2015, as many as 449 farmers have committed suicide in Punjab, the food bowl of the country. This is getting worse with a new gory trend I am witnessing in Punjab. Indebted farmers are killing their children before killing themselves. Their argument has been that even the children will not be able to get out of the debt cycle. 
Punjab has 98 per cent assured irrigation. This is the best any country can think of. Even such a high percentage under irrigation has not been able to stem the suicide tide. With assured irrigation, and a wheat productivity level of 45 quintals/hectare, which is equal to that in the US; and a productivity level of 60 quintals/hectare for paddy, almost matching with the paddy productivity levels in China; I find no reason why Punjab farmers should be ending their lives.
My argument has been that farmers are dying because they have been denied their legitimate income. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) they receive for wheat and paddy has been deliberately kept low. In the past 4 years, the average annual increase in MSP has remained in the bracket of 3.25 to 5.0 per cent on an average. This is not even able to offset the inflation increase.
Farmers are therefore being penalized to grow food. They are being deliberately paid less to keep food inflation low. In other words farmers are being knowingly kept impoverished. Let’s be clear. While crop insurance is a necessity, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna cannot be game changer unless more farmers get the price for out which they genuinely deserve.
For nearly four decades now, I have heard economists repeat the same prescription year after year – use technology to raise productivity, reduce cost of production, go for crop diversification, improve irrigation efficiency – per drop more crop and shift to electronic trading to bypass the hoard of middlemen who squeeze farmers income. Listening to all these suggestions most people genuinely believe that the agrarian crisis is primarily the doing of farmers. Because they have not adopted latest technology, new crop varieties, do not know how to use bank credit, and are therefore not able to reduce the cost of production as a result of which their outstanding debt keeps on mounting.
Doubling the farm income by raising crop productivity is the policy thrust. This is where the entire prescription being doled out for improving farm incomes goes wrong. Agricultural economists had so far blamed farmers. But I wonder whether it is farmers who have failed or is it the economists and policy makers who have failed farmers. #
किसानों के लिए भी तय हो एक आय Gaon Connection. Jan 14, 2016http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/a-fixed-income-for-farmers
Categories: Ecological News

Despite cash crunch hitting where it hurts most, farmers have taken the demonetisation hit silently.

Ground Reality - Wed, 01/11/2017 - 10:37

On the New Year eve, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to assuage the severe pain left behind by the devastation caused to agriculture by demonetisation, he was in a way acknowledging how courageously farmers had faced the blow. Despite cash crunch hitting where it hurts the most – bumper crops discarded, and farm incomes dropping by 50 to 70 per cent on an average -- farmers have rather taken to the hit quietly.
But that’s the way it has always been. A day after the Prime Minister’s address, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) released its annual report. According to its latest estimates, 12,602 farmers had committed suicide in 2015, an increase of 2 per cent over the death toll recorded in 2014. Between 1995 and 2015, a period of 21 years, more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. With mounting indebtedness, poverty, increasing health expenses and other farming-related issues shown as the primary reasons, but without causing any uproar or political unrest, farmers have instead taken it quietly to the gallows.
After two years of back-to-back drought, when farmers were expecting a normal monsoon to help them to emerge out of the cycle of distress they had quietly borne, demonetization struck. Call it a shock therapy or a surgical strike but the blow it inflicted on the livelihood security of millions of farmers has been crippling. Pictures of farmers dumping tomato/potato onto the streets; feeding the unharvested crop to cattle; farmers giving vegetables free to the consumers; dairy workers waiting for their daily wages; farm workers sitting idle and so on are still afresh in our memory. But I have always maintained that in many ways the damage cash crunch has caused to agriculture is much more severe than the cumulative impact of the two consecutive years of drought.
The repackaging of some of the existing schemes and shown as fresh sops the government now promises to launch in 2017 to soften the blow of demonetization will certainly not be enough. Converting Kisan Credit Card into RuPay card, Providing Rs 6,000 to pregnant women, doubling the NABARD support to cooperative banks and societies, and the enhancement of existing benefits already existing under rural housing may sound to be extending an olive branch to dispel the rural anger but as has been widely reported these schemes were already in operation but not implemented in right earnest. A fact check provided by Business Standard (Jan 1, 2017) has very clearly shown how exiting schemes are being recycled.
Take for instance rural housing. It is claimed “the number of houses being built for poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna in rural areas is being increased by 33 per cent.” An investigation by Down to Earth magazine has shown that against a target of 30 million rural housing units by 2020, only 32 housing units have been constructed so far and that too in just one state. The subsidy provision to add additional floor or a puccahouse too is nothing new.
Writing off the interest for two months on cooperative loans taken by farmers too is no benefit. After Nov 8, cooperative banks have practically remained inoperative as a result of which farmers have not been able to pay back loans. Some analysts have shown that the interest write-off comes to less than Rs 1,000 on a loan of Rs 1 lakh. I don’t know how the interest write-off for two months is being seen as a financial relief for the beleaguered farmers. The outstanding loans drawn from nationalized banks remain untouched. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has made it abundantly clear when he told a political gathering in Uttar Pradesh that a loan waiver is not possible because of the huge financial implications.
The indifference towards agriculture stems from the existing policy bias. Successive governments have been making efforts to translocate farm workers to the urban centres. The National Skill Development Council projects the percentage of farmers to be reduced from the existing 56 per cent to 38 per cent by the year 2022. It actually targeted to bring down the farm population down to 18 per cent initially, but later revised its estimates. Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has been on record saying that the biggest reform will be when farmer are pushed out of agriculture to provide cheap labour for the industry. Deputy Chairman of the NITI Ayog too has been reiterating this time and again. This follows a dictat from the World Bank way back in 1996 wanting 400 million people to be moved out of rural areas by the year 2015. Accordingly, pushing farmers out of agriculture is the only way to move people out of poverty. The underlying idea is to move people out of rural areas into the cities where they will be employed as dehari mazdoor.
While agriculture gets an empty promise to double farm incomes in the next five years, Minister for Urban Development, M Venkaiah Naidu, has shown where the thrust of the economic policies are. He says the plan is create 22 more cities of the size of Bangalore. In addition, the landscape of 3,041 existing cities will have to be transformed to make them more livable. He says this is important to achieve economic growth. The entire effort therefore has been to create economic conditions that forces farmers to abandon farming and migrate to the cities. To say that agriculture sector has failed to keep pace with the economic growth the country has witnessed in the last 15 years is a clever ploy to cover up the deliberate efforts to keep farmers impoverished.
At a time when MNREGA budget exceeds the budgetary provisions made for agriculture, employing 56 per cent of the population, I am not expecting Budget 2017 to shift the focus to turn farming economically viable. Although the Prime Minister has time and again said that his government is for the farmers, a slew of measures that have been spelled out to make farming viable like providing soil health cards and neem-coated urea fertilizer are useful inputs but farming needs more public sector investments and enhancing income support. Budget 2017 cannot be expected to provide all the economic solutions but can certainly be indicative of a policy thrust towards reviving the rural economy. This will require financial support for setting up rural infrastructure, including more resources for a net work of regulated mandis and rural godown. According to Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), there exists only 7,000 regulated mandis in the country at present against the requirement of 42,000 mandis. This will help providing an assurance against distress sale by farmers.
Providing urban amenities in the rural areas, as opined by former President Abdul Kalam, now stands forgotten. Facilities like educational institutes, colleges, hospitals, along with agri-based industries in the villages and at the block level will create opportunities within the rural areas drastically reducing the migration to urban areas.
Although Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had listed Farm Incomes to be his top priority in the first full Budget he delivered in 2015, but nothing concrete has been recommended so far. My suggestion would be turn the CACP into a ‘Commission for Farmers Income & Welfare’ (CFI) with the mandate to work out mechanisms to provide a monthly assured income to farmers. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the average annual income of farming household in 17 States is a mere Rs 20,000. The effort should be to ensure what the farmers get is in accordance with the minimum living standards laid out under the 7th Pay Commission. #

After Demonetisation, How about a Surgical Strike on India's Meagre Farming Incomes? The Wire. Jan 6, 2017. https://thewire.in/97577/farming-rural-economy-demonetisation/
Categories: Ecological News

On an average, one farmer ends his life every 41 minutes in India.

Ground Reality - Sat, 01/07/2017 - 20:12

                                                   Pic: CatchNews
The New Year opens up on a rather depressing note. A day after the partying was over, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) released its latest report on farmer suicides. Accordingly, the trend shows a steep rise with 12,602 farmers committing suicide in 2015, the latest year for which data has been collected. On an average one farmer, ended his own life every 41 minutes somewhere in India.

Compiling the farm suicides figures released officially so far, between 1995 and 2015, a period of 21 years, a total of 3,18,528 farmers have committed suicide.

This is nothing but a serial death dance being enacted on the farm. Call it by any name, the unending saga of farmer suicides is certainly an outcome of the faulty economic policies being promulgated all these years whereby farmers have been deliberately kept impoverished. Agriculture has been systematically rendered economically unviable as a result of which farmers
have been pushed into a vicious cycle of indebtedness. Even in Punjab, the food bowl of the country, while farm incomes have remained static, farm indebtedness has multiplied 22 times in the past decade.

True to what a former Prime Minister Charan Singh had once said: “A farmer is born in debt and dies in debt” the appalling distress levels have only worsened. Even the latest NCRB data shows mounting indebtedness and farm-related issues to be the primary reason of farmer suicides. The
other two main causes – poverty and illness, too can be clubbed in the same category. Both are related directly to declining incomes. Several studies have shown health expenses to be a major drag pushing farmers into poverty. And how deeply the farmers are buried under indebtedness
becomes evident from a study done by the Chandigarh-based Centre for Research on Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID). Accordingly, 96 per cent of the rural households in Punjab have incomes lower than the expenses. In all, 98 per cent of the rural families remain indebted.

With 4,291 suicides recorded, Maharashtra tops the chart. This is a little higher from the 4,004 farm suicides reported a year earlier, in 2014. For two consecutive years – 2014 and 2015 – Maharasthtra has been holding the dubious distinction with a third of the total farm suicides reported in the country actually happening within its borders. In addition, Karnataka, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are the states with a large number of farm suicides. Nearly 87 per cent suicides, a total of 11,026 suicides, have been collated from these seven states. If we look at the country’s map, these states are closely knit geographically and form a big farm suicide block extending from central

India to the coastal regions. No farmer suicides have been reported from Bihar, Jharkhand, West
Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Mizoram and Goa. But Bihar has reported 7 suicides among farm workers, 604 in Tamil Nadu, 21 in Jharkhand, and 709 in Madhya Pradesh. If I were to include both cultivators/farmers in one category, the death toll of 12,602 persons who died on the farm in 2015 is 2 per cent higher than the toll of 12,360 reported a year earlier, in 2014. This confusion of segregating farmers and agricultural workers separately
happened last year because the government wanted to show a decline in suicide numbers.

Adding the death toll in both the categories – 5,650 farmers and 6,710 agricultural workers, the total for 2014 came to 12,360, which was 5 per cent higher than the farmer suicides that happened in 2013. In other words, farm suicides have been on an upswing despite the valiant efforts to
downplay the tragedy. For instance, the latest NCRB data shows 100 farmers committing suicide in Punjab in 2015. In addition, 24 agricultural workers have ended their lives. The total farm suicides recorded in Punjab therefore comes to 124. This is far less than the 449 farm suicides that the
Punjab government has officially acknowledged. The effort to downplay suicides emerges from a trend that Chhattisgarh started in 2011 when it began showing zero farm suicides, four in 2012 and again zero in 2013. In the latest data, 954 farm suicides have been recorded in Chhattisgarh.

Nevertheless, despite trying to scale down the number of farmer suicides to paint a rosy picture for the farm sector, the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails is loud and clear. To understand the relationship suicides has with the crisis that prevails on the farm, I have asked a number of farmers who survived the suicide attempt as to why they ever thought of committing suicide in the first instance. While psychologists and sociologists may do a better job, what I gather is that those who wanted to end their own lives actually took the extreme step so as to leave behind a strong political message.

They did not resort to protests or violence and instead took their own lives simply to shake up an indifferent administration to shift focus urgently and reating economic hardship that forces farmers to move out of agriculture,so as to provide cheaper work force for infrastructure, construction and real estate projects. The projections being made by the National Skill Development Council makes this abundantly clear. In the next five years, by 2022, it aims to reduce the work force in agriculture from the existing 57 per cent to 38 per cent.

This process has to be reversed. Pushing people out of agriculture to migrate to urban cities is not the way forward. The challenge lies in making farming economically viable and sustainable. But since 1995, successive governments led by Prime Ministers – P V Narasimha Rao, H D Deve
Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh – have failed to provide any succor to the dilapidated farming sector. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has claimed that his government is devoted to the cause of the poor as well as the farmers, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to revive agriculture, and bring a smile on the face of farmers. Let us hope 2017 turns out to be the dream year for farmers. #
Categories: Ecological News

Goodbye 2016 -- A Year of Living Dangerously on the Farm

Ground Reality - Fri, 12/30/2016 - 12:37

As the year 2016 passes into history, I am sure it will be remembered by farmers and farm workers as a particularly bad year for agriculture. It was only in the mid of the year when monsoon showered its blessings bringing respite to the drought-affected regions. But no sooner had the monsoon rains withdrawn and it was time to sow the winter rabi crops, the unnatural hazard of Notebandi (Demonetisation) struck. 
For farmers and farm workers, 2016 was a year of living dangerously. 
It came as a heavy blow. In many ways the blow is so severe for farming communities across the country that even after withstanding the fury of the two years of back-to-back drought, the pain left behind by this shock therapy will take at least a year or two to lessen. The bitter harvest has resulted in farm incomes falling by as much as 50 to 70 per cent within a span of 50 days, and the disastrous implications it will leave behind on the livelihood security of millions of small farmers, agricultural workers and the poor will be too difficult even to be spelled out.
I wonder if the government will announce relief to farmers, farm workers and the unorganized labour force in the coming budget. After all, if there can be a flood relief, and a drought relief to mitigate the impact, how about providing a Notebandirelief when the impact has not been any less severe than the natural calamities. 
Take a look. Just as the year comes to an end, the first plucking of tur dal is in the market. This early crop has arrived in Gulbarga in Karnataka, Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, and Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Prices have crashed, much below the minimum support price (MSP). Against the MSP of Rs 5050 per quintal, wholesale prices are ruling between Rs 3,666 per quintal in Andhra Pradesh and Rs 4,570 per quintal in Karnataka. Prices are expected to further slump when the harvest from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh starts to pour in.
It was essentially the high retail prices that prevailed during the past two years, reaching a peak of Rs 200 per Kg earlier this year, coupled with the jump in MSP, from Rs 4,625 per quintal to Rs 5,050 per quintal that farmers shifted to tur or Arhar expecting a higher income. A record 4.3 million tonnes of tur harvest was expected this year, quite a significant increase from 2.46 million tonnes produced last year.
The story of tur is the same as that of moong. Against the MSP of Rs 5,225 per quintal, an increase over Rs 4,850 per quintal that was given last year, reports showed prices crashing after the crop started hitting the mandis since September. Across the country, farmers have been forced to sell the crop at prices much lower than the MSP announced.
Notebandihas certainly added to farmer’s woes. And the agricultural markets have still not been able to recover.
Take the case of the APMC market in Navi Mumbai. A CNBC TV report shows the situation to be continuously distressing. 50 days after the Nov 8 withdrawal of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes, prices for farmers have dipped by 50 to 60 per cent. Considering that roughly eight to ten tonnes of vegetables are getting wasted in the Navi Mumbai mandi, it becomes obvious that many farmers are returning empty handed. Wholesale traders are blaming the retail trade for not being able to buy their normal requirements due to the cash crunch. Whatever be the reason, it is the farmer who is left to bear the brunt. 
Navi Mumbai is no exception. Even in the APMC market in Azadpur, New Delhi, farmers are being forced to sell at a distress price. Not only for vegetables, even prices of flowers have crashed in far away Indore, in Madhya Pradesh. An IndiaSpendreport quoted a farmer saying: “Four days before and even after Notebandi, I was selling sevanti (chrysanthemum) flowers at between Rs 30 and Rs 40 a kg; now sell between Rs 4 and Rs 6 a kg.” Farmers cultivating flowers had lost roughly 50 to 80 per cent of their income post Notebandi.
The story is no different for cotton, soybean, basmati rice and for all winter vegetables like tomato, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, matar, palak and gajar.  However, that Notebandi has struck a deadly blow to farmers is still being refuted by the spokespersons of the ruling party. In fact, I have been saying for quite some time that the impact of Notebandion farmers has been much more severe than the cumulative impact of two consecutive years of drought. A spokesperson had the timidity to ask me on a TV show the other day for empirical evidence. I wonder if any of the spokespersons can provide an empirical study for any of the claims they have been making after Notebandi was unleashed in the country. 
Nevertheless, New Delhi-based author Ashim Choudhury was able to bring out the grave tragedy that had befallen farmers. I call it a tragedy for the simple reason that it is for no fault of theirs that they are left to bear the consequences of a man-made crisis. Many mainline economists and fund managers see this as a ‘short-term’ crisis. It may be ‘short term’ for them since they see their businesses returning back to normalcy soon but imagine how the families of small farmers, petty traders and landless workers must be coping when the little cash they manage every day to somehow manage their livelihood security too is drained away.
In an emotive but realistic piece expressing the plight and agony the farmers must be undergoing after being at the receiving end of the shock therapy, Ashim Choudhury sums it up brilliantly in what he wrote a month after Notebandi
"I bumped into a wayside vegetable market in New Delhi .. and guess what. A ten rupee note could buy me a kilo of potatoes, a kilo of beans, a kilo of cabbage and 3 stacks of palak.“I should have been happy buying such dirt cheap veggies .. but I was weeping for the farmer. “What price would he have got? Rs 2 a kilo for potatoes … after months of watering and labour? “So he needs to grow 7 kilos of potatoes to buy a packet of beedis or a single stick of a Gold Flake cigarette? “Small farmers have always got a raw deal but demonetization has kicked them even harder, Mr Narendra Modi. “I love cheap vegetables but I don’t want to see the farmer selling himself so cheap.“Jai Jawan  …Mar Kisan !”
It’s time to say goodbye to 2016. Let’s hope the New Year brings in much joy and happiness. #  
Categories: Ecological News

When Farmers Held A Parliament ...

Ground Reality - Fri, 12/23/2016 - 12:45

A Kisan Parliament in session in Chandigarh
Enough is enough. Farmers have to take to the stage themselves if they want farming to be at the centre of the country’s economic radar screen. Because they failed to build a political constituency all these years, political parties across the spectrum have treated farmers and agriculture only for two purposes – vote bank and land bank.
Is this possible? Will it be ever possible to bring back the pride with which farming was treated in the past? Will farming be treated as not only a mainstay of the economy, as it is generally referred to, but as an engine of economic growth? 
I have never been in doubt. But this is possible only when the farmers themselves wake up; are able to come together, organize, get unified, in a manner that they are able to influence politics. Making the politicians (and the political parties) take them seriously is certainly the next step. But to achieve that, the first and foremost is the ability to come together, to forgo their political leanings and ideologies and to realise that they need to make 'Farmers First' as their unflinching motoo, objective and purpose.   
On Wednesday, when the Rajewal faction of Bharti Kisan Union organized a Kisan Parliament in Chandigarh, ahead of the forthcoming Punjab elections, I am sure hundreds of farmers who had assembled to watch the proceedings of Kisan Parliament, probably held for the first time in the country, must have gone back empowered, realizing they too can make a difference. The best way perhaps is to make a direct intervention in the raging political discourse. And this is possible only if farmers stand up and confront the political leaders making it loud and clear that they can no longer be treated simply as door mats as the political parties have done so far. Kisan Parliament is only a small beginning. There are a number of other initiatives that are simultaneously required before farmers acquire a political voice.  
Acting as the Speaker of this Kisan Parliament, like they do it in Lok Sabha, I had the onerous responsibility to ensure that not only decency and decorum is maintained but the leaders do not get into a meaningless glib talk avoiding the real issues as they normally do in State Assemblies. I did have to raise my voice a couple of times but then that has now become an operational hazard while conducting any political debate. But it also provided me an opportunity to explain and elaborate the questions for the benefit of the audience as well as to add a punch here and there to make the question more pointed. The questions were posed by the BKU president, Balbir Singh Rajewal, on behalf of the farming community.
The purpose behind this unique effort was to give an issue-based orientation to the ensuing elections (Punjab elections are expected to be held in February), as in the past the political parties had been fighting the elections by making false promises to farmers. After the elections are over, farmers are forgotten, and so are the promises. The farmer’s Parliament was also aimed at appraising the political parties of the expectations and demands of Punjab farmers. Moving away from the time when farmers were only expected to present memorandums to political leadership detailing out their demands, it was so heartening to see farmers directly confronting the leaders and seeking a definite roadmap and time schedule for what all they accepted.
Three major political parties fighting the forthcoming elections – Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress (Cong) -- were represented by Harjit Singh Grewal, Kanwar Sandhu and Kuljit Singh Nagra, respectively. The ruling party – the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps the SAD didn’t want to face the angry farmers, let down by state policies in the past ten years of its rule.
Most of the questions were focused on the plight of farming; on the terrible agrarian crisis that prevails. These questions were a reflection of the neglect and apathy with which farming has been treated all these years. If Punjab, the food bowl of the country, is in such a pitiable condition, the fate of the rest of the country can be imagined. Despite very high crop productivity, perhaps the highest in the world as far as wheat and rice are concerned Punjab has turned into a suicide hotspot. There is hardly a day when newspapers do not report of farmers committing suicide in some part of the state. 
Nevertheless, the question whether political parties will ensure a monthly assured income of Rs 18,000 for all farm hands evoked a very positive response from all the panelists. They also committed to thwart any effort being made to dismantle the procurement operations and render the mechanism of providing minimum support price (MSP) to farmers ineffective. AAP party even promised to provide the gap between MSP plus 50 per cent profit from its own resources as envisaged by the Swaminathan Committee.
Writing-off the mounting debt the farmers were faced with was another contentious issue. While the political representatives were at ease trading charges against each other, the BJP member was non-committal stating that the ruling SAD Coalition, with which BJP is a partner, had made it abundantly clear that it was not possible to waive outstanding farm loans. Both the Congress and the AAP however promised to do so. When asked whether the promise to waive-off farm loans is only confined to cooperative bank loans or all loans, AAP and Congress promised to write-off loans drawn from the nationalized banks too. They even spelled out a time frame, with AAP making it clear that it will first ascertain whether the loans were used only for the purpose for which they were taken. Only those outstanding loans will be struck.
The three-hour question answer session has at least made the political parties understand that the farmers’ anger was primarily centred on the failing farm economy. Economic security is what the farmers need and any effort to avoid addressing this particular fundamental cause, after the party comes into power, will be politically suicidal. At the same time, the announcement by BKU that such sessions will be organized at each political constituency inviting the party representatives will certainly go a long way in making political parties accountable. There is also a proposal to put board outside each village where farmers’ demands are spelled out. In a way, what is planned by BKU is something that I expect all farmers’ organizations to replicate. In Uttar Pradesh also, which goes to elections along with Punjab, farmer unions too need to evolve a mechanism to directly confront the political leadership.
It is high time farmers now take the centre stage in deciding the political discourse.  When I say centre stage I don’t mean or suggest they should be thinking of contesting elections for entering the Vidhan Sabha or the Lok Sabha but to make effort to directly influence the electoral process. This is possible only if the farm leadership moves away from the usual practice of doing the rounds of political party offices to present memorandums but get into a direct mode of communication so as to bring forth what they expect, and also get assurances what will be delivered.
It’s time farmers learn to assert themselves. After all it is farmers who comprise the biggest electoral constituency. # 
Categories: Ecological News

Stubble burning: Combine-Harvesters alone can provide a solution

Ground Reality - Sun, 12/18/2016 - 13:30

The Single Pass Round Bale System allows producers to harvest and bale in one pass requiring less equipment, time and manpower. Pic-https://www.deere.com
The desperation is clear. “Do you want to wait till people start dying? People are gasping for breath,” a fuming Supreme Court had asked the Central Pollution Control Board. This was in mid-November. The Apex court has been listening to a petition seeking action against burning of paddy straw by farmers, particularly in Punjab.

With sowing of rabicrops now almost complete, the burning of paddy stubbles has ended. And after high pollution had choked Delhi for a number of days following Diwali, life in the National Capital Region is also back to normal.

This has become an annual ritual. For the past 10 years or so I have seen the nation suddenly waking up to the scourge of paddy straw burning, particularly in Punjab, with satellite images from NASA being used to shift blame to farmers for adding to the already high pollution levels in New Delhi. Soon after the harvest of paddy, farmers have been resorting to burning the paddy stubbles in a bid to clear the crop field making way for the sowing of the next winter crop, primarily wheat. The window available before the next sowing is so short that farmers find putting the crop residues to fire as the best available option.

An estimated 20 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt. And as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had observed: “It is conceded that 70 per cent of the land covered by agricultural activity was put on fire by the farmers of Punjab who burnt farm residue,” further adding that stubble burning shoots up the carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70 per cent. “The concentration of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide rises by 7 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectively, triggering respiratory and heart problems. Also, it was stated that soil loses a significant amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulphur, the total loss of nutrients being estimated at 1.5 lakh tones per annum.

Coming down heavily against the governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab for its failure to take immediate steps to stop crop residues burning, the NGT has now even asked Punjab government to withdraw incentives, including grant of free power, to farmers who were caught burning paddy stubbles after the harvest. Earlier, it had directed state governments to launch criminal proceedings against farmers, impose a fine and a jail term of six months for those farmers who are caught burning the paddy stubbles.

I always thought it was rather unfair to lodge an FIR and impose a fine against farmers for burning the stubbles. The problem of paddy straw burning has actually been created by the combine harvesters and the blame is being very conveniently shifted to farmers. Earlier when farmers and farm workers would manually harvest paddy, there was hardly an instance of stubble burning. But with the advent of combine harvesters, the burning of crop residues has increased in direct proportion to the area being harvested by combines. It is therefore a problem created by a technology and going by the polluter pays principle it is the technology provider who should be actually asked to come up with a technological solution.

In case the technology provider in unable to do so, then the technology provide should be directed to pay for the resulting pollution, which in this case is the cost for environmental pollution resulting from stubble burning.

Combine machines cut the spike of the paddy plant leaving the stem intact. Since cattle do not feed on paddy straw, farmers find it difficult to replough as the stubble doesn't decompose. Farmers have no time to remove the stubble from the fields due to paucity of time since they have to prepare the land for wheat sowing. Moreover, it involves costs, something around Rs 5,000 per acre extra, which the governments are reluctant to pay. At a time when the average income per acre in Punjab does not exceed Rs 3,400 it is futile to expect farmers to incur double the cost for clearing the fields.

All the solutions being advocated to stop the stubble burning are very expensive, involve a number of machines, and are time consuming. In fact it is shocking to see the kind of solutions being put forward by the state governments before the National Green Tribunal. Desperate to suggest a remedial measure so as to avoid the court’s wrath, I find the suggested technological interventions to be bordering stupidity. Most of the solutions being suggested are simply based on what some progressive entrepreneurs are proposing. Since every disaster is a business opportunity, I find a number of meaningless but expensive solutions being forwarded.

The most common technological intervention being proposed is to promote the use of a Happy Seeder machine. Since the machine costs around Rs 1.20 lakh, it is proposed to enhance the subsidy component to 90 per cent, from the existing 50 per cent. While the Happy Seeder manufacturers will certainly laugh all the way to the bank, the fact remains that nine out of ten farmers using Happy Seeder machines actually burn the stubble before using the machine. Happy seeder machine, which actually is meant for zero tillage, will certainly not be helpful as the stubble collects at its base making it difficult for the machine to operate.

I find it amusing to find the Punjab government for instance drawing up a Rs 6,600-crore plan to use a set of machines to get rid of the problem. In addition to Happy Seeder machine, it involves using Straw Reaper, Chopper, Reverse plough, a Baler and a Rotavator. This is a prohibitively expensive proposition and would end up only draining the exchequer. Moreover, Rotavator also needs the use of a heavy duty tractor, exceeding 60 HP, which not many farmers have.

The easiest of the solution lies in directing the combine-harvesters to come up with a modification that allows it simultaneously to cut the paddy straw from the base of the plant. The combine harvesters can either come with a baler machine attached or incorporate the baler in the machine itself that cuts the paddy straw from the base of the plant and converts it into bales. The combine harvester should thereby provide grain and at the same time turn the straw into bales which can then be sold by farmers. The machine will help turn paddy straw into an economic option for the farmer.

If you are thinking this kind of technological solution will require more time for the combine harvesters to make for a technological improvement, let me tell you a leading manufacturer of combine harvesters – Canada’s John Deere has in partnership with the US-based Hillco Technologies – already developed a next generation machine for harvesting corn wherein the corn stems are baled in one simple step. The Hillco Single Pass Round Bale system which allows the combine harvester to harvest and bale in one pass is what is required for paddy harvest and bale. I am sure the combine manufacturers will be able to provide this amendment for the next paddy harvesting season. #   

For more details: John Deere and Hillco Technologies Introduces Single Pass Round Bale System. https://www.deere.com/en_US/corporate/our_company/news_and_media/press_releases/2014/agriculture/2014aug21_hillco_bale_system.page

Categories: Ecological News

India can't afford to be standing again with a begging bowl

Ground Reality - Wed, 12/14/2016 - 16:10

A typical wheat harvesting scene in Punjab -- Forbes India pic
Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had stated: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait but not agriculture.”
The year was 1955.
More than 65 years after Jawaharlal Nehru made known the humiliation he must have undergone while importing food, India is on a fast track to go back in history, to return to the days when the country’s food needs were being met from imports. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s announcement in the Lok Sabha on Dec 8, 2016 to scrap the existing 10 per cent import duty on wheat, despite the claims of a bumper crop, opens up the flood gates to cheaper imports. 
Importing food is importing unemployment. Allowing cheaper imports at zero per cent duty will certainly hit the farming community which is already reeling under distress. It is always the livelihood of small and marginal farmers which is the first to be sacrificed when imports flow in. More so, the decision to import is coming at a time when wheat sowing is nearing completion, and all indicators point to a favourable crop season ahead, the decision will certainly hit farmers hard.It was on Sept 23 that the government had reduced the import duty from 25 per cent to 10 per cent. Moreover, I don't see why should the government be discriminating against agriculture. It has already announced its intention to raise import duties for steel and textiles to save the domestic industry. Why shouldn't agriculture too be protected?  
Just two months later, on Dec 8, the government brought the import duty to zero. There is nothing significantly drastic that happened in these two months that the import duty should have been scrapped. The trade had already contracted for 35 lakh tonnes of wheat to be imported from Australia and Ukraine, of which roughly 20 lakh tonnes has already arrived. These consignments were contracted when the import duty was 10 per cent. I therefore see no reason why the import duty had to be completely scrapped.
Even if the wheat production was about 86-87 million tonnes against the government’s claim of 93.50 million tonnes, a shortfall of about 6 million tones, I see no justification in allowing imports considering that the total requirement of wheat for domestic consumption has been pegged at about 87 million tones. Why should there be a cause to worry when domestic production matched domestic consumption, is a question to be asked?
The answer is simple. Bowing before the powerful import lobby, which eyes huge profits at a time when international wheat prices are low, the government has opened up the borders. The international prices of wheat are ruling between $210 and $235 a tonne, which comes to be much cheaper than the prevailing prices in India. The trade therefore sees an enormous opportunity to take advantage of this beneficial market situation and the government has very kindly obliged them. Even if the retail prices of wheat have hardened and increased to Rs 21.50 per kg, I still don’t see any economic rationale in resorting to imports so as to bring down the market prices.
Another reason being cited is the precarious food stocks situation. As of Dec 1, wheat stocks with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stood at 16.50 million tones. This is the lowest in the past nine years, since 2007. Although wheat stocks appear much less when compared with 26.88 million tonnes that existed last year, it is still enough to meet the buffer requirements till April 2017 after which the new crop comes in. But what I find intriguing is that for the past few years, especially when the FCI stocks exceeded 81 million tonnes a couple of years back, all out efforts have been to reduce food procurement.
Soon after it came to power in 2014, Food Ministry had warned State governments like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, not to provide any bonus to wheat growers over and above the Minimum Support Price (MSP). If they do so, the state will be responsible for the entire procurement operations it undertakes. As a result states have stopped giving bonus to wheat farmers. A higher price becomes an incentive for wheat farmers to produce bumper harvests, which in turn meant more procurement. In other words, the government itself wanted wheat procurement to come down. FCI is also being directed to move away from procurement and market intervention operations and instead go for future trading so as to realize a better price for its stocks. Punjab and Haryana has been continuously under pressure to dismantle food procurement operations.
In the World Trade organization (WTO) negotiations, India has always taken an appreciable stand for protecting its 600 million farmers. But back home, domestic policies are for more autonomous liberalization which means opening up to imports. To achieve this, successive governments have systematically squeezed public investments in agriculture and have been denying a fair and remunerative price thereby keeping farming impoverished. The government has already conveyed to the Supreme Court its inability to provide farmers with 50 per cent profit over the cost of production.
In recent months, import duty on potato has been brought down from 30 to 10 per cent, on import of crude palm oil from 12.5 to 7.5 per cent and refined palm oil from 20 to 15 per cent and for wheat from 25 to 10 and finally to zero per cent. I see an import surge in pulses, edible oils, wheat, apple, rubber, coconut, silk, fish and a horde of fruit products and juices. India already imports 60 per cent of its edible oil requirements worth approximately Rs 70,000-crore. This is the outcome of slashing import duties over the years despite warning from the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). 
Although imports are justified in the name of taming consumer prices, what is not being realized is that it is the small and marginal farmers who are forced to abandon agriculture.
Seen in the light of recent decision to encourage farmers in Mozambique, Uganda, Ethiopia, Myanmar and even as far as Brazil to produce pulses to be exported to India, the decision to open up for wheat imports is not at all surprising. After destroying the Yellow Revolution – oilseeds revolution that led to India becoming almost self-sufficient in edible oils in 1993-94, any effort to reduce domestic ability to grow wheat would be the beginning of the end of Green Revolution. For a country as large as India, it will be politically suicidal to revert back to the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence when food came directly from the ships into the hungry mouths. India cannot be allowed to once again stand with a begging bowl in the international market. #
Categories: Ecological News

After two years of back-to-back drought, 'cash crunch' has brought rural India to a standstill.

Ground Reality - Sun, 12/11/2016 - 13:27

From an ANI news feed. 
At a time when Indian economy is faced with a slowdown, it is the farming sector that stands crippled. Suffering from a back-to-back drought for two years in a row, demonetization has struck a much severe blow.
I am sure it will be sometimes before a clearer picture emerges. But all efforts to paint a bright picture for agriculture is now beginning to fall apart. While the serpentine queues in the urban areas show no signs of ending even after a month of demonetization, the picture in rural areas is too bleak. With bank branches not getting adequate cash, I know of villages where farmers had to return empty handed even after 7 days of standing in queues. What makes it worse is the fact, as Prof Ram Kumar of Tata Institute of Social Studies (TISS) points, nearly 81 per cent of the villages do not have access to bank branches. 
Nevertheless, despite the claim by the Ministry of Agriculture of a higher sowing of rabi crops when compared with the area sown in the previous year, reality checks show that the area under wheat sowing is being deliberately compared with the sowings accomplished in 2015, which was a drought year. When you compare 17.4 million hectares by wheat sowing achieved by Dec 4 with the corresponding figures of 21.3 million hectares in 2013 and 20.9 million hectares in 2014, it shows the shortfall. 
While, the difficulties farmers encountered in undertaking sowing operations has been much written about, it is the severe blow the farmers have suffered as the market prices crashed post demonetization. Even a month after, mandis in several parts of the country are partially operating. With demand subdued, prices have fallen across board. Only a day before, farmers in Paththal town in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh dumped tomato on the national highway to express their discontent at the slump in prices. With trucks failing to arrive this year, the rich tomato pocket of Chhattisgarh saw prices fall to 50 paise kg. A few days earlier, farmers distributed potatoes free of cost outside the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow, dumping nearly 1,000 sacks of potatoes in protest against the suffering unleashed by an unprecedented cash crunch.
Market prices of soybean, cotton, basmati crashed. Vegetable and fruit growers have been hit the hardest with prices slumping to as low as 45 to 50 per cent. Cauliflower was selling at Rs 1/kg in Bihar; tomato was selling at Rs 1/kg in Andhra Pradesh; nearly 3 lakh tonnes of potato seed kept by farmers in cold storages in Punjab found no buyer; dairy farmers unable to buy feed for their cattle; tea gardens in Bengal closing down  and many such reports have been pouring in from all over the country. With the government backing away from immediate succor, it is the arhtiyas (money lenders) that came to farmer rescue at many places especially with the cooperative banks/societies becoming non-functional.
Considering that 2016-17 witnessed a normal monsoon except in Karnataka, parts of Telengana/Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, I was expecting some kind of a revival in the farm economy. Knowing that farmers are not being paid a remunerative price over the years, it is only the rain gods that farmers rely on for bailing them out of a dire situation. This year, the rain gods didn’t disappoint. But the shock therapy imposed through demonetization has given such a big shock, the impact of which will be felt by farmers for quite long in future.#   

Demonetisation. not drought, behind farming Community woes. New Indian Express, Dec 11, 2016.  
Categories: Ecological News

How about an honorarium for post-graduate unemployed rural youth?

Ground Reality - Thu, 12/01/2016 - 13:33

Growing unemployment in rural India -- Pic YourArticleLibrary.com
On Tuesday, Nov 1, 2016, Haryana launched an ambitious scheme for post-graduate unemployed youth. Celebrating the golden jubilee of its foundation day, Haryana government announced an honorarium of Rs 9,000 per month for them if they put in 100 hours of work.
This is an excellent social security initiative. Growing unemployment is turning into a major socio-economic crisis and State government will have to come up with innovative ideas and plans to gainfully engage the younger generation. An estimated 30,000 post-graduate unemployed youth in Haryana will benefit from this scheme.
Coming two months after the Central Government revised the minimum wage for non-farm workers by 42 per cent, from the existing Rs 246 to Rs 351 a day, bringing it to a minimum of Rs 9,100 for a month, I think the policy makers and planners are getting to understand that every household needs a minimum living wage. At a time when inequality is widening at a phenomenal rate, and with the rich becoming rich and the poor being driven to the wall, any effort to provide gainful employment to the poor and marginalized has to be appreciated.
But the problem is that the policy makers’ vision remains by and large limited to the urban society. Their gaze is restricted and therefore they are unable to see beyond the expanse of the cities and towns. Whether it is the unemployment allowance for the youth or the rise in wages for the non-farm workers, you will observe the beneficiaries of the State’s largesse are invariably from the urban areas. The estimated 70 per cent majority population, which lives in the rural areas, is somehow left to fend for itself. Such a restricted economic thinking has steadily widened the gulf between the rural and urban areas.
Let me explain. The Haryana Agricultural University (HAU) has in a study worked out the net income of farming household cultivating wheat at Rs 4,799 per acre. Since wheat is sown in October and harvested in April, it is primarily a six-month crop. The net return from cultivating wheat therefore comes to Rs 800 per month from an acre. Considering that majority farmers have a land holding not exceeding three acres, their net income would be around Rs 2,400 per month. Surely these farmers and their family members put in more than 100 hours a month in the farm operations, and many of these farming households do have educated unemployed youth who fall back upon agriculture in the absence of job opportunities.
What it means in reality is that the farmers are not gainfully employed. If only agriculture was a remunerative profession it would have attracted a huge population of youth who are otherwise going from pillar to post in the cities searching for menial jobs. If only the policy makers had thought of ensuring a monthly average income of Rs 9,000 per hectare (which is roughly 2.5 acres) for a rural household I am sure the demographics would have changed for the better, and the pressure to create daily wage employment in cities would have lessened. Haryana has set aside Rs 324-crore for providing unemployment honorarium to 30,000 post-graduate unemployed. How about putting aside twice the amount, an additional Rs 648-crore, to help 60,000 educated but unemployed youth engaged in farming?
After all, if Haryana can make a budgetary provision for Rs 1,700-crore for the year long celebrations to mark the golden jubilee of its creation, I don’t see any reason for a financial constraint if it were to make a foray by reaching out to the rural unemployed. I am not saying that this amount will suffice to address the huge problem of unemployment and under-employment in the rural areas. But it will certainly mark a beginning. Wouldn’t this be in true sense Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas that the Prime Minister has been strongly advocating? 
The HAU study has in fact worked out the levels of net return from wheat cultivation for 11 districts. The Rs 800 per acre net return that I quoted earlier is the average for the state. The districts of Panipat, Rohtak, Karnal are faring much worse. In Panipat, the average monthly income per acre comes to a paltry Rs 223; in Rohtak Rs 291; and Rs 612 in Karnal. The better performing districts are Jhajjar (Rs 1620); Mahendragarh (Rs 1473) and Bhiwani (Rs 1070). However, going by the minimum income levels that should provide an economic security for a family, I don’t think even the best performing districts will be able to bail out a farming family from the trap of mounting indebtedness.
The continuing caste based reservation demanded by Jats in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, is primarily a pointer to the agrarian distress that prevails. In Haryana we have seen the destruction caused by the Jat agitation recently which was rather unfortunate. But the basic point that should be understood is that the dominant caste groups engaged in farming, and which includes Marathasin Maharashtra and Gurjar in Rajasthan, are enraged because over the past few decades’ agriculture has turned into a losing proposition. This is primarily because agriculture has been deliberately turned uneconomical so as to keep the economic reforms alive. As I have said time and again farmers are being knowingly kept impoverished.
This is corroborated also by the first-ever socio economic survey for rural India, released in 2015. Accordingly, the highest incomes of an earning member in 75 per cent of the rural households do not exceed Rs 5,000 a month. For 51 per cent households, manual labour including MNREGA is necessary for survival. That a progressive state like Haryana also falls in this category brings out the serious flaws in policy planning. I am therefore hoping that the Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, will make an effort to correct the prevailing bias against agriculture in policy planning. All he needs is to revive and overhaul the Haryana State Farmers Commission with a distinct mandate to come out with economic proposals to make farming attracting. It’s time to move beyond the usual clichés of raising productivity and lowering the cost of cultivation. Bringing income parity with other sectors of the society – bureaucrats, defense personnel, teachers, professors and government servants – is the crying need of the times. #   

पीजी छात्रों की तरह ही खेती में लगे शिक्षित बेरोज़गारों के लिए भी भत्ता निर्धारित करे हरियाणा सरकार. Gaon Connection, Nov 4, 2016. http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/proven-hollow-with-all-development-for-all-claims
Categories: Ecological News

If like rich defaulters, farmers debt too was 'written-off' (and not waived), more than 50 per cent of farmer lives could have been saved

Ground Reality - Sat, 11/19/2016 - 11:12

Family members of the farmers who had committed suicide in Bathinda District in Punjab -- Daily Mail pic
Wrapped in a blanket, many of you have been queuing up before bank as early as 4 am. Some have even lined up as early as 2 am, and waited endlessly standing for getting just Rs 2,000 of your own money back. I am aware that in the villages people had to walk quite a stretch and stand in the queues again and again for a couple of days.
I have been flooded with phone calls from villages across the country. People have called me to share their dismay, their anger, and their frustration. Some of course have been seeking advice, wanting to know how the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes will impact farming, and some were eager to know how demonetization will help the economy. But hearing the stories of agony and cries for help – wanting me to raise their voice for asking the governments to direct APMC to start trading, to find out where they can go and sell their potato, onion, and even paddy. Many told me, and sometimes burst out crying, telling me how they are unable to sow the rabi crop.
The pain and agony rural India is undergoing has largely failed to find space in the media, both print as well as electronic. I was appalled when I heard a senior economist say on a TV channel that farmers had no reason to complain since they have sold their paddy in the market for which they have got their minimum support price (MSP). It only shows how ill-informed they are. Only 6 per cent farmers in India get the benefit of MSP. What is not being realized is the distress sale that much of the remaining 94 per cent farmers have to undergo, and that too year after year.
Nevertheless, I want to draw your attention to another important issue that is being talked about in the media but will not be pursued for long. On Tuesday, while millions of people were standing in serpentine queues all across the country, a newspaper reported that the State Bank of India (SBI) had written-off Rs 7,016-crore of 63 willful defaulters. This includes Rs 1,201-crore of Vijay Mallya of Kingfischer Airlines, who has been on the run for quite some time now. An article in Business Standard (Feb 24, 2016) defines willful defaulters as: “truant borrowers – corporate and individuals – who, despite having the capability to repay money, do not cough up money. They are alleged to be doing it willfully. For lending banks, getting money from them is often a long legal battle.”In simple words, these are habitual offenders. They knowingly draw money from the bank with the clear objective of not repaying it back. And what shocks me is that the SBI has actually written-off the outstanding loans of these habitual offenders. I am sure you will agree the banks should have found a way by now to put them behind bars.
Instead, what baffles me is the explanation given by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament on Wednesday. According to a report in Hindustan Times (Nov 17) Finance Minister asked opposition members in Rajya Sabha not to go by the literal meaning of write-off. “There is a little bit of malapropism involved in this. Don’t go by the literal meaning. Write-off does not mean loan waiver. Loan still remains. You still continue to pursue.”
The SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya later tried to downplay the entire saga of writing-off the loans of 63 willful defaulters. These loans are not waived off but have been put under a separate head called Accounts Under Collection. Accordingly, the bank will continue to follow up with the recovery process.
I find this explanation to be a very simple cover-up being provided to protect the willful defaulters. If the banks have failed to recover all these years the outstanding loan with interest from these defaulters, I wonder what special recovery mechanism they have now to get the money back. What is still worse is that this cover up is being enacted at a time when the entire nation is standing in long lines hoping that the black money will be unearthed.
This ‘write-off’ business is a privilege extended only to the rich borrowers. As if this is not enough, the government also tries to protect their identity. If you recall, the government had earlier refused to divulge the names of 57 borrowers who owed Rs 85,000-crore to the banks. “Who are these people who have borrowed money and are not paying back? Why this fact that the person has borrowed money and not paying back be not known to the public”, asked a bench headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur.
Let us make an effort to understand why I think ‘write-offs’ is a privilege for the rich. There is hardly a day when newspapers do not carry reports of farmers committing suicide in one part of the country or the other. In the past 20 years, an estimated 3.20 lakh farmers have ended their own lives. A majority of these suicides are because of the outstanding loans that farmers are unable to repay.  I know of farmers who took their own life for inability pay back an outstanding loan of as low an amount as Rs 1.5 lakh. The other day a Punjab farmer tied up his 5-year old son to his chest and then jumped into a canal. He owed Rs 10 lakh to banks and the reason why he took his son along in the journey to death was because he felt even his son would not be able to repay the loan throughout his life.
On the contrary, I don’t find any rich defaulter committing suicide. They either run away from the country or are clubbed into the category of ‘willful’ defaulters or even defaulters which provides them immunity. These defaulters are first put under a separate head Accounts Under Collection, and after some time the performing assets in bank books become non-performing assets and are eventually written-off. Between 2012-15, Rs 1.14 lakh crore of non-performing assets (which is another name for rich defaulters) have been written-off. The Public accounts Committee informed Parliament in July 2015, that another Rs 6- lakh crore of NPAs have piled up.
This makes me wonder why the outstanding loans of farmers and for that matter the aam aadmiare not put under a separate head of Accounts Under Collection. Let the banks continue with their effort to recover the basic loan amount, but like the way SBI did to 63 defaulters farmers should also be told that their loan has been ‘written-off’. I am sure this step alone could have saved the lives of 50 per cent of the 3.2 lakh farmers who have committed suicide in the past 20 years.
Secondly, I see no reason why the names of defaulting farmers along with their picture be pasted on the notice boars in tehsil headquarters. They seem like petty criminals. And it is primarily because of the humiliation that defaulting farmers have to undergo that they commit suicide. If the names of rich defaulters are to be kept secret I don’t understand why the name of defaulting farmers should be made public. #
Categories: Ecological News

Is demonetization aimed at rescuing the banking sector?

Ground Reality - Wed, 11/16/2016 - 12:24

Long queues before banks -- Hindustan Times pic
While millions have been literally driven out of their homes, offices, shops and farms to queue up for exchanging the outlawed currency notes or getting their hard earned money from the banks, the demonetization exercise is possibly aimed at saving the banking system from a near collapse.
What appears to be an assault on black money is essentially a collateral advantage. There is no example that I know where black money has been unearthed using demonetization. This was of course known.
How important are the banks when it comes to maintaining economic balance? Well, if you have not forgotten, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global bank in the US considered too big to fail, triggered the financial crisis, which ultimately led to the global economic meltdown of 2008-09. I can therefore see the desperation to rescue the Indian banking system from an unmanageable credit crunch which can lead to financial downturn.
“A combination of negative interest rates (adjusted for inflation) and a boom in real estate and gold induced savers to increase investments in property and gold and cut down on their exposure to bank deposits and equity markets. This choked the flow of funds to banks and the capital market, making it tough for firms to raise capital,” Devendra Patil, head economist at India Ratings, was quoted as saying (Business Standard, May 31, 2014).
This was in 2014. Two years later, in 2016, the situation had only worsened with the bad loans in Indian banks continuously rising to a panicking level. With weak bank assets of Public Sector banks rising in a year, from 4-lakh crore in Mar 2015 to Rs 7.10-lakh crore in Mar 2016, which is 11.3 per cent of the loan book, the international rating agency CRISIL had downgraded rating of the debt instruments of eight PSU banks. Rising bad debts and declining profits had multiplied the risks in the banking sector. “In the face of mounting potential losses, an early clearance of the proposed Insolvency and Bankruptcy Bill will also play an important role to protect bank assets,” the former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had said.
Weak corporates with lower debt-servicing capacity had further worsened the situation. In another report, India Ratings had identified 240 of the 500 largest corporate borrowers reeling under stress as a result of which they may not be able to pay back loans taken from the banks. Accordingly, while Rs 5-lakh crore of debt falls under the stressed category, another Rs 6.7-lakh crore is under the ‘elevated risk of refinancing’ (ERR) for the financial year 2017. Knowing that the net bank debt of the top borrowers is roughly about 25-30 per cent of the total bank advances, the banks certainly are over-stressed.
India Ratings had concluded that for the overleveraged corporates, Rs 3.65-lakh crore debt is either in default or on the verge of default. An estimated Rs 7.04-lakh crore of equity infusion is required to defuse the precarious situation. Even such a huge amount will address only 4 to 6 per cent of the total outstanding debt (Indian Express, April 16, 2015).
But all that the government had promised by way of equity capital support under the ‘Indradhanush’ revamp plan was Rs 70,000-crore in the next four years. In addition, banks are expected to further raise Rs 1.1-lakh core from the markets to meet their capital requirement in line with global risk norms Basel III. Considering the piling of non-performing assets (NPAs), growing corporate debt restructuring, and the expected equity infusion to restore the health of the banking sector, the policy makers opted for the difficult route of demonetization. They couldn’t afford to allow the banking sector to go bankrupt, a gigantic mistake that happened with Lehman Brothers. 
Before I take you to the implications, let’s also look at the burgeoning bank NPAs. The 27 PSU banks had written-off a whopping Rs 1.14 lakh crore in the past three years (2012-15). The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) subsequently informed Parliament on July 21, 2015 that banks had in addition accumulated Rs 6-lakh crore of NPAs.
Protecting bank assets has therefore become the top priority. To save the banks from a virtual collapse, the only option left was the draw from the household savings. According to a report in Business Standard (May 31, 2014), households are India’s biggest contributor of savings, accounting for nearly three-fourth of all savings (72.7 per cent) in 2012-13. But the problem is that two-third of the household savings is invested in physical assets like property and gold thereby depriving the financial markets of required capital. It was therefore important to divert household savings to capital formation, and this could be done only by a decree.
Household savings by the end of financial year 2013 stood at Rs 22,124.14 billion.
Stating that he understood the inconvenience being faced by people due to demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “My decision is a little harsh. When I was young, poor people used to ask for kadak chai (strong tea) but it spoils the mood of the rich.” The tough decision to demonetize the bigger currency notes, forming 86 per cent of the total currency in circulation, therefore seems primarily aimed at drawing out the household savings. As I said earlier, the impact it will have on eradicating black money is in reality a collateral advantage. This surely is welcome. But it appears as if demonetisation has been done to launch an unfettered assault on black money. It is the other way around. Fortunately, the thrust on removing black money provides a strong political advantage. This has been largely welcomed. It has of course to be followed up with a series of tough measures, including a tab on benamiproperties that the Prime Minister has rightly announced.
In lot many ways it is like killing two birds with one stone.
It seems a benchmark for household savings has now been set. Keeping the upper limit of Rs 2.5 lakh that can be deposited in a bank account without attracting any income tax scrutiny in reality sends a very powerful message. In future, it becomes abundantly clear for ordinary people that they should not keep more than Rs 2.5 lakh cash in their homes. Even now, in the first three days after demonetization was announced on Nov 8, the State Bank of India chief told a news channel that banks have received deposits of Rs 3-lakh crore. By Nov 24, when exemptions expire to use the old currency notes expire, the government expects bank deposits to exceed Rs 10-lakh crore. This would not only meet their ‘Indradhanush’ target of raising Rs 1.1-lakh crore from the market but would also provide enough capital to infuse equity as the means to deleverage over-stressed corporate, primarily in productive sectors like infrastructure, oil and gas, minerals and mining, and telecommunication etc. At the same time, it will helps banks to clean up the balance sheets. 
As is being feared, the nationalized banks, saddled with capital after this exercise, will find it easy to reduce the lending rates. In other words, peoples’ savings will be used to provide cheaper loans to the corporate, which will use it for debt-servicing. I don’t understand why should this be the only route to ensure financial viability of investments when the government already has given huge tax concessions to the tune of Rs 42-lakh crore in the past 12 years (between 2004 and 2016). If only these taxes, good enough to wipe out poverty for 96 years, were collected there would have been no financial crisis in the first instance.  
A week before demonetization, a RBI report showed how Rs 17 trillion returns from the exports done from India in the past 44 years is not reflected in the financial books. It is feared that this huge amount is parked in tax havens. Moreover, the monthly outward remittances in the first four months of 2015 had increased to $769 million. This makes me wonder if the financial position of the corporate is so attractive why cheap public finance should be made available to them on a platter. Why can’t the government instead ensure fiscal discipline? Why can’t the banks be made more responsible and accountable?
The poor as well as the middle class is being made to cough out its household savings, not all of which is black money, and that too at a low interest rate. Again, it serves two purposes. First, the household savings are coming in cheaper for the bold and the beautiful, the rich class that Prime Minister says is taking sleeping pills. At the same time, discouraging household savings will force people to save less and spend more on consumer goods. This will eventually raise demand. The more the people incur on consumerism, mostly unwanted, the more will be the contribution to GDP. This will keep the economic growth high. #
Categories: Ecological News

Don't blame farmers for Delhi's smog

Ground Reality - Mon, 11/07/2016 - 12:26

Pic: Hindustan Times An interesting study by #IndiaSpend tells us that New Delhi's air quality prior to Diwali, October 30, was better this year than what it was in 2015. The morning after Diwali, Delhi's air quality worsened 29 times. This conclusively proves that stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana was not responsible for choking Delhi. In any case, the peak period of stubble burning was prior to Diwali when air quality was rated better than last year. If stubble burning was the reason, the air quality before Diwali too should have deteriorated. So far, more than 60 per cent of wheat sowing is complete, so Delhi people cannot simply pass on the blame to farmers. Delhi didn't turn into a 'Gas Chamber' overnight but has been a 'Gas Chamber' for more than 15 years now. Stubble burning lasts for about 15-20 days. Is Delhi's air quality clean for the remaining days of the year? Come on, lets accept it. People of Delhi are responsible for the worsening pollution. They must take the blame and do something to solve a problem which is primarily their creation. This is not to justify stubble burning. But what needs to be understood is that stubble burning is a problem created by Combine-Harvesters. It is a problem created by a technology. Going by the Polluter Pays principle they should be asked to clean up. With the application of Combines increasing over the years, the problem of stubble burning is multiplying. Combine machines cut the spike of the paddy plant leaving the stem intact. Since cattle do not feed on paddy straw, farmers find it difficult to replough as the stubble doesn't decompose. Farmers have no time to remove the stubble from the fields due to paucity of time since they have to prepare the land for wheat sowing. Moreover, it involves costs, something around Rs 5,000 per acre extra, which the Govts are reluctant to pay.

There is no perfect solutions for stubble burning. All the solutions being advocated to stop the stubble burning are very expensive, involve a number of machines, and are time consuming. Happy seeder machine, which actually is meant for zero tillage, is not helpful as the stubble collects making it difficult for the machine to operate. Farmers using Happy Seeder machines to do wheat sowing actually burn the stubble in most cases before using the machine. Using Straw reaper, Chopper, Reverse plough, Rotavator, is a very expensive option, requiring more time. It also needs the use of a heavy duty tractor, exceeding 60 HP.Penalising farmers by imposing a penalty is not correct. NGT must review its decision in the light of the difficulties the farmers are encountering.My suggestion: 1) Provide an incentive of Rs 5,000 per acre to the farmers for taking care of the stubble. 2) Govt can impose fine for stubble burning only after it meets the additional cost a farmer would incur. 3) Direct the Combine-Harvester manufacturers to make a technology intervention/improvement which enables bundling of the straw like a Baler does. In fact, it must be made compulsory for the Combines to have a Baler attached. 4)Propagate a technology developed by the National Institute for Organic Farming which makes use of the straw for compost. Punjab soils need organic matter desperately and the effort should be to add as much organic content in the soil as possible.
Categories: Ecological News

What's wrong with Crop Insurance? How to make it farmer friendly?

Ground Reality - Tue, 11/01/2016 - 12:56

Launched with much fanfare, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY) seems to have run into rough weather.
Sample this. Unseasonal rains have damaged standing crops in Nagaur district in Rajasthan. Hundreds of farmers had been running from pillar to post to bring the damage to the notice of concerned authorities. Farmers complained that with toll free number, email id being faulty and unreachable, they had no idea whom to get in touch with. In neighboring Haryana, the standing paddy crop was affected by a disease in Gohana district. More than 700 complaints were filed seeking immediate damage assessment by the revenue officials. Farmers had to resort to a serial hunger strike for 7 days before the administration promised to get a special girdwariconducted to assess the loss suffered.
While the tussle between farmers and administration continues, agricultural officials in Haryana had refused to conduct crop cutting experiments. Although the Haryana government had prohibited any strike by farm officials revoking Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) for a period of six months beginning September, agricultural officials had said that at a time when Kharifcrops had started reaching the markets, any crop cutting at this stage would be unreliable and therefore would go against the farmer’s claim for settlement.
Reports coming from Madhya Pradesh say that farmers had protested at numerous places wanting officials to assess the crop damage. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had promised action within 15 days and compensation to be paid within a month when crops are hit by unseasonal rains or hailstorm. In Maharashtra too, newspaper are full of reports of the failure of crop insurance companies to assess the crop damage.
Take this particular case. According to a news report in Rajasthan Patrika, crops like moong, moth, til, bajra, cotton, chaula, groundnut, guar and jawar were included for crop insurance under PMFBY. The maximum claim that would be applicable in moong had been worked out to Rs 16,130, which is roughly 40 per cent of the total value of the crop. If we look at the estimates prepared by the State Agriculture Department, seven quintals is the average output of moong per hectare. Going by the Minimum Support Price for moong, the total output in terms of value comes to about Rs 40,000 per hectare. So if the crop loss is 60 per cent, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay for the entire loss. Farmers have complained that the State Government had been dilly-dallying in its replies in the State Assembly on the questions being faced on crop insurance.
The reports that I have cited above are simply to give you an idea that probably the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna was launched without even assessing the problems it would throw up if not implemented properly. The government either did not visualize that there were serious problems in its implementation the way the scheme was designed or probably had too much of faith on the private insurance companies. But what I have been reading and analyzing so far, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna seems to be an insurance against any possible loss that the private sector insurance companies would incur rather than aimed at providing an insurance cover for the crop losses for the farmers.
Why I feel like saying so is because I find the crop losses and claims that are being worked out are based on open bidding. I haven’t seen crop insurance companies anywhere in the world getting into an open bidding process select areas where they would like to operate. There are roughly 12 insurance companies, including the public sector Agriculture Insurance Company Ltd (AICL), and they are quoting the premiums they are able to offer for each district. Such an exercise determines what the government subsidy is going to be since it has become mandatory for states to share the premium jointly with the Centre. Farmers have to only pay 2 per cent in case of Kharif crops, 1.5 per cent in case of Rabi crops and 5 per cent for horticultural crops.
The difficult areas, which are known to face severe weather fluctuations, are therefore left to the government agency. Even for other districts, I find the variation in the premium limits quoted by the private companies to be not based on risk-based premiums but simply based on their commercial gains. This shouldn’t have been allowed in the first instance. This clearly shows that the government’s intention is to provide an open field to the private sector companies to maximize their profits without any accountability. Take the case of Rajasthan, for instance. News reports say Rajasthan will have to provide roughly 35 per cent of its agricultural budget to implement PMFBY. This is because the insurance companies are quoting a higher premium and the government has no mechanism to force them to reduce it.
Crop insurance is also turning out to be an excellent busine3ss proposition for the private companies since they do not have to make initial investment for creating adequate infrastructure, including employing the manpower required into loss assessment and crop cutting. Agricultural officials in Haryana, who had threatened to go on strike, were justified when they said the task of crop cutting should be undertaken by the private companies. Since 24 crop cutting experiments are mandated for a district, the country will need 40 lakh crop cutting experiments to be conducted. Why shouldn’t this be paid for by the private companies?
The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna is going to be a roughly Rs 18,000-crore business activity, a jump of nearly Rs 12,000-crore from last year’s crop insurance performance. Isn’t it surprising that for getting a scooter or car insured, insurance companies employ agents across the country. But for crop insurance, they forcefully get the premium deducted through banks, and in addition do not have to make any investment for measuring crop losses. I don’t know whether this is being done to make it easy to do business or out of ignorance.
My suggestions to make this scheme more meaningful would be: 
1) Stop the deduction of premiums from the bank accounts of loanee farmers. The insurance companies do not even know what crop they have insured for the premiums are collected straight from banks. 
2) Stop the bidding process for assessing the insurance premiums. Instead, set up an independent body that provides a weather-based crop profile and also what the premium should be for each district. 
3) Make insurance companies build up a skilled workforce for crop cutting experiments. This will help generate employment among the educated and unskilled youth. 
4) Make it mandatory for the insurance companies to take a farmer’s field as a basic unit for assessing crop loss and claims. Losses cannot be estimated on the basis of the damage incurred in a block.
To begin with, since 60 per cent of the crop insurance is done in 50 risk-prone districts I see no reason why the government cannot direct each of the 12 insurance companies to implement the insurance policy on a per farm unit basis in these districts as a pilot. #     
प्रधानमंत्री फसल बीमा योजना कहीं बीमा कंपनियों को फायदा पहुंचाने की तरकीब तो नहीं. Gaon Connection. Oct 28, 2016. http://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/pm-crop-insurance-policy-if-for-farmers-or-for-insurance-companies     
Categories: Ecological News

It will take more than a loan waiver for Punjab's farmers to stop killing themselves

Ground Reality - Wed, 10/26/2016 - 18:05
Punjab farming is in crisis -- Tribune pic 
Nirmal Singh, a Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta) leader from Sangrur district in Punjab committed suicide last week. He was known to be among the few farmer leaders who campaigned against the emerging trend of farm suicides, which has turned Punjab into a hot bed of farmer suicides.
Nirmal Singh could not wait for a few months more knowing very well that the Congress party has promised to waive off the entire farm loans if voted to power. While the catchy slogan Karza Kurki Khatam, Fasal Ki Poori Rakm is drawing a huge number of farmers to fill the form that the volunteers of Congress party are distributing among farmers. According to news reports, 22 lakh forms have been filled so far.
At the same time, the spate of farm suicides continues unabated. There is hardly a day when three to four suicides are not reported from somewhere in Punjab. The recurring tragedy on the farm is also happening at a time when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too has announced a farm waiver if it comes into power. In a Kisan Manifesto released a few weeks back, AAP has also promised to pay 50 per cent profit over the cost of production as per the recommendation of the Swaminathan Committee. Picking up from Congress party’s drive to get loan forms filled by farmers, AAPtoo has launched a similar campaign.
With two political parties promising to waive off the outstanding farm loans, I thought the farmers would have preferred to wait and see before ending their own lives. After all, it is a matter of few months only. But this is not happening. The reason why farmers do not believe the political parties can be either they have no faith in what the political parties promise going by the past experience or they know for sure that they will as usual be treated nothing more than a vote bank.
Whatever be the reason, the fact that a progressive agricultural state like Punjab is faced with a terrible agrarian crisis, and if my assessment is correct, Punjab’s devastated farming system has virtually turned into a powder keg waiting for a trigger. In other words, the agrarian crisis that Punjab is faced today is in many ways the reason for the growing drug menace. No political party can afford to turn a blind eye anymore to the severity of the crisis that has been swept under the carpet for long. Nor do they seem to know how to tame the prevailing crisis. 
In Punjab, the food bowl of the country, agrarian distress has been mounting with each passing year. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) debt of private moneylenders and commission agents has witnessed a significant hike in the past 10 years. A survey by Punjabi University, Patiala, published in Jan 2016, has put the outstanding debt at Rs 69,355-crores. Government estimates point to Rs 36,000-crore of loan to be waived off.
Most farmers commit suicide unable to bear the humiliation that comes along when public sector banks and arhtiyas seize their assets when they fail to pay back outstanding loan.
This brings me to the moot question. After all, why should farmers in the country’s food bowl commit suicide? In 2015, 449 farmers had ended their lives. 2015 was a bad agricultural year but the death toll on the farm is in fact worsening with each passing month. Between April 1 and April 26, 39 farmers have reportedly taken to the gallows. At this rate, I will not be surprised if the death toll this year overtakes last year’s figures. In fact, unofficial estimates have already exceeded last year’s toll. That such a tragic serial death dance is being enacted in a state which is considered to be the most prosperous as far as agriculture is concerned speaks volumes of the neglect, apathy and indifference. The entire fault cannot be passed to the State government. Punjab Agricultural University and the Punjab Farmers’ Commission too have to admit that they have somehow failed to keep a finger on the dark underbelly of Punjab agriculture. Needless to say there is something terribly going wrong.
I have heard agricultural economists and policy makers often shift the blame to low crop productivity, failure to go for crop diversification and lack of irrigation. In a State which has 98 per cent assured irrigation and where the per hectare yields of wheat and paddy match international levels I see no reason why then farmers should be dying. As per the Economic Survey 2016, the per hectare yield of wheat in Punjab stands at 4,500Kg/hectare which matches the wheat yields in United States. In case of paddy, the average yield is 6,000Kg/hectare, quite close to the paddy productivity levels in China. With such high yields and with abundant irrigation available why farmers should be dying?
If you are still not convinced, here is a little more insight into how progressive Punjab farmers are. In a study, Prof H S Shergill, emeritus professor at Panjab University, has compared the Punjab agriculture with developed country agriculture using mechanisation, chemical technology, capital intensity and productivity. The number of tractors per 1,000 hectares is 122 in Punjab compared to 26 in US, 76 in UK, 65 in Germany; fertiliser use is 449Kg/hectare per year which fares rather favourably with 103 Kg in US, 208 Kg in UK, 278 Kg in Japan; irrigated area is 98 per cent in Punjab compared to 11.4 per cent in US, 2.0 per cent in UK, 35.0 per cent in Japan; and the cereal yield per hecatre and per year is 7,633 Kg in Punjab, 7,238 Kg in US, 7,460 Kg in France, 7,008 in UK and 5,920 Kg in Japan. Now with such a high level of intensive farming, which is what economists have been asking for, than why are Punjab farmers committing suicide?
Waiving off the loans therefore is not the only solution that can address the crisis at large. It has to be accompanied by appropriate policies that bring back the smile on the face of farmers. Unfortunately, none of the political parties have a roadmap that can point towards restoring the prosperity back into Punjab villages. This is because the political leadership faces a drought of ideas on how to resurrect agriculture. Nor do they have the vision to look ahead, at least 20 years ahead, to significantly plan for a revival of farming. Writing off the outstanding loans, even if it actually happens, does not mean that the loans will not once again pile up in the next four to five years.
Punjab needs a reform package that looks at agriculture holistically. A few political announcements without coming out with a roadmap for reviving Punjab’s agriculture will only end up exacerbating the prevailing crisis. The country’s food bowl faces twin problems of economic viability and long-term sustainability. Intensive farming has played havoc with the soil fertility necessitating more application of chemical fertilizers; excessive use and abuse of chemical pesticides has contamination the food chain as well as the environment; and lack of adequate income by way of stagnating minimum support prices has pushed farmers into a spiral web of indebtedness, mounting with every cropping season.
To begin with, Punjab needs to move away from the intensive cropping system that it has been following since the days of Green Revolution. It has to move towards an ecological sustainable farming system, implemented in a time bound manner. It requires a shift in the research mandate of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) accompanied by policies and programmes that encourages farmers to shift without suffering any economic loss. Addressing the sustainability crisis without providing an assured monthly income will be meaningless. Punjab must take the lead by setting up a Punjab State Farmers Income Commission, which has a mandate to work out a mechanism to provide a guaranteed monthly package depending upon the farm size and the production attained. #   
It will take more than a loan waiver for Punjab's farmers to stop killing themselves. The Wire. Oct 24, 2016. http://thewire.in/75526/long-term-reforms-not-loan-waiver-farmers-can-resolve-punjabs-agrarian-crisis/
Categories: Ecological News

Varun Gandhi's efforts to help debt-ridden farmers is laudable indeed.

Ground Reality - Sat, 10/22/2016 - 13:54

I have never met him. But what I read in the newspapers gives me a lot of hope. Varun Gandhi, the young BJP MP from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh has already created quite a stir with his honest efforts to rescue farmers who are somehow surviving on the edges.
“Varun Gandhi’s fund for farmers now a movement in Uttar Pradesh” screams a headline in The Economic Times. “Varun Gandhi’s farmer-funding initiative is the wake-up call India needs,” writes Firstpost. The more I read about his trendsetting initiative, the more curious I became to know about his continuous engagement with a dying community. I am talking of the 60-crore farmers, who have been deliberately kept impoverished by successive governments, and who continue to silently bear the brunt of economic reforms.
At a time when farmers have been pushed to the margins, it is heartening to see a young parliamentarian stepping out to help the marginalized. I am told it all began a few months before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when Varun Gandhi began to provide financial support to families of debt-strapped farmers. He identified farming families, whose bread-earning member had already committed suicide or looked for those families which were on the verge of starvation. Initially, he began supporting them with Rs 50,000 for each family thereby putting in Rs 1.4-crore from his own resources.
Normally such election-linked initiatives end once the elections are over. But the mere fact that Varun Gandhi continued to rescue the debt-trapped families, and subsequently reached out to local businessmen and well-to-do professionals like doctors, lawyers and traders to chip in, shows his untiring commitment towards the poor farmers. The local elite contributed Rs 16.2-crore which helped pull out more than 3,500 farming families from the debt-trap. As a newspaper reported, what began as a simple financial support initiative has now virtually grown into a movement that has spread to 20 districts.
And last week, he also donated 100 one-room houses with attached toilet and a tinned roof painted in “sunshine yellow” to farmers who otherwise were living in thatched huts. Costing about Rs 1.5 lakh each, he plans to provide 2,000 such single room houses across the state.
This is certainly remarkable by any standards. In my understanding Varun Gandhi demonstrates what an ex-US President John F Kennedy had penned it as a “Courage of Conviction”.
“While it remains a limited exercise with limited resources, I want to transform it into a mass movement by increasing its scale. We will now take to crowd funding for the next phase in which we aim to help 10,000 families in agrarian distress,” he told a newspaper. To another journalist he explained how he identifies the farming families in distress, and how tough it is to make the donors understand the dire need to bail out these families who otherwise are on the brink of committing suicide. “Typically, if a farmer defaults on a loan for three cycles in a row, combined with adverse weather conditions, the chances of suicide rise to almost 50 per cent. The cases that are chosen all fall in the extreme category.” 
Hats off to you, Varun Gandhi. This is exactly what I meant by saying “Courage of Conviction”. Your conviction speaks louder than anything else I have seen. More power to your efforts.
Varun Gandhi’s initiative to help farmers living in abject poverty also echoes a similar kind of humanitarian task undertaken by two Bollywood stalwarts – Nana Patekar and Akshey Kumar. They too have been raising funds to bail out farming families who have faced farm suicides. I admire their initiative also, and as I have said earlier they too have shown remarkable courage not only by stepping out of their cozy confines but in the process also drawing the nation’s attention to the serial death dance being enacted on the farm. I wonder whether at some stage, the three of them – Varun Gandhi, Nana Patekar and Akshey Kumar can come together. I think if they do, they will be able to wake up the country to the silent plight the farmers are undergoing simply because they have the responsibility to provide cheaper food on our tables.
Bailing out farming families in distress is a great task, let there be no doubt about it. But I have a worry. The chances are that a majority of those who have been pulled out of the debt trap will again slide back with the passage of time. This has happened time and again. Let me illustrate. Uttar Pradesh is among the 17 States in India where the average income of farming household has been computed at Rs 20,000 per year. This comes to a paltry Rs 1,667 a month. And if you think farmers in a progressive state like Haryana are any better, think again. According to a Haryana Agricultural University study, the net average return from cultivating wheat in Haryana comes to Rs 800 per month.
You can therefore bail out these families once or twice but eventually they will slide back into distress, the outstanding credit will pile up.
My appeal therefore to Varun Gandhi is to compliment the one-time write-off of outstanding loans with demand for policy changes that ensures an income parity for farmers, an income level that enables a farmer to send his son/daughter for college education or provides him enough to take care of medical expenses to say the least. I see no reason why a chaprasi should be able to get a monthly basic salary of Rs 18,000 whereas a farmer fails to make even Rs 2,000 a month. This is because, as I said earlier, a farmer is in reality being penalized to grow food. He is being denied his legitimate income. #  
कर्ज़मुक्त कराने के साथ किसानों की आय बढ़ाने की ओर भी उठें ठोस कदम Gaon Connection. Oct 21, 2016. https://goo.gl/6mMp4N
Categories: Ecological News

Outsourcing Pulses and Oilseeds Production to BRICS Partners. Forgetting that Importing Food is like Importing Unemployment.

Ground Reality - Fri, 10/21/2016 - 17:33

At a time when the country is faced with a massive unemployment crisis, the decision to invite BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – to cultivate pulses and oilseeds and ship it to India will only end up pushing more and more farmers out of agriculture.
Agriculture scientist Dr M S Swaminathan had once remarked: ‘Importing food is like importing unemployment.’ I had thought this was a loud enough warning and government would at least be careful in not deliberately destroying the tremendous potential agriculture has in creating gainful employment. With a minus 0.43 per cent drop in job creation in the last quarter April-June 2016, India continues to be in the grip of what is called jobless growth.
But agriculture doesn’t seem to be an area of concern for the government. Only a fortnight back, addressing the BRICS farm ministers meeting in New Delhi, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said ministers from these countries have agreed to promote production of pulses and oilseeds in their respective countries after India asked for help in meeting its shortfall in domestic production. This offers huge business opportunities to the BRICS countries, he added. Earlier, the Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had also acknowledged India’s efforts to woo Brazil into cultivation of pulses to meet the growing domestic demand. Since Brazil has not been growing pulses, India even offered to provide improved seeds of pulses varieties.
The move to outsource the production of oilseeds and pulses to the BRICS countries comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had about two months back signed an agreement with Mozambique from where an import of one lakh tonne of pulses will hopefully begin in two years time. He had promised to procure every grain of the legume that farmers would cultivate in Mozambique and at a price which would not be lower than Minimum Support Price (MSP). India had also been searching for a possibility to grow pulses in Myanmar and some other African countries like Ethiopia, Uganda.
As if this is not enough, the government has slashed the import duty on potatoes from 30 to 10 per cent; on wheat from 25 to 10 per cent; on import of crude palm oil from 12.5 to 7.5 per cent and on refined oil from 20 to 15 per cent. Lowering the import duty means opening the floodgates to cheaper imports. Although reduction of import duties is justified in the name of taming food inflation but when cheaper imports come in, it is the small and marginal farmers who are forced to abandon agriculture.
The growing reliance on cheaper (and highly subsidized) imports of agricultural commodities, including pulses, edible oils, wheat, apple, rubber, coconut, silk, fish, a horde of fruit products and juices, are linked primarily to the policy imperative that aims to drive farmers out of agriculture. I have time and again said that this approach follows a directive from the World Bank way back in 1990s wanting India to move 400 million people from the rural to the urban areas by 2015. To achieve this, successive governments have been systematically squeezing public investments in agriculture and by denying farmers a fair and remunerative price kept farming impoverished.
Cultivation of pulses is a classic example. Although the area under pulses cultivation has increased in Kharif by a whopping 29 per cent, and the production in 2016-17 is estimated to go up to a record 20 million tones, there still would be a shortfall by 3 to 4 million tonnes. Although the government has hiked the MSP for some of the pulses, the fact remains that it is the volatility in prices that discourages farmers to take up pulses cultivation. If the government can provide an assurance to farmers in Mozambique and in Brazil that it will procure whatever is produced I fail to understand why the same assurance cannot be given to Indian farmers? It is the lack of assured procurement that is the primary reason why farmers have been reluctant to take up pulses cultivation.
Instead of helping the domestic farmers, the government is now outsourcing pulses production to Africa, Brazil and Russia.
After India lost the WTO dispute with America over the import of chicken legs, the poultry industry should be ready for a hit. The dairy industry too is under pressure to open up to cheap imports from European Union, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, some mainline economists have been openly vouching for it. They even want the sluice gates to be lifted for vegetable and fruit imports, endorsing the demand that European Union is making under the Indo-EU Free Trade Agreement. Already apple imports are coming in from 44 countries.
While on the one hand India is expected to protect its food security concerns as well as farm livelihoods at the international negotiations, the autonomous liberalization that goes unheeded at the domestic policy level is likely to inflict a much bigger blow to the future of Indian agriculture. For a country which has 600 million people dependent upon agriculture, and given that urban employment opportunities are fast drying, the challenge should be on how to make farming economically viable. Contrary to the dominant economic thinking, agriculture alone has the potential to reboot the economy. Outsourcing food production to BRICS countries, and opening up to cheaper imports, will not only destroy food self-sufficiency but once again make India to stand with a begging bowl. 
Importing Pulses is a Bad Idea, Even if From India's BRICS Partners. The Wire. Oct 16, 2016http://thewire.in/73335/importing-pulses-bad-idea-even-indias-brics-partners/

Categories: Ecological News

Global Hunger Index: India's dismal performance in combating hunger

Ground Reality - Tue, 10/18/2016 - 12:43

This has become an annual ritual. The Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) releases its Global Hunger Index ranking countries in proportion to its population living faced with hunger and under nutrition. India ranks 97 among the 118 developing nations, faring worse than all its neighbours except for Pakistan.
In the first such index prepared eleven years back in 2006, India had ranked 96 among 119 countries. So this year, when the GDP growth rate is being claimed to be among the highest in the world, India had fared worse than where it stood 11 years back.
I am not surprised. A day or two after the report is released the media performs the ritual of diligently reporting about India’s abysmal ranking in hunger. It’s then all but forgotten, picked up again when the latest report is released. You will see the same kind of editorials; the same kind of commentary pieces. Once the issue fades away, it is back to business as usual. Not only the media, policy makers too forget about hunger and move on to better the economic growth prospects: more six-lane highways, more mega irrigation projects, more airports at mofussil towns, provisioning for infrastructure projects, privatization of forests and natural resources.
Removing hunger has never been on the priority list.
Every Prime Minister has talked of fighting hunger and poverty. To name a few: Indira Gandhi had launched the Garibi Hatao programme; more recently Dr Manmohan Singh had gone to the extent of calling malnourishment “a national shame”; and an emotional Narendra Modi had dedicated his government to the poor when he addressed for the first time the BJP Parliamentary party meeting at the Central Hall. And yet, hunger has remained robustly sustainable. One forth of world’s estimated 800 million hungry continue to live in India. In fact, India’s track-record in fighting hunger and child mortality is worse than that in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For 11 years at least, since the Global Hunger Index was launched in 2006, India has little to show when it comes to elimination of mankind’s worst scourge. I am aware that minimizing hunger quite a complex and challenging task. But it certainly is not impossible. But despite the pious intentions of our successive Prime Ministers, the task of designing appropriate and suitable economic policies is left to the mandarins in the bureaucracy, who unfortunately are in the clutches of corporate economic thinking that views poverty eradication only from the prism of failed ‘trickle down’ theory.
In the public debates at the time when the National Food Security Act was being discussed in 2013, I recall the strong opposition that came from mainline economists who only viewed the expenditure to feed 50 per cent poor in the urban and 75 per cent poor in rural areas to be nothing but wasteful expenditure. They had argued against the proposed outlay saying that it would only add to the country’s huge fiscal deficit. Whether it is the budgetary outlay for MNREGA or for agriculture, the effort has been to restrict it to bare minimum. Dismantling pivotal social security nets like public sector education and health has further added on to rural and urban poverty.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi therefore has a great opportunity at hand to take the bull by the horn, in this case launch a frontal attack on eliminating poverty and hunger. Knowing that all past efforts have failed, the monumental task would need a fresh and holistic approach. If the government can be seen making an effort on month-to-month basis on improving its Ease of Doing Business ranking, I see no reason why India’s ranking in the Global Hunger index cannot be turned upside down. All it requires is a strong political will. # 
Take bull by its horns & launch frontal attack to end hunger games. New Indian Express, Oct 16, 2016. http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2016/oct/16/take-1528283.html
Categories: Ecological News

An overtime for farm workers? California grants it.

Ground Reality - Sun, 10/16/2016 - 12:06

Will these farm workers ever get an overtime? 
An Overtime for farm workers? No, I am not kidding. California has become the first State in the United States to actually grant an overtime allowance to agricultural workers.
Not many in India will believe this. Farm workers too would laugh it off. But for the United Farm Workers of America, which sponsored the overtime bill, the historic legislation that was passed in September this year is a grand victory that came almost after 80-years fight to get the same dignity for farm workers which non-farm workers have been getting over the decades.Farm workers in California are now entitled to overtime after eight hours on the job or after having worked 40 hours in a week. This historic legislation has drawn a lot of appreciation, including the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
It may take some time for farm worker unions in India to understand the economic implications of such legislation. But I personally feel such legislation whenever introduced will be a major step forward in ensuring economic justice, the very foundation of inclusive growth. I have always felt dismayed seeing farm workers slogging for hours together, sometimes even into the night when threshing operations are in full swing, and getting paid literally peanuts in return. The fight for economic justice for these hapless millions has yet to begin.
I am aware that an overtime legislation India will throw up an angry protest from the farming community which already is faced with low availability of farm labour after the MNREGA legislation was implemented. The impact it will have on farmers, the government and the consumer prices will have to be factored in whenever a debate is initiated in this country. Even in America, the overtime bill took 80 long years, and that too after a fierce debate that followed all along.
“This is a historic day,” said Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the bill in California Assemble, adding: “They are finally going to be treated with the same dignity and respect as every hourly worker.” This is exactly what I have in mind. Why should farm workers, who work equally as hard as an industrial worker, not get the same benefits? Why should farm workers be treated with low dignity? They too need to be accorded the same dignity and respect.
In America, the agricultural community had lobbied hard against the provisions of the bill. They had said that the overtime payments would backfire on farm workers as the farmers who employ them will now be saddled with higher costs, which will eventually increase the food prices thereby hurting the consumers. To quite an extent, farmers are right. We will therefore have to work out mechanisms that make farmers not lose out in the process but be willing to help the farm workers economically. After all, farm workers are among the most vulnerable of the unorganized labour force and deserve a better future.
In India too, I can see a huge protest from the farmer unions. Considering that nearly 82 per cent of the farmers in India fall in the category of small and marginal, and knowing that more than 58 per cent farmers (in some States as much as 68-72 per cent farmers) have to depend on non-farm activities like MNREGA and working on other farms, they too would benefit from an overtime legislation. At the same time, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) which calculates the minimum support prices (MSP) for crops should also be directed to factor in the additional costs on account of the overtime charges a farmer has to pay.
Even in America, overtime for farm workers has been introduced in a phased manner. According to the Los Angeles Times it was in 1938 that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act first announced minimum wages and overtime for workers but kept farm workers out. In 1941, another legislation in California kept farm workers out of the provisions of an overtime. But it was only in 1976 that the State Industrial Welfare Commission allowed overtime for farm workers. The entitlement was only applicable if the farm workers put in more than 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week. But for other non-farm workers, the overtime entitlement was for 8 hours a day. It has taken 40 years for the anomaly to be removed.
Any provisioning for introducing overtime for farm workers has to be accompanied by setting up of a Farmers Income Commission, which should also work out the minimum daily wage that needs to be ensured to a farm worker. I see no reason why a farm worker should not be entitled to a minimum daily wage of Rs 9,100 per month that has been made obligatory for non-farm workers. Raising the farm workers wages has to be accompanied by raising farm prices. This becomes imperative considering that over 52 per cent of the farming community in India comprise of landless farm workers. In essence, this alone will ensure in reality what the Prime Minister desires when he says Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. #   
विदेश में खेतिहर मजदूरों को मिलेगा ओवरटाइम, ये सच्चाई है व भारत के लिए सीख भी. Gaon Connection, Oct 14, 2016.   
Categories: Ecological News

Prices Commission should be rechristened as: "Commission for Farmers Income & Welfare'

Ground Reality - Fri, 10/14/2016 - 12:29

Why shouldn't a farmer expect an assured monthly income package? 
In September, the government raised the minimum wages for non-farm workers by 42 per cent. This enhanced the minimum wages from the existing Rs 246 a day to Rs 351 a day, bringing it to a minimum of Rs 9,100 for a month.
But if you have noticed, the rise in minimum wages the government announced is only for non-agricultural workers. Although the trade unions are not happy, and have been demanding a minimum statutory wage of Rs 18,000 per month for workers in the “C” category, the question that needs to be asked is why the prescribed minimum wages should not apply to farm workers? After all, farm labour works equally hard; often for more than 12 hours a day, and the best what they can earn is a MNREGA wage.
This is certainly not fair. Considering that more than 50 per cent farmers in India, as per Census 2011, are actually landless thereby meaning that they fall in the category of non-farm workers, they will remain deprived of the statutory minimum wage. And that makes me wonder if the average monthly income of farm households in 17 States as per the Economic Survey 2016, is Rs 20,000 a year, or Rs 1,667 per month, what the landless farmers would be getting. Perhaps, less than Rs 50 a day. Is that a living human wage?
This is primarily the reason why I have been demanding a separate Farmers’ Income Commission, which also works out the minimum wages for non-farm workers. I have been often asked to explain the rationale behind the need for a separate income commission for farmers when a price mechanism for providing a minimum support prices (MSP) already exists. More so at a time when farmer leaders across the country are demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report that recommends a 50 per cent profit over the cost of production. Will this not be enough? Why the need for a separate commission then?
While I agree that farmers should definitely get 50 per cent profit as part of the MSP the government announces, the fact remains that only 6 per cent farmers in the country get the benefit of MSP. The remaining 94 per cent farmers remain at the mercy of the market forces. Moreover, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) making it abundantly clear that procurement prices cannot exceed the limit of 10 per cent of the total value of the crop, the option to further raise the MSP is getting restricted. Let’s therefore be clear. The time for ‘price policy’ is over. It has to be replaced by an ‘income policy’.
When I look at the way the procurement prices are calculated, I realize that it barely covers the cost of production plus a ten per cent profit and that too as a managerial cost. On the other hand, the minimum wages for non-agricultural workers are computed as per the recommendation of the Indian Labour Conference, 1957. Accordingly, the minimum wage should be based on the minimum human needs, for which a set of norms have been laid out:
1.  Three consumption units for one earner in a standard working family, with the earnings of women, children and adolescent in the family being disregarded.
2.  Net intake of 2,700 calories for an average Indian adult of moderate activity.
3.  Per capita consumption of cloth of 18 yards per annum, which would mean for the average workers family of 4 a total of 72 yards.
4.  Rent corresponding to the minimum area provided for under the Subsidised Industrial Housing Scheme for low-income groups.
5.  Fuel, lighting and other miscellaneous items of expenditure to constitute 20 per cent of the total minimum wage.
A report in Indian Express further added that a Supreme Court order in 1991 had laid out a set of six criteria for working out a minimum wage: children’s education, medical requirement, minimum recreation including festivals, ceremonies, provision for old age and marriage, should constitute 25 per cent of the wage. Further, the minimum wage includes a dearness allowance which is revised twice a year and is now being merged with the basic pay. 
I see no reason why the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which recommends the MSP for 23 crops every year, should not be incorporating the six minimum criteria as spelled out by the Supreme Court. When did you hear of farmers being given any of these allowances? Since MSP is the only way a farmer’s income is worked out, I see no reason why farmers should be deprived of these minimum human needs that need to be incorporated in the procurement price? 
I am not asking for 108 allowances that the central government employees will be getting under the 7th Pay Commission, all I am seeking is just four allowances to be given to farmers – educational, medical, housing, and travel. For 50 years in a row, ever since the Green Revolution was launched in 1966, farmers have been deprived of a need-based procurement price that includes the six criteria for a living human wage. No wonder, agrarian distress has been mounting with every passing year pushing more than 3-lakh farmers to the gallows in the past 20 years.
Farmer leaders must understand that demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Committee report will not do justice. First, Swaminathan report will only benefit 6 per cent of country’s farmers who are able to sell their produce at MSP leaving 94 per cent as losers; and secondly, since the MSP cannot be raised beyond the permissible limit laid out by WTO, the government will continue to deny farmers the real price. The need therefore is to set up a Farmers Income Commission that works out the minimum assured monthly income package that a farming family must get. Even Dr Swaminathan himself has been asking for a Farmers Income Commission.
The trade unions are demanding an amendment in the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, that also extends the privileges to contract workers. Farmer leaders should learn from the way the ten trade unions have come together to fight for workers rights. They too need to forge a common understanding about the prickly income issues and seek an amendment to change the terms of references of the CACP. The CACP should no longer compute only the cost of production for different crops but should be directed to work out a monthly income package based on the minimum human needs. The name of the CACP should therefore be changed to ‘Commission for Farmers Income & Welfare’. #

इन्हें कीमत नहीं, आय चाहिए Amar Ujala, Oct 13, 2016
Categories: Ecological News
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