On 29 November, a money order from Niphad Post Office of Nashik district in Maharashtra, was sent to 'Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India'. Sanjay Sathe, an onion farmer was not sending the amount of Rs 1,064 to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund as a gift. What he consigned to prime minister Narendra Modi was the amount he received from the market for 750 kilogrammes of onion - the result of his seat and toil on his farm, and dipped in his tears of protest. When he reached the Niphad wholesale market with his produce, the price they fixed was one rupee per kilogramme. After long haggling, that reached Rs 1.40 per kg. Thus finally he got Rs 1,064 which he promptly sent to Modi, shelling out another Rs 54 for the money order.
Sanjay is not an isolated farmer. It was a lakh of people like him who led a symbolic protest and strike and converged on Delhi the other day for the Farmer Liberation March. And even that march was not the first of its kind. Over the last two months, four such marches were held separately. But these clamours seem to be falling on the deaf years of those under the impression that governance means evicting people for constructing statues, changing place names and sowing seeds of strife among the people by generating fear and hatred of the other. And if at all that voice reaches them, they prove that with those who are at a loss on how to handle the situation at the helm, things will get out of the hands of everyone, as is proved by the shocking number – 3 lakh - of farmer suicides over the past 20 years. And any actions taken byw ay of remedial measres by the Centre - and the states along the same lines - only serve to sharpen the crisis.
In the last 50 years, the land area of small scale farmers suffered a substantial dwindling. Whereas during 1971-72, small scale farmers had 1.53 hectares of land, as per the land survey statistics of 2013, this reduced to 0.59 hectares. The number of farmers was far outstripped by farm labourers. As per 2011 statistics, there were 118.8 million farmers, and agricultural labour made up 144.3 million. Even when the number of farmers goes down, the number of farm labourers goes up. If in 1951, 51.8 per cent of contribution to national income came from agriculture, when it came to 2013-14, it became just 13.94 per cent. Former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh had illustrated that the disproportionate increase in agricultural labour was the reason for the fall in per capita income and for agriculture ceasing to be profitable. He had also suggested that this work force should be redeployed in other sectors. But UPA could not accomplish that.
With agriculture becoming no more economic, people turned to other sectors. And the government, which should have fixed this matter, was seen trying to pre-empt this by abandoning agricultural sector and making more investments and relief packages in other sectors. The government gave priority to widening agricultural trade over improving agriculture. When agricultural loans and writing off of debts came to the rescue of big farmers, the losers were the ordinary small scale farmers who were pushed to misery. As per the national agriculture policy of 2000, private sector was also made partners to boost investment. However, although government investments continued as before, private investments came down in five years. As a result of intensifying loan distribution, annual growth rate more than doubled in a decade. Howver, the benefits of all this reached only the richer farmers.
Even as per Reserve Bank of India (RBI) figures, loans below 2 lakh rupees have been deceasing substantially since 1990. The small loans that made up 86.2 per cent then, came down to 40.28 per cent in 10 years. When March 2017 figures were taken, that got further reduced to 40.28 per cent. In other words, the new economic policies were taking care of rich, large scale farmers more than the small scale, peripheral farmers. It is customary for bankers and economic advisers to protest against writing off agricultural loans. When in recent times UP and Tamilnadu moved in this diretion, RBI governor severly criticised it. But this disapproal is not heard in the case of writing off of huge loans of large scale farmers, amounting to many times the small scale farmers' loans. According to RBI Report of 2017, out of the total non-performing assets of banks, agriculture accounts for a mere 8.3 per cent. Industrial and infrastructure sectors claim 76.7 per cent. If the former is 60,200 crores, the latter is 5,58,500 crores. Even with all this, the government is seeing agriculture as minor and other sectors as major. It is this step-motherly attitude that made Sanjay Sathe suck the tear of agricultural India. The only way to rescue these children of the soil is to put an end to this double standard of the government.