There shall be no new India without Bharat and agriculture

The narrative being peddled by the urban economic pundits and the Ivy League babus is that the best way forward is to take the agriculture labour out of the villages, and into the cities. But, the million-dollar question is that from where will you bring so many jobs?

Ramandeep Singh MannRamandeep Singh Mann   30 Aug 2019 1:04 PM GMT

There shall be no new India without Bharat and agriculture

Let me be very blunt from the onset that rural India -- Bharat -- and agriculture seem to be the stepchildren of the development model being followed since long. The narrative being peddled by the urban economic "pundits" and the Ivy League "babus", which was and is being seconded by the policymakers is that the best way forward is to take the agriculture labour out of the villages, and into the cities. But, the million-dollar question is that from where will you bring so many jobs, and where will you put these mammoth labour numbers in the already overburdened cities.

A very good example of my argument is that at the onset of Modi-I government, National Skills Development Council (NSDC) had "naively" estimated that 18% of India's workforce would be employed in agriculture by 2022—compared to 56% in 2014—which was scaled down that "prudently" to a target to 38% in 2017. I am sure the numbers still won't be anywhere near the 38% target, they will be far more by 2022.

Prof Ramesh Chand, the member of NITI Aayog, a very respected agri-economist, had done a study in 2017, which categorically among other measures, highlighted that India could double "real" farmer incomes by 2022, if we shift cultivators to non- farm and subsidiary activities. According to the study, if the number of farmers keeps declining as they did during 2004-05 to 2011-12, their numbers will reduce by 13.4% between 2015 and 2016 and 2022 and 2023. Thus the farm income will be distributed in 13.4% fewer farmers, thus increasing their incomes. Hence, take farmers out of agriculture, reduce their numbers, and voila the farmer income doubles by 2022-2023, vindicating Prime Minister Modi's stand. It seems all fine on paper, but where will these farmers go, and what will their families eat?

As per the results of the latest Agriculture Census 2015-16, the average size of operational holdings in the country is 1.08 the hectare, and this is decreasing by the day as the total number of operational holdings in the country have increased from 138 million in 2010-11 to 146 million in 2015-16 -- an increase of 5.33%. Point being made is that the operational holdings are getting fragmented by the day, which makes farming a less viable option for the small and marginal farmer (0-2 hectares) constituting 86.21% of the total holdings in 2015-16 against 84.97% in 2010-11, but this does not mean that everybody is made to shun farming as an occupation and migrate to cities, which are already bursting at the seams vis a vis their carrying capacity; not if the goal is to provide cheap labour to the urbanites. Instead, a more plausible and rational way out seems, that the government creates MSMEs around rural clusters, which could give employment to the rural labour and ensure that the people into farming also gets a "respectable" minimum monthly income through Direct Benefit Transfer and by ensuring Minimum Support Prices.

The disbursal of direct income to farmers have already started through PM-KISAN scheme, and at best, would need to be fine-tuned, which every delivery mechanism demands. According to news reports, so far, states have submitted data of 7.4 crore farmers, of which 5.5 crore have been validated by the Centre and the remaining are under different stages of the verification process.

The feedback received from the farmers is that the amount of Rs 6,000/year will have to be increased to a respectable level for #PMKISAN to make a dent. Such decisions are for the government to take. The Center also needs to create a robust procurement mechanism. The PM-AASHA scheme, under which States could go in for traditional mechanism of procurement i.e. buy directly from farmers at MSP's, or go in for "price deficiency" payments i.e. to pay the difference between the model mandi prices and the MSP's to the farmers, or opt for a pilot project under which private players were supposed to be brought in for procurement failed miserably. There was no mandi, where the prices were not ruling below state-mandated MSP's. To remedy this failure, the Center and the state governments have to work in tandem, with the Center showing the will, and the state taking up the responsibility of implementation.labour out

Last but not least, the government has to ensure that every farmer gets a fair share of the price which is being paid by the consumers for his produce. The most important facet in ensuring that the farmer gets a fair price for his crop is to increase the number of agri-markets in the country, which as on 31.03.2017, stood at a paltry 6630 Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) markets with an average geographical area served by each APMC to be 496 sq. km. According to noted agriculture expert Devinder Sharma, there is a requirement of 42,000 mandis needed within a radius of five km. That said, it was announced in the 2018 budget that Modi-I government would develop and upgrade existing 22,000 rural haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs), and electronically link them to e-NAM, which will provide farmers facility to make direct sale to consumers and bulk purchasers. The good news is that after a year of announcing the plan to set up 22,000 rural markets, on February 2019 the government approved Rs 2,000-crore fund, namely Agri-Market Infrastructure Fund with Nabard, in which Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs), will be eligible to avail a loan from this fund at cheaper interest rates to create the necessary facilities in their individual market complexes.

The bad news is that the speed to upgrade these Rural Haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) has been extremely slow, as on 24th June 2019, works of only 329 Rural Haats have been completed and works of 532 Rural Haats are ongoing as per the information of the Ministry of Rural Development. Last but not the least, this government must be work in tandem with the state governments to ensure that these Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) are up and running at their full potential, lest they fall to political squabbles, and would serve no purpose.

Ramandeep Singh Mann is an agriculture expert.

(Views are personal)

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