Is it just a mirage and election-eve slogan?
Indian agriculture won’t change easily

216-1Government budget is still subsidy-driven and populist only. You see, there are many experts who are specialists in agri sector. Also, there are rural experts, many highly devoted and committed to rural India and also others who can give a summary of the basic statistics, be it food subsidy or fertiliser subsidy etc.

At Vadamalai, we remain a differently-oriented point of view. We live in the city and yet we are retaining much of our farm activities in the village. We do farming, although at the moment we are also devastated as other farmers are, by the continuing drought, we are in the South, in Tamil Nadu interior village where there has been no drop of rain for the past many years. Our coconut trees are withering and we resisted resorting to desperate measures like borewells.
We travel extensively and we saw just yesterday some farms in the drought-affected Mysuru, Mandya and Najangud and also the forest area of Bandhipur Tiger Reserve. All these part s are so devastated, the tender coconut prices have shot up in the cities and what we read as news in the city newspapers is all about consumers’ distress not a word about the distress in the villages. How can we now resort to dry statistics and growth rates and the disputes by city columnists and others?

So, we have to restrain somewhat and stop quoting experts. Prof.Ashok Gulati and his associates have given us graphic and clear accounts about the budget and what it says for the agriculture and the rural sector. So, in a low growth phase of agri GDP at 1.7 per cent growth of this sector, when Mr.Arun Jaitley wants to please his boss, Narendra Modi and quotes all the names in Hindi phrases, he quotes many names how to take him seriously? Sorry we can’t for we recall and recollect those faces we see on the roads we drive through. There is a sense of dejection in the lives of the villages.

So too the statistics, all dry and mouthful, so much for food subsidy, something like Rs.1, 45,339 crores for food subsidy. Fine, fine! Next for MGNREA. Then subsidy for fertilisers. And so on. Prof.Gulati asks, whether this agri budget is for development or dole?

We can simply say we are all, including the government servants in towns as well as the politicians in the exclusive P Lutyen’s bungalow zone where too we were driving around just a few days back; there are a vicious circle of living for all those who are not directly engaged in agriculture or living in the villages!

When we come to the basic realities life in the Indian villages, first, we have to realise that compared with China where too we have been there a year ago, there is tremendous progress in the area of development, their public investments in infrastructure is unbelievable. China is simply far ahead, at least by some 25 years ahead of India. We in India are far slow and fall behind China. I want to sound a bit rather blunt and a bit hurting too. In the last three years Mr.Modi has no doubt brought about a great deal of mental change, in our mental outlook, the Prime Minister had effected an outlook change, if I can so put it.

Yes, the political environment is now changed. At least we can look for some fundamental change in the economy as well in over outlook.

We can surely believe that India after Modi took over is very likely to become a more and more aspirational nation. The youth have reposed their confidence in Modi’s leadership, the latest Assembly elections show this.

As a democracy we have to acknowledge this reality. The Congress had simply sunk in its own ignorance and resort to sycophancy as an alternative to sound principles. Our view and even we can claim our own thesis for regeneration in the future of agriculture is this:
You see villages, in modern view, is a denoc all inquities, and inequalities as we remained a feudal society for ages.

Even today, we hold landed properties and what is the village reality today too?
There can be only a few households, may be in many villages only one households that holds the largest piece of land, right?

The dominant caste might be the only caste to hold land, right too?
So, as sociological reality, we have to recognise this reality, right?

So, allow the traditional land owners to retain some economical size landholding.
Also, give incentives to large landholders so that they invest, they have the energy to hold on to agriculture. Encourage the big land owners to invest, private and also subsidised so that new technologies come to the agriculture operations.

We at Vadamalai also run the online agri information service, ww.agricultureinfromation.com.
We get thousands of enquiries but they don’t come back for the simple reasons we are not able to give them any sense of security that their investments are safe.

Simply because there are no other support services.

They budget talks about agriculture insurance, right? But do you know that the public sector agri insurance company has not CEO for quite sometime?

How do you believe when the government makes promises on crop insurance? And on and on… The average Indian farmers, as we say often, are first debtors! And then court birds! They are caught in so many legal tangles! So, the Tahsildar courts are filled with pending court cases, on tenancy, records and what have you. In what is often called (of course wrongly!) in the advanced state like TN(with our own personal experiences) people, the public throng the Monday grievances day, in two instances, the District Revenue Officer(DRO),the second senior district officials, next to the District Collector) the seat remained vacant! No grievances hearing happened!

Who can imagine the plight of the poor and the weaker sections that only throng such places on this particular day!

Imagine other states like UP, with such far flung geography and the sort of administration we often read about! So, please don’t talk about public (or even the private) investment no one, not the least the poor farmers who cling on to their two or three acre plots would invest money! Their progeny, may be a graduate, might be employed in some other city. The boy or the girls too won’t part with their precious earnings to invest in lands.

So, you can remain confident all this election-related or election-type slogans would only remain slogans only. Agriculture would remain a loss-making sector.

Then, you might ask or wonder, what is the next best alternative. First, there doesn’t seem any easy alternative. The urbanisation boom would drive more people from the villages towards the cities. May be this trend would be the dominant narrative of rural-urban India. Urban migration might help. Help to make agriculture an area for some big new investments, might be MNC investments that could draw more rural people into productive employment and thereby for higher incomes or earnings in the rural India.

As we see, may be politics too might change. May be, the current corrupt politics might change too. The voters might find out more and more the corrupt practices of politicians and the people might go for some believable leaders.

So, in conclusion, we say politics too has to change so that the economy, more so the rural economy too might become attractive to new and big investments.

May be food industry, food processing industry and such related agriculture investments might find new attractive areas. There is no quick-fix solutions to agricultural regeneration. So, everyone has a duty to think of agriculture: government, officials, bankers, corporates (who are now are also the culprits, only interested in sucking the opportunities for their quick profits. See the corporate social responsibility activities.

Only visionaries like the Bangladesh grameen bank founder, Mohammad Yunus, perhaps can change the mindset for new investments and entrepreneurial developments. For such people Padmasri and Padma Bushans won’t come by, you must be sure!

One silver lining seems to be the private philanthropy is rising thanks to our rise in GDP. Let us then wait and watch!

SBI and other banks seem to oppose the move! SBI chairperson, Arundhati Bhattacharya has come out to openly express her reservations. This she had said so to a CII, the private industry body.

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Prime Minister Modi won an unprecedented election victory, UP victory is something really unusual and such an absolute majority has done many unprecedented things, demolished the Samajwadi Party whose chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was long seen as a potential Prime Minister himself! Also, Mayawati, another heavyweight in the Dalit caste groups, also, no less are the two young faces, Akilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi who have a long future in politics before them. So, Modi’s achievement is not something one can take it as a routine election victory.

But how-to promise so many things as Modi did and won this victory!
If now, can the election promises be fulfilled?

Also, this promise comes from the biggest state, the loan waiver comprises a huge chunk of farmers, which is a huge lot of people and a huge lot of public sector bank funds!
Also, there is some other big issues.

The big bad ‘boys’, the corporate defaulters ,with their own NPAs, that are again a huge lot of funds. There is now public expression of a view that even the big corporate defaulters led by such heavy weights like Vijay Mallya, can they expect some relief through the government writing off such huge debts?

Anyway, now in the immediate glow of a huge election victory Mr.Modi may seem to be a man out of the blue. The Economic Times has gone on to write a lead editorial comparing Modi with Donald Trump and called them mould-breakers! Modi and Trumph are leaders who proved that politics, as they have practised and shown to have won out of the traditional mood of politics, is mere media hyperbole? Or any deeper reflection on the current and emerging style of politics?

In our view these are all superficial media writings, just to score some points over their rivals, in the very same, rather tamed media. Indian media, both print and the online and TV channels are all very obliging to the present leadership. The BJP is an unusual party with some very obscure economics and social issues.

Indian society is very complex and multi-dimensional. The social issues are caste based and also communal based issues.

Suddenly one fine morning, one person can come along and promise many things and change India? Impossible? So too in the USA!

You can’t reverse the flow of migrants, as they have done over very long period. The very issues if illegal migrants in the USA is also a long-standing issue. Trumph hasn’t done anything, so far, in a satisfactory manner. The travel ban itself is a work in progress. So too the deportation of illegal migrants that is a huge number as well.

So Modi too has promised many things and captured the imagination of the Indian people. In the last three years what are the promises fulfilled.

Economic growth targets? Jobs generation? Fighting corruption? Black money?

Everyone knows, the common man more and more knows how the inequality and inequity are growing. Per cent of the rich own something like55 % of the wealth in India. India is still the home for the largest poor people, right?

So, also people know who are the wealthy backers of Mr.Modi, the names are too familiar to mention here. So, too many other aspects of India. Poverty. The very agri sector, the very rural sector cry for attention. So, big decisions await the Prime minister.

Our suggestions.

Please have a big picture. Make your ideology that is the one word on which we have to deliberate. Pundits are needed to give the government some philosophical base to draw the largest number of people to trust and follow the leader of a big democracy. Then the Cabinet can decide what to do as a matter of priority. You can give big relief to big debtors in the corporate world. You too can give some big relief to large number of dispersed farmers. This is the direction to go!

Is there is a concern for the drought and distress in the agriculture?

What progress we have made in the many new projects like river-linkages?

The government of Mr.Narendra Modi seems to have brought in a new reality or unreality for the all-important agri sector!

cauvery-7593From the estimates released by the government we are led to believe the government figures. After two years of drought and the all-time crisis in this vital sector of the Indian economy, reckoned as the backbone of our very rural sector, there seems to be a new growth phase in the 2016-17 year period.

Should the common man believe these figures or she he see around the try to figure out how to match the ground level realities-drought, why even a crisis for the drinking water, water levels have fallen and there is a scramble for bore wells in non-traditional areas like Cauvery basis districts like Tanjore in TN and in many states of Karnataka or should we take comfort from the government statistics?

The Central Statistical Office projects the agri sector growth at 4.1 per cent, this an over-estimate or an under-estimate?

It could be close to even 6 per cent, says an editorial in the Business Standard daily. Foodgrains production stands at all all-time high, it seems. At 8 per cent the foodgrain growth seems unbelievable. It is also reported that the horticultural production has outstripped that of foodgrains. Pulses output at 35 per cent. And oil seeds at 25 per cent growth! From the side of the Southern states, these figures seem a bit unreal. In the Southern states, specially TN and Karnataka we only read and also see for ourselves a continuing and nerve-racking drought and distress conditions. As all government figures try to portray the distress among the paddy growing Tanjore farmers in TN, there are reports of farmer’s suicides!

As far as the Central government is concerned it is bent on clearing the widely suspect impact of demonetisation, agriculture is not impacted. That is the official line. Of course there is the widespread fear about taking any adverse line against the government. But of course we have no solid ground to discount the official figures. So let us give credit for what the government has done so far in agriculture and related fields.

India is importing pulses, exceeded 6 million tonnes, against the normal 3-4 million tonnes,’ huge quantities’ of wheat is being imported, even distress sale of wheat, one of our food brackets’ key commodities, is reported.

Unfortunately, there are not enough agri experts or rural observers who have come out against any new instance of food imports but there is fear that if we don’t take adequate steps there would be a fall in agri prices, the MSP is there and yet the pulses are likely to sell for below the MSP and so too other commodities.

There is a good opportunity to export agri commodities and there is a need to liberalise agri exports. Over all there is the impression and someone in the agri ministry has to confirm or deny the impression that this government is least interested to improve the situation in the Indian agri sector that agriculture doesn’t seem to be a high priority in this time of drought. Is it a right impression or wrong impression? Please do confirm and help to create an optimistic outlook on the future of the Indian agri sector.

When we think of some countries like Israel, we immediately think Israel has done much for its agriculture. The Israeli Ambassador has said the other day how Israel is going to open more centres of excellence in agriculture in India. We also associate Israel with micro irrigation and water conservation techniques.

In India we are yet to hear anything about the big projects announced like inter-linking he national rivers and cleaning the Ganga and other inter-river linkages.

What progress we have made?

It would be useful if the government take some advertisements to tell the common man, the much-neglected poor farmers cursing their fate in the drought districts in Maharashtra and other states to know that somebody in the distant Delhi are caring for them.

The PM whose tireless tirades against the Opposition can be justified in times of elections but as the Prime Minister we have to hear some soothing words and not the diatribes as we have witness in the UP Assembly elections!

No CMD for the Agriculture Insurance Corporation!

Prime Minister’s many welfare schemes: what progress?

There are many of the Modi government welfare schemes that are advertised extensively.

pmfbyOne of the welfare schemes is about the farmers’ crop insurance scheme. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana. It is a year since the scheme was launched. The new scheme has brought down the premiums considerably. The government has targeted 50 % of farmers in three years.

What is the progress of the scheme in the first year? The old crop insurance schemes introduced in 1999 and 2011 didn’t make any headway. As per official data in 2015, only a fifth of the country’s farm land was under crop insurance!

Anybody surprised? Only those who are innocent would believe official data or even officials and ministers would believe what they say about agriculture. Not we, at this media!

For we know for sure that agriculture doesn’t attract any public attenton, let alone the media. There is no agriculture media worth its name in the country. Anyone who w ventures into the agri media knows how serious is the lacuna! There is a huge DAVP, the Central government agency. Not a single paisa comes to the agri media like ours.

That is all the so-called agri media and publicity are for those who are already entrenched and who cream away the funds. On the PM’s foreign trips, do they care to take farmers representatives on the PM’s special aircraft?

The matter is so serious it is better to leave the matter at this point!

The Prime Minister’s pet crop insurance scheme, it isn’t reported, has not been received well by the farmers associations themselves! Says Kavitha Kurungati, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture: The non-loanee farmers are usually tenant farmers or share croppers who also pay huge lease rents. In coastal AP for instance a tenant farmers pays usually Rs.30, 000 per acre per year as lease rent. Tenant farmers in most states don’t have access to institutional credit and since the banks are go to implement the insurance schemes; the tenant farmers are practically ignored. Farmers associations are opposed to banks debiting premiums from farmers’ accounts without the farmers consent. This is another bone of contention.

There are any number of problems, you know?

So much of crop-cutting experiments! Four crop cutting experiments, for 2.5 lakhs and odd gram panchayats! Where is the manpower with revenue depts.?

But we also read that the Agriculture Insurance Corporation (AIS) is also functioning without a full-time head! AIC with 40 percent share in crop insurance. After Joseph Plapapallil left as CMD in March last year. The charge has been transferred twice. RN Dubey held the post till September, says an official inside AIC!

So, here too we have to examine how seriously we are implementing these schemes.
The five most advertised welfare schemes on television for the period from January 1 to August 5 were Swatch Bharat, National Health Mission, Skill India, National Rural Health Mission and Pay Jal Aur Swachata Mantralaya, according to data from Broadcasting and Information ministry. Other government programmes advertised heavily on TV during this period were Save Fuel, International Yoga Day and anti-tobacco campaign. The objective of publishing these schemes is to make the intended beneficiaries aware of the initiatives and befits to reach the people.

A total of 350 crores for 2015 -16 has been published in the newspapers.
In this budget comes some other schemes as well such as Swatch Bharat(Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (Rs.211 crores) Indra Danush(10.3 crores) and PM Fasal Bhima Yojana(crop insurances for farmers(Rs.9.7 crores),Beti Bachao Beti Padhao(Rs.20.5 crores).

Why quote these figures? Now comes the news about the actual working of the farmer’s crop insurance schemes’ working.

The Businessline reports an elaborate account, in our opinion, mostly thankless job, we find as per the Agriculture Ministry press release, it is claimed that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana had made impressive progress. There is a six-fold increase in the coverage of “non-loanee farmers, from 14.88 lakh in 2015 to over 100lakh in 2016.

There are loane and non-loane farmers. The ones who had not availed of crop insurance.
The figures are not surely dependable given the fact that the Agricultural Insurance Corporation, a central government institution, has covered only 40 per cent of all farmers under the schemes.

Tamil Nadu is the one state after 15 years is the state with lowest number of farmers with a crop insurance cover!

With a rain deficit of 60 per cent?

RameshBOTYes, it looks like, considering the erratic weather pattern predicted by the various global weather models and also their over-all prediction of a ‘rain-normal’ model for the New Year for the country. From Thiruvanathanpuram comes news of a report on scattered to isolated rain for the Southern states, though Karnataka and AP and Telangana would remain dry, the report says. This time we seem to be getting and also using the foreign weather tracking centres.

According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Forecasts, the rain carrying trough would come back into the reckoning back to back towards the last week and the year and the India Met Department has predicted a weather pattern along the same lines as far as the Southern states are concerned.

The US Climate Prediction Centre has a different view. It predicts mostly normal rain during the week ending December 24 fort he entire South Peninsula but a dry phase over South Tamil Nadu and also parts of Kerala.

The very many weather predictions pout to a rain deficit of 60 per cent for the Peninsula during this North East Monsoon as the season comes to an end with the year end too.

Global weather models have been hinting that the December-January-February (2016-17) might be able to witness nearly normal monsoon for the country as a whole.

This outlook received better traction from the latest seasonal outlooks made available by the Application of Jamsetc, the Japanese national weather forecaster. They seemed to favour less-than normal heat during the December-January-February quarter for the South Peninsula while it will be warmer for West, North, North-West and East India.

Mostly similar weather conditions are predicted for next quarter for the South Peninsula while the rest of India will stay warmer.

As for precipitation, Jamstec is of the view most of the country would receive normal rainfall for the next to come quarter. It is good that now we are able to rack the weather patterns more extensively and also from any other authoritative weather prediction models as well.

All these predictions and assessments gives hope and also much optimism to expect that the agricultural scenario in India would kick back with some optimism and the agricultural growth, also as envisaged by experts and planners, also give hopes for stable agricultural scenario.

Mr. Ramesh Chand, member of the NITI Aayog, Prime Minister Modi’s new planning commission and think tank has also give us much hope by predicting that agricultural growth will exceed 5 per cent this year.

This is a much more morale-boosting assessment by experts who track the ground level realities also carefully.

In an interview Mr.Chand has made detailed observations about how the demonetisation has impacted the economy, more so the agricultural economy where cash dealings of the farmers is the most critical element and yet Mr.Chand alkyls the firs held widely among the farming communities that cashless transactions haven’t impacted the actual transactions. Most of the rural economy revolves under trust and credit, says he and also notes that that too only in the case of perishable crops like flowers, vegetables and other immediate short-term crops only might be affected and too in his assessment it is not so serious.

When it comes to crops like paddy, wheat and other grain crops and others the farmers can hold back their crops for sale by few days at least. As such there is not much dislocation and the days to come we will see the situation would turn normal. Though the fact remains that even after one month and longer it is very distressing to see long queues still stand in front of banks and ATMs.
Though public frustration hasn’t developed into one of hostility for the PM’s obsession, yes that seems to be the world, with the enforcement of measures almost forcibly to convert the economic nto a digital force.

May be things could have been planned in a better way and some efficiency could have been enforced into the bureaucratic higgledy-piggledy!

Let us only hope that people’s confidence in the government’s aspirations and reality on the ground match without further disorder and confusion.