Such claims invite more cynicism than optimism!

A mid-term review of the year, the economy projects a higher economic growth in agriculture. Some newspapers gave such figures like three to four per cent for agriculture, while others, more sober newspapers simply omitted the exact figures and simply talked of a ‘slightly higher growth rate in farm sector!

Who talks of agriculture? Everyone! Yes, it all depends upon who the person is talking of agriculture. If it is the Prime Minister, then it is all macro economic statistics! So too his deputies in the government. New Delhi politicians and experts turned politicians etc are all of one type. They simply don’t bother to know what is happening at the farm fields, they don’t care!

All they care is their offices! Yes, the Cabinet reshuffle is now more a talk than a possibility. So, no minister in Delhi, is now interested to sit in his office and do some genuine work. Sharad Pawar is busy with the multi-crore cricket board of which he was elected. Every other Minister, more so after the sacking of Natwar Singh is sitting back and watching how Sonia Gandhi would manage the survival of the UPA and therefore the semblance of government provided by Manmohan Singh. So, any news of strict sensitive politiucal nature or news of more substantial nature like new investments in agriculture, infrastructure or FDI or major policy thinking invites more cynicism than optimism! 7.5 growth this year,10 per cent growth in 2-3 years and 4 per cent growth in agriculture How to take the Prime Minister’s growth percentages?

Heard of the World Economic Forum? It is a private initiative by a Swiss entrepreneur who had elevated this institution into a high profile event for CEOs and political leaders from incumbent heads of states to retired ones and everyone who wants to have a brand name for economic expertise to future growth is slowly responding to our initiatives and if we sustain our efforts, we may see India emerging as a granary of the world. The private sector must not miss out this opportunity and must ride the boom that I see on the horizon”.

Commenting on the proceedings of the Forum and also on the speech of the Finance Minister at the same venue, a news report makes the following criticism: “The FM unveiled a six-point agenda of minimum reforms to reach the 8 per cent growth.

He confined himself to agriculture etc. There is general agreement among politicians and economists that that the key to 8 per cent growth lies in the agriculture sector. If this sector posts a healthy 4 per cent growth, then the 8 per cent is eminently possible. To ensure this the FM suggested public investment in irrigation and possibly the corporate sector in agriculture itself. Though corporate and contract farming has been tried with success in some parts of the country to extend this model to the whole country appears problematic. The FM added the land-tiller relationship in India was “sacrosanct” and the govt. would do nothing to upset it”.

Yes, it is here both the PM and his FM hit the road block. When your formulations of policies you think right hit road blocks, what do you do? You then branch off into more abstract formulations! That is what both the PM and FM had done. Anyway, they both know well they don’t have any grasp of the grass root realities, more so in agriculture and as such we can see where we are wasting precious time in talking, talking and more talking. And not doing anything practical and pragmatic in the given realities. Indian agriculture, as we have said many a time, is largely concentrated in largely small (even unviable) holdings. Luckily, when New Delhi politicians and the bureaucrats were playing with statistics there was Mr.Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister who visited the far off Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala to inaugurate a seminar on Kerala’s prospect for economic prosperity. A highly discouraging theme at the very best of times. More so, now when the Congress is voted back to power and the Leftists were more interested in making business ventures! Like private television channels, amusement parks etc. In contrast in West Bengal the Chief Minister is trying to break the CPI (M) mindset by selling off sick PSUs, inviting FDI in agro processing and giving a guarantee of “no strokes” in IT companies. So, the West Bengal CM’s Kerala speech was watched carefully by fellow CPI(M) wallahs, more so the pontificating polit-bureau in New Delhi but also by persons outside the Left. The W.Bengal CM had the courage of conviction when he said that while the government in his state succeeded in giving land to farmless labour, some 34 lakh persons were made “owners”, there are new problems cropping up there. What are they?

Those who were made landowners that are on tenancy records are also subdividing the land sizes and so, the CM admitted, a new class of landless persons was emerging! Also, smaller, unviable landholdings are posing problems for economic efficiency and productivity. Also we have some outdated laws like land reforms like land ceiling and tenancy rights. These are sacrosanct and yet the ground level realities are changing the rural economic scene. There is today great pressure for small land owners to move out of farming which is a loss-making field. So, there is a growing market for parting with agriculture land.

There are not enough buyers. The new sales in the rural land market is often between some urban buyers, more to park the black money or surplus funds for sometime and thus we witness the agricultural land is changing hands from distressed farming families into non-farming families. There is practically no investment in the farm sector. We are talking of the private sector investments. We don’t know what private enterprise the Prime Minister is talking about when he calls for the private enterprise to invest in farming. Surely, the PM is not thinking of the corporate sector. Better he doesnt. Otherwise, he will be inviting trouble from the Left as well as from those who knows the agri sector well, as insiders.

It is good that Maharashtra government has come out with a package of help for Vidarbha poor farmers. Such state-level interventions, if possible with a sympathetic help from the Centre could given Indian farming much needed push to modernise and respond to market forces. Whether we like or not it is the market forces, it is the WTO-pushed international trade in farm goods and services that will give some reality for the Indian agri sector. What it produces and what it sells and how much we export our farm goods and services in the export markets. A severe dose of realism is needed for any meaningful agri reforms. Unfortunately, in the last 60 years of our Freedom, it is the agri sector that didn’t get any significant visionary leader or thinker to give Indian farmers the much needed self-respect and some dignity. To talk of public investment in irrigation on a

large scale sounds nice. But who will invest? The Government? No way. There are shortage of funds. Even the on-going schemes are being curtailed by the Finance Ministry as against the wishes of the Planning Commission.

To use Bill Gates language, we have to do business in agriculture by catering to a “market India”‘ Relax the existing rules and laws on land holding and tenancy holdings. Let those who are inclined to own land, own. Let those who are inclined to live in village, live. Others, even the poor farmers, landless labour automatically will migrate to cities that are now growing fats and attracting more people from the rural areas for various employments.

– V.Isvarmurti

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