Governance

Farmers Agitation : crisis is monumental

Anil Tyagi
Vol. XIV March 2021

The coronavirus is mutating and so has the farmers agitation against the Modi Government’s new farm laws. The question arises what have the farmers’ protests achieved so far? If it’s about the new farm laws, nothing at all. The single point demand for the repeal of the three farm laws stands dishonoured. The Narendra Modi Government has point-blank refused to concede to this demand. For, ever since the laws were passed, “forced through” as the farmers like to say, all that the Government has been doing is run circles around the three farm laws. That is, apart from the 11 or 12 rounds of unfruitful talks which did not go far.

But is it the only thing that the protestors wanted- the repeal of the three new farm laws? No. The dissatisfaction runs far deeper and covers a lot more ground.

The responsibility of such a mess rests solely on the government: not one particular government, but successive governments. The problem lies not ‘in the farm but outside the farm’. Farmers are suffering not because of nature as much as they are suffering because of policy design. Raghuram Rajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, had said that the biggest reform would be to move people out of agriculture into urban areas, because the market there needs cheap labour.

The successive governments have been advised by the World Bank to take 400 million people out of the rural areas to urban areas to provide labour to industries. No one can actually force people out. But if the system creates economic conditions in such a way that force farmers to abandon agriculture and relocate for survival to the urban areas then who can save the poor farmers? This phenomenon of shifting of population is happening all over the world. Does this fit in the frame of agrarian India; more so, as the industrial scenario too is rapidly looking down. Are we not becoming a predominantly trading nation rather than a manufacturing one?

There is a huge crisis in agriculture. It has remained so for seven decades. The ticking bomb is about to explode. It’s time to stop the suicides, prevent farmers from throwing their produce on the streets, and prevent migration to the cities.

In fact, it is time to reverse all that we have done in the agriculture sector since 1947. The solutions are there, what’s missing is the political will to reverse the wheel of electoral arithmetic. The first step is to make farming remunerative. And freebies aren’t the answer – it’s a temporary solution that comes with massive and extensive socio-economic impact. We need to increase the size of landholdings, which have dwindled over generations. Cooperative farming, not private, can achieve this objective. Higher productivity through better, environment-friendly technologies can increase farm incomes.

But this will reduce the number of farmers. To prevent the exodus from the villages to the cities, non-farm income opportunities need to arise. Gandhian economics with a focus on village industries and agro-industries can provide a future and viable roadmap. This will also increase the proportion of agriculture and agriculture-related sectors in the country’s GDP. Input costs have to be managed. There is a need for farmers to adopt innovative means to get out of the never-ending cycle of using huge quantities of fertilisers, expensive seeds, and electricity. If all these aren’t done, the rural population will revolt. There will be national crime crisis, which will turn violent and deadly, and envelop the urban areas in no time. The crisis is monumental, and it will need a colossal vision to deal with it. Wait and watch how the farmers  take this agitation and move forward.

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