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Agrarian crisis in Punjab: A need for urgent corrective political action

Gone are the days when Punjab had earned the title of “India’s bread basket.” The state was viewed as the most dynamic and progressive state of the country, particularly on account of its success in the agrarian sector during the green revolution. Of all the states of India, Punjab’s agricultural growth rate was the highest during the 1960s to the middle of the 1980s which was the first phase of the green revolution.

Today’s Punjab is the story of farmers’ suicide, youth unrest and the story of a dying civilisation. The Badal government has put the whole community of Punjabis to slow death. Farmers and the youth are the worst victims of this crisis. 15 farmers have committed suicide in the State within a span of 45 days.

Over the past decade, the state has experienced deceleration of its economy and has slipped in the ranking of the prosperous states in the country. The crisis in agriculture has manifested itself in the form of stagnating productivity, rising cost of production, decelerating income, shrinking employment, escalating indebtedness and ecological imbalance.

One of the main consequences of this agrarian distress has been that the marginal and small farmers, who find it increasingly hard to sustain on farming, are getting pushed out from agricultural sector. These farmers are not being fully absorbed outside this sector due to the unfavourable nature and structure of the industrial sector in the state. As many as 6,550 industrial units have been declared sick and 18,770 units have shut down or migrated out of Punjab since 2007.

Thus, a large chunk of ‘reserve army of labour’ is prevalent in the economy. It is estimated that about 75 lakh persons are unemployed in Punjab and the numbers are adding up each day. The picture is grimmer in rural areas. The situation has worsened to the extent that young farmers have become the victims of suicides. The attitude of the state administration is also pushing the people to the extreme. Villagers fear seeking help from State officials since they are often accused of causing the suicide, which is a crime under the Indian Penal Code.

Agrigarian crisis in punjab

Need for corrective political action:

It is a life and death question for Punjab now, particularly, for its farmers and youth. Punjab is a land famous for realising the dream of Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan. Now, both are dying, one is the victim of drugs and another of political apathy. Can’t we stop our great civilisation? We can and answer lies in corrective political action.

What is required is an agriculture model tailored to the needs of market and that should be the government’s answer to the crisis. The government should be clear on which direction to go keeping in mind the requirement of all sections of the farmers of the state. The then Congress government in Punjab had launched a plan to introduce 1936 formula once advocated by the well known farmers’ leader Sir Chotu Ram.

This formula envisaged waiver of loans if farmers have paid as much interest as the principal amount. The formula, which became an act, is not applied any more. To develop farming sector and to increase the farming efficiency, it was recommended to enhance the accessibility of small and marginal farmers to formal agricultural credit. It was also suggested that loan for the livestock should be enhanced.

Thus, by providing more credit for the purpose of livestock would definitely enhance farmers’ income and ultimately would reduce poverty. The then Government of India advised the financial institutions to double the supply of agricultural credit in three years, from 2004 to 2007. In the subsequent annual budgets, government of India had announced targets for credit to agriculture to ensure adequate credit flow to the sector.

To mitigate the distress of farming community, in general, and small and marginal farmers, in particular, and to declog the institutional credit channels and make farmers eligible for fresh credit, the debt waiver and debt relief scheme, 2008 was announced in the Union Budget for 2008-09. The then government had implemented a package for revival of Short-term Rural Cooperative Credit Structure in the country.

The revival package aimed at reviving/strengthening the Short-term Rural Cooperative Credit Structure (CCS) and to make it a well-managed and vibrant medium to serve the credit needs of rural India, especially the small and marginal farmers. Therefore, the 11th plan period was a period of action for the focus on increasing the flow of agricultural credit. This period saw an increase in the flow of credit to agriculture from 2,54,657 Crore (2007-08) to 4,46 ,779 crores (2010-11).

There are many kinds of unconventional risks emerging in the agrarian economy of Punjab, which if not estimated and addressed properly may pose a severe challenge to its sustainability and hence food productivity as well as the farm incomes. This risk may further endanger the food security position of the nation and may increase the vulnerability of the poor in the country.

The decline in groundwater has resulted into an increased consumption of power by the agricultural sector. The cost of cultivation has increased. Intoxication of ground water is another problem. Therefore, water harvesting management and construction of water embankments need serious attention of the Government. The ambiguous path of development has not created debt free farmers.

On the contrary debts of farmers have been multiplying. Institutionalized credit system had failed to address the issues of rural indebtedness. This is the reason why moneylenders have transformed themselves into a form of sharecroppers or absentee owners. Many a time the agreement that the farmers entered into with the money lending class is either in the oral form or in the written form, which has no legal sanctity. This has aggravated the problem, particularly the families of deceased- the state would not recognize the loan taken from the moneylenders except the institutions.

Lack of access to credit is a severe constraint for many farmers in Punjab. The shortage of credit availability or capital constraint faced by the farmers is one of the major problems in the adoption of modern technologies and efficiency improvement in the agriculture sector. There are several irritating and bureaucratic hassles in obtaining an institutional credit.

Studies have found that a farmer on an average has to incur Rs 4016 for obtaining a loan from a commercial bank, which amounts to about 5 per cent of his total loan. Therefore, it is high time to address these inadequacies of the institutional sources. The farming sector development could be achieved by scheduling an adequate policy framework for more efficient performance of rural financial market.

To conclude, Punjab state is a major agricultural state, which is important from national food security point of view as well.

However, there has been a recent slowdown in agricultural growth and large-scale degradation of soil and water degradation has been witnessed. It is significant to note that even though farmers are migrating from agriculture, alternative sources of income are not available because of dying industrialisation in the State. The gradual withdrawal of the state from active participation in development activities has resulted in sharp decline in public investment in agricultural infrastructure and research.

Also Read – AGRARIAN CRISIS IN PUNJAB- Need for Corrective Political Action

Clearly, suicide is not an individual act. The problem of suicides in farming community needs, therefore, to be tackled in a holistic way. Compensation after death is not a solution rather can act as a trigger to encourage more suicides. The solution lies in preventive measures like financial help to the farmers who are in need of it. Remedies have to be found not only in terms of short term or immediate solutions to suicides, but also long term solutions to end the agrarian crisis itself.

While immediate measures could include relief, mainly financial relief, to the families of suicide victims, and attempts at their rehabilitation, the long-term measures to ‘nip the evil in the bud’ should comprise of attempts at rural industrialization. This could be done on the lines of how and what has been undertaken in East Asian countries especially in Taiwan. Farmers’ cooperatives, sans middlemen, to produce, process and market output on the farm gates can be a way out. This would not only provide the agricultural sector with a much-needed diversification from the wheat-paddy rotation, but also prove to be remunerative in terms of incomes and employment.

Also Read – What youth of Punjab Want?

Crop insurance programmes need to be strengthened, especially in cash crops like cotton, where the yield and price variability are relatively high. Innovative loan settlement mechanisms need to be developed in the case of crop failure so that the farmers can cope with falling incomes and tide over financial crises. Regulation of non-institutional lenders is necessary to prevent them from charging exploitative rates of interest from farmers and pushing them into a debt trap. Majority of the farmers in Punjab are small farmers and, therefore, the technology promoted in agriculture should be the one that is better able to safeguard the interests of these small farmers.

State government, apart from supporting and extending cooperation, must become innovative to articulate policies in the fast globalizing world to prod farmers’ organizations to initiate those activities, which integrate the processing and marketing activities on the farm gates. This also underlines that the state and state-run financial institutions would have to alter their system of lending-loans and would have to be made adequate, timely, cheap and commensurate with demand. The red tape and additional costs involved, which makes institutional loans so unattractive, would also have to be cut drastically.

Agrarian distress and its manifestation in the form of suicides have to be dealt with in all seriousness, beginning from soothing broken-both mentally and financially-families to longer term remedies of correcting the crisis itself. There can be no short cuts, only patient, persistent efforts by learning, adapting, adopting and implementing.

(The author is a Supreme Court advocate and National Media Panellist, The Indian National Congress )

Source:http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/politics/jaiveer-shergill/agrarian-crisis-in-punjab-a-need-for-urgent-corrective-political-action-14401-1155397.html

AGRARIAN CRISIS IN PUNJAB- Need for Corrective Political Action

Gone are the days when Punjab had earned the title of “India’s bread basket.” The state was viewed as the most dynamic and progressive state of the country, particularly on account of its success in the agrarian sector during the green revolution. Of all the states of India, Punjab’s agricultural growth rate was the highest during the 1960s to the middle of the 1980s which was the first phase of the green revolution. Today’s Punjab is the storey of famers’ suicide, youth unrest and the storey of a dying civilisation. The Badal Government has put the whole community of Punjabis to slow death. Farmers and the youth are the worst victims of this crisis. 15 farmers have committed suicide in the State within a span of 45 days.

It is a life and death question for Punjab now, particularly, for its farmers and youth. Punjab is a land famous for realising the dream of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kishan’. Now, both are dying, one is the victim of drugs and another of political apathy. Can’t we stop our great civilization? We can and answer lies in corrective political action. What is required is an agriculture model tailored to the needs of market and that should be the government’s answer to the crisis. The government should be clear on which direction to go keeping in mind the requirement of all sections of the farmers of the state.

Agrarian distress and its manifestation in the form of suicides have to be dealt with in all seriousness, beginning from soothing broken-both mentally and financially-families to longer term remedies of correcting the crisis itself. There can be no short cuts, only patient, persistent efforts by learning, adapting, adopting and implementing.

(The author is a Supreme Court advocate and National Media Panelist, The Indian National Congress –  Jaiveer Shergill)

Faultlines: Jammu and Kashmir

When the Prime Minister was in Jammu, delivering speeches on political grammar, the valley was up in flare with Pakistan flags and presence of ISIS, depicting a clear picture that either both the Centre and the State Government have lost control over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir or some sort of political engineering is taking shape in the State, in connivance with the ruling alliance, which is detrimental to our national interest and the people of the State. The incidents in Kathua and Anantnag are still fresh in our memory. The terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir continue unabated.

Nothing has been learnt from the past mistakes. The Kathua attack came less than a week after India sent its foreign secretary to Islamabad to resume talks with Pakistan. Whereas the political leadership of the State feels that the attacks are handiwork of non-State actors, the paramilitary and civilians continue to suffer.

Einstein had said, ‘any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent’. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction. The situation in Jammu & Kashmir was allowed to be become complicated and violent in the winter of March when the dreaded Masarat Alam was released. His release could have been avoided. Then, the Union government had the opportunity to detain him, but they did not and, unfortunately, no satisfactory answer was given for this by the Home Minister in his statement in Parliament on 12 March.

Consequence, the period of calm is over, a shudder runs again through the valley. With temperature rising in the valley, snow is melting, so also the peace. If we are shocked by the anti-India and pro-Pakistan activities of Alam on our soil, we should not be because you cannot expect serenity and tranquillity from an agent provocateur. But, the role of the BJP-PDP government in the state and the BJP government at the Centre and the manner in which the entire episode was mishandled needs scrutiny not only to dissect what went wrong but to plan how to correct in future.

When opportunism prevails over conscience, such consequences are bound to happen. In fact, the silent areas of the common minimum programme are the fault lines of governance in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, the state, which has been an example of secularism for the rest of the country, has been somewhat polarized. The tone and tenor of Masarat Alam and Geelani’s speech is a clear indication that the Indian flag is under cloud in the valley. Even as tension continues to loom over the State and normal life has come to a halt in the valley, there no single senior Minister present in state capital to coordinate with civil and police administration to bring back normalcy in the State. The arrest of Masarat Alam and Geelani on 17 March was not a preventive action but a late reaction taken in pressure to continue the power sharing formula in Srinagar.

The declaration by the Central government that it will construct a composite township for rehabilitation of Kashmir Pandits did not help to improve the prospects of peace in the valley either. Kashmir Pandits are an integral part of economy, culture and political set up of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no doubt that they should return to the valley but will it serve any purpose if they physically move and remain culturally cut off from their roots? In fact, what the governments, both in Centre and at the state, plan to do is to establish separate colonies for Kashmir Pandits knowing very well that colonies by nature are homogeneous and the idea of composite character does not fit it at all.

Kasmiriyat does not allow creation of separate habitations for Muslims and Pandits. Even this is not acceptable to the Pandits and neither the Centre and nor the State Government has discussed any such proposal with the community. They want safety, security, livelihood guarantee and confidence building measures and not separate colonies to return. Rather this flawed political declaration, understood to be made after taking the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed into confidence, is a step towards isolating the Pandits further and has made their return difficult.

For BJP, it is a moment of introspection. A party that grabs power even at the cost of compromising its fundamental ideology is beset with intransigence highly detrimental to national interests. The need of the hour is protection of lives and livelihood of people in Jammu and Kashmir. Arrest of Masarat Alam and Geelani should not be end in itself but system must be geared up to ensure speedy trial and toughest of punishment for the sedition that will set a deterrence for author hate mongers in the valley.

Let a strong message go across the border also that India will not allow any anti-national activity on its soil, either supported and instigated by external forces or perpetrated by their agents here. Also important is that the political leadership in the Centre and the state should not play into the trap of the separatists who are hell bent to create political and civil unrest in the state.

Our foreign policy should be based on pragmatic considerations to protect interests of India as sovereign nation-state rather than guided by internal political considerations. The admission of Hafiz Saeed that government of Pakistan, its army, in collusion with militants like Saeed, are actively operating to destabilize Jammu and Kashmir, even though is not a new innovation, should be seriously taken by the political establishment and security forces in Delhi and Srinagar, for the danger it poses to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Release of Lakhvi in Pakistan, anti-India propaganda by elements like Hafiz Saeed, Masarat Alam and Geelani and increasing violence in J&K should not be viewed as events in isolation. This is the opportune time to address problem in a comprehensive manner with utmost urgency. Any government that fails to protect lives of its subjects has no moral right to govern.

For the central forces operating from the state, situation is very dicey and challenging. A single mistake by them has the potential to turn the already volatile valley into a cauldron. New Delhi and Srinagar must be alert to deal with deal with such pressure situations and the more and more preventive measures are taken, the better for the people of paradise on earth.

Source-“http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/politics/jaiveer-shergill/faultlines-jammu-and-kashmir-14401-1022187.html”