Vidarbha farmers’ continued suicides haunt the Prime Minister and the Agri Minister!

What needs to be done?  Prime Minister must deliver or ……!

Prime Minister had visited the farmers’ suicide zone of India, Vidarbha and listened to the farmers’ problem!  It is a nice gesture after two years of so much indifference! The CWC had seen sharp differences of opinion about the performance of the key players in the economic ministries.  The statistics provided by the Finance Minister about the prices rise didn’t find favour with many members.  This is a reflection on the handling of the price front as well as the entire farmers’ suicide trial that haunted the Prime Minister and the reluctant Agri Minister who followed him to Vidarbha!

The Congress Party fears the steady price rise in wheat, sugar and pulses, also vegetables and the new measures to ban pulses export is welcome.

There are a series of new challenges and opportunities in the agri sector. First, there is the fast commercialisation of some key crops like horticulture, which now makes up something like 28.5 per cent of the country’s agriculture GDP. Fresh fruits exports during April-February of the last fiscal were 209.10 million US dollars. So, there is a robust growth in agri exports, more so in the horticulture segment. Equally encouraging is the growth prospects on the agri export front. This, our farmers have to consolidate, as there is a high value addition in each and every one of the crop segments like floriculture, perishables etc.

We have to welcome all these developments that are of recent origin. What the government, more so under the Manmohan Singh and Sharad Pawar dispensation, had failed to achieve is the fact that they have really become rather indifferent to the needs of the farmers as a whole, as a different segment of the priority treatment as well as a segment of the people who had been cruelly dealt with the so-called market forces. The so-called economic reforms are blamed for the present plight of the farmers. This is true partially but not fully. PM’s ryot rehabilitation package has received criticism from farmers’ leaders.  The PM must convene a face-to-face meeting with farmers’ representatives and must come out with a more agri sector specific bold schemes.

We need more economic reforms but more reforms in the agri sector.

The Vidarbha region is a very difficult place, we at Vadamalai had visited Nagpur and the surrounding countryside and brought out a special issue on agriculture and industry.  The PM had candidly admitted he had no immediate solution to he farmers’ woes.  A honest man!  But, then, he is the Prime Minister of the country.  If he is to earn the goodwill and gratitude of the people, more so the distressed farmers in the six districts of Vidarbha, then the Prime Minister must do much more than just routine announcements.

First, he can just invite the Tatas or Reliance or other big industrialists like Bajaj to locate some big industry so that large scale employment generation is ensured in the region.  Second, the real underlying cause of the Vidarbha’s backwardness is its geographical absorption with Maharashtra.  Vidarbha must be made a separate state and that will at once take care of its many problems and ensure a more focused development on all fronts. What the economic reforms we need in the agri sector is more farm credit. In this sector, the Finance Minister is a significant failure! Neither he had managed to revamp the co-operative credit sector nor had he shown any of his much-touted skills, in making the PSU banks or the Nabard to come out with a credible agri credit system in place. Rural credit accounts only 15% of all bank credit. Only 27% of farm homes get institutional credit.  22% borrow from money lenders.  51% have no access at all to credit!  So, to talk very superficially on economic reforms or economic growth statistics without really becoming serious about  agriculture is plain inefficiency.

The government can’t claim any credit for the achievements so far in agriculture. And what is the achievement of the PM, an economic expert in giving Indian economy, more so the critical segments like agriculture and the persisting shortages, be it power or water or river links or such other farm infrastructure, rural roads and telecommunications, the progress of our countryside is very slow and tardy.

The PM owes a duty to the Vidarbha people.  He should express his views forcefully and not remain content with doing his job in a “business as usual” manner.  That would be great pity and a loss of valuable opportunities and precious time!

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