Prime Minister’s many promises not much for  agriculture!

Any small landownership is seen as a political liability! It is here the problem for reforming agriculture starts.

Energy security, the President stressed. Very important. Poverty, we will eradicate, the PM asserted standing on the Red Fort. So, dignified the speech, so convincing the arguments.  We could see Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, speaking solemnly of the problems, even of a crisis in agriculture. How much artificial we, Indians become on solemn occasions like Independence day! Yes, we Indians are rather pretty subservient before authority.  Long ago we did this before the white English gentlemen! Now, don’t we do the same with our own elected or unelected leaders who can say anything and yet get out of all tricky situations like the present state of agriculture?

The PM’s speech has not  much to say about agriculture. Now poverty is a much talked about election promise! Yes, more than that even our own economists didn’t much help us to understand the many dimensions of poverty. Absolute poverty. There is definitely a reduction in numbers of the poor.  What  really is important is about how we, Indians at all levels understand the relative poverty, poverty at different levels, the widening of the rich and poor social groups. It is here politics need to play a more pro-active role.

It is here also you need what is called a political ideology, what priorities a government can have to ensure a more equitable society and a more liberal social and economic order. It is also here controversial issues arise. What  are  the major deficiencies in the current government? In all our promises to the people, with an eye on elections, we promise everything to everybody, except to farmers! Do we believe our agriculture should remain self-reliant and self-sufficient? Then, liberalise agriculture! Then only private investment would turn to agriculture! However, the PM announced so many new schemes : National Horticulture Mission, Krishi Vigyan Kendra in every  district by 2007, National Rainfed Area, Bharat Nirman, National Health Mission, Employment Guarantee and many more. We live and operate from the village environment we hear the village voices all the time. What are the ground level realities?

Agriculture is now a multi-concept. It  can mean anything to anybody! For us, it means living in the villages and engaged in farming. Today, there is not much unemployment as such in most of the villages. May be in interior villages there must be some problems. There is heavy urbanisation, 50 per cent of the people are urban living or engaged in urban-prone occupations. There is a rising strong middle class. 3.5 lakh engineering students come out every year, the employment prospects have grown.

They are right. We also find in much of the panchayats, more so in the rather fairly well-managed panchayat system in Karnataka there are irregularities. This is natural given the Indian conditions. So, one way to reduce corruption in states like TN panchayats are in the control of partymen and hence there is a heavy incentive to misappropriate! So, the panchayats in all states must display the budgets, the works, the wages paid, the muster rools. In Maharashtra job scheme leakage was as much as Rs.9 crores!  Says  Jean Dreze!  Aruna Roy says in Rajasthan there are three realities : camel, the goat and the Sahukar (money lender).

Roy says in addition there are two new realities : muster rool and the sarkar! Very true. It is the officialdom that controls the panchayats and the budgets. In TN you can learn all the tricks of the trade! So, to eliminate corruption  should be the first priority! This the PM blissfully leaves out! As he leaves out so many good many priorities. Like banks’ agri credit system. It is non-functional in many states. Make the bank branches in the villages to display in front of their entrance the agri credit target, the among dispersed, the amount  available, the schemes, more important the time limit within which the branch would process and deliver the credit.

One more important need in eliminating corruption from government depts. There is a TN to display a notice board in front of all sensitive offices the information about the nearest vigilance office, the name of officials and the telephone numbers. There is a conspiracy that no office displays this board. The point is that unless the government moves over to the real action in the implementation of the operational aspects of the schemes, most of the schemes would remain on paper only. Make agriculture attractive for farmers. The PM must if he is really serious, tour the rural areas, make surprise visits to villages and ask directly the questions the government need to address.  Please involve people, let there be widespread participation in the rural development at least, let us not fight shy of dealing with corruption at the top as well at the bottom. Otherwise, the much hyped EGA might remain a mere piece of paper! Or, a vote bank slogan!

Ms.Aruna Roy & Nikhil Dey have come out with practical suggestions to make the Employment Guarantee Act (EGA) foolproof. Their plea is simple and based on their experience in making the Information Act work and deliver results in Rajasthan panchayats. Make the Information Act work in the rest of Indian states. Once for all, corruption would be reduced if not eliminated effectively.

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