Why our villages remain as they are?
Why our agriculture neglected? It is Gandhi-Nehru legacies of an idealistic or unrealistic world views?

C.K.Prahalad, the management guru had put forward the thesis of “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. Who the BOP? The poor, right? But then, where does the real rural India come in? The various social hierarchies, the upper-lower social formations and the land owning and landless people. There is no realism in our thinking of the rural development. May be we inherited the Gandhi-Nehru visions, each one of which is falwed, as we can see it now, where  neither the farmer finds a place nor his intrinsic worth is recognised and fostered.

What we need is to recognise the existing rural realities. Where land ownership is concentrated in a particular way. So, we have to protect and promote the land owning classes with all social equities ensured. We need to have landless labour. Now, agriculture is in deep crisis, heavy farm debts, thriving private money lending, no farm labour, rising wages, uncertain markets etc.

The current populist urban-centric, World Bank experts drawn plans for rural development, be it state-sponsored employment guarantee programme or MSP driven foodgrains production schemes work fully. Or, sustainable in the long-term. What applies to our free market economic development model in some form or other must also be applicable for rural India’s development needs. A prosperous agriculture sector, a prosperous non-farm tiny and small enterprises sector have to thrive in an otherwise, supposdely a fast growing economy.

This is not happening now. Our economic growth is not sufficiently equitable and dispersed enough to accommodate all the economic interest groups. This is the flaw in the current economic develop model.

To that extent our politics is also very superficial. Caste and communal politics takes precedence over genuine, deeply honest economic upliftment of all sections. In the current model, neither the rural rich nor the rural poor really stand to gain. Both stand to lose by the present day, crony-type of unbridled capitalism and the government seems to have given up all pretences to any planned development through a well-thought out dispersed development growth in all sectors benefiting all social and economic segments.

Yes, our development vision, if you so like it, has come increasingly focused on urban-centric. Why is this so? What made us become so unconcerned about the plight of the rural India, villages, our farming and our poor?

Economic growth or development, left to its own unregulated path, could become a vicious circle in its own way and would squeeze the poor and the vulnerable and the unprotected. That is what is happening today. Dr.Singh and Ahluwalia may be economic experts but they are not practical people engaged in the practical world affairs. That is one reason why our much-talked about fast-growing economy yet creates this   farm suicide pockets in the midst of so much activity. A case of private squalor in the outwardly public prosperity!

A recent heart-rending story tells about a farmer in Bidar, Bheemrao Manigempure and his family received a cheque from a philanthropist after seeing the 75-year old with his son and daughter in law yoked to a plough appeared in a newspaper picture.

Land ownership is not considered as morally right?
Gandhi’s rural India is romantic, the Ramrajya etc.
Nehru had contempt for feudal India?
How to create a sustainable and secure rural India where farmers would live and work and create wealth at the grassroots?

Another recent picture tells the same type of a story in Bihar where the Union Rural Development Minister, Raghuvansinh Yadva’s brother’s farm employing two school kids yoked to a plough, the picture was flashed on TV news channels.
These are deeply disturbing visuals about the state of our rural India.

The lone farmer who received the cheque for Rs.10,000  from a Delhi businessman is even now better. In fact, now he is in a  worse situation! The local bank gave him a loan that also had a subsidy of Rs.10,000 from the government, the loan is Rs.18,000 and he bought two bullocks to plough his four acre of dry land and he wants to dig a bore well and that is nearly impossible for it would cost him  a cool Rs.one lakh and as he sees his neighbouring farmers, his own brother owns 9 acres and has a bore well and as in the rest of the Bidar district, the lands are all rain-fed and that defines his position as a farmer in perennial debts only! Last khariff season he got rains ,he harvested three quintals of green gram and two quintals of black gram and the next rabi season his jowar and bengal gram crops failed.

This is not an unusual story, rather what is unusual about this farmer is that he was lucky to get a  help from an unknown, distant philanthropist. That is all.
Now, what is really happening in the rural India?

The villages remain as neglected as ever, a mindset of the politicians is that villages have to remain as ever, a backward region where the  vote-bank is all that counts. So, all the development schemes have turned into  populist schemes. All the real sustainable development schemes don’t fetch votes and you see the current rural development schemes are all geared to such populist appeals only.
The UPA government can be termed as the  worst offender, if it is to the rural development vision as such.

First, there are no systematic plans to make the farmers feel secure. They are threatened by several  developments. Land ownership is bedeviled by new uncertainties. Any further urbanisation process would only uproot the traditional farming families only. There is a feverish real estate atmosphere created by the sudden demand for land, for the SEZs, for the expansion of roads, airports, new ring roads and what have you.

Second, there are still the antiquated land reform laws. There is no certainty about the future of land ownership. So, there is a push to sell off the lands and move out, rather than think of investing in lands. Investing in any land development, in any rural industries projects, food processing or any small and tiny industries are near impossible. You have to just consult Dr.Arjun Sengupta’s Commission on unorganised small industry sector to know what is deterring the  people who are living in the rural areas and also engaged in creating wealth in the agri and non-agri sectors.

Third, the government in Delhi, headed by the trio of Singh, Ahluwalia and the finance minister among them imagine they have the key to economic development. That is what is happening now. The sole concentration on the rate of growth has led to a highly skewed  development, all attention is on the big industries and also on the big industrialists!

That is the reason for the current distress in the agri sector.
Fourth, agriculture has become highly unviable. Farmer’s suicides would be the biggest curse of the Singh regime! That would long be remembered and history textbooks will surely record Singh regime as the biggest curse period in Indian agriculture’s modern day period! Farmers debt became the single most curses in this period also. Even an otherwise progressive state like Karnataka now accounts for a growing farmers’ indebtedness and as per an NSS data an estimated 61.1 per cent households in Karnataka are indebted. There seems to be no way in which this trend can be reversed in any foreseeable future. Mandya district, supposedly a very prosperous district, highly irrigated ,lying in the Cauvery  delta near Mysore, is rated as  a district of wealthy farming families has recorded paradoxically  a large number of farmers’ suicides! As many as 17 debt-ridden farmers  committed suicides between Dec.2006 and July 31,2007.

According to the state raitha Sangha president, K.S.Puttanniah, over 100 farmers have committed suicide in the last one year, in the state. The point is that the drought-prone north Karnataka alone is not now home for this farm distress. This has spread to the irrigated areas of the Southern districts too.

What is new in the emerging rural scenario is the emotional disturbance owing to the fast changing socio-cultural and economic fortunes of the traditional farming families. New opportunities are coming in the way of new generation, also for old social groups thanks to many caste-based political parties pushing their constituency agendas. Also, the new economic policies have opened up avenues for new jobs and also money-making opportunities. Even politics has become a forum for making quick fortunes for the new caste groups thanks to the political quotas. So too for the new generation OBCs in government jobs.

Today, it is no shame to indulge in corruption and amass wealth, even for the highly seniors in police, engineering and other critical jobs. Also, even when they are caught. when their premises are raided and when they are suspended from their jobs, it is not a big shame. In fact, quick money making is often applauded as luck and everyone is in the business, from politicians and government servants and all types of businessmen.

But for traditional farming families still there are taboos of dos and donts. So, whenever they find themselves in debts, when they are unable to repay and maintain their family honour it is doing or dies! That is one reason why the current emerging instability in the lives of traditional farming families drives them to extreme steps. Even to part with their ancient properties, to sell or mortgage is looked down upon in many societies.

So, farmers’ lives in the new century, in the context of new economic and social developments are becoming more fragile everyday. The approach to farmers current problems needs a delicate handling and lot of sensitivity on the part of policy makers.
Some populist politicians, drawn from lower social strata and also from non-farming, urban professions of  varied kinds talk and do things that put these traditional farming families in an akward situation. Land reforms, ceiling laws, tenancy protection laws have all now become stumbling blocks. Some families  only have the will and strength to hold on to landed properties. You can’t wish away realities! You also need tenants to cultivate lands. All who own lands can’t do farming directly. Also you need landless farm labour.

But populist politics wants to play down the socio-economic differences. This creates social tensions and even the Dalit related clashes can be traced to this populist politics only.

Otherwise, left to themselves, villagers are a wise lot. They live in much social harmony, villages  are havens of communal peace and the villagers have  the wisdom to live as  morally upright and self-regulating community.

We need to take a realistic look at rural India. Neither Gandhi nor Nehru is a held here! Let us realise this rugged  rural reality. Let the new  rural  India is defined in the light of  what is happening  in the developed countries.

What the Central government should do at once?
1.Effect a one-time total farm debt wipe off
This is critical for saving the Indian farm sector from its deep crisis

2.Implement the Vaidyanathan Committee report on rural credit revamp
Reviving and strengthening the rural credit co-ops are the first topmost priority.
Introduce many new innovative credit instruments so that any farmer with adequate security can borrow  to serve all his credit needs.

3.Establish a National Agricultural Bank
The present Nabard is not enough. It had deviated from its original mandate. We speak from our personal experience!

4.Establish a National Unorganised Sector Enterprises Bank
The present Sidbi has not done much to meet the objectives as it name implies. This we also speak from our personal experience! Dr.Arjun Sengupta Committee report must be out to implementation at once. There could be a new outburst of entrepreneurial activity at a widest dispersed level.

5.Do what the developed countries in EU do for their farm sector. There the farms are dominated by small farmers only. There are enough credit and insurance and other schemes. High subsidies are also a feature. So, our farm subsidies have to be raised to keep in level with the international trends. We also need to institute price stablisation funds at the state levels and intervene in stabilising the crop  prices in the event of a price fall for specified crops. State-level agri commodities  export bodies are a great price stabilising  mechanism. So too state-level agri finance corporations to encourage agro enterprises and  employment generation.

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