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New India @75: Justice to Farmer in India

By: Manisha Chauhan, Advocate

Recently, India celebrated its 73rd independence day and is nearing its platinum jubilee celebration of independence from the British. During this long journey, the Indian nation has made tremendous progress in all areas, be it social, economic, political, legal or technological. However, one of the most important agendas of the freedom struggle was to bring justice to the ordinary farmer of the country who had become the epitome of poverty during British rule. In this context, several initiatives have been taken by successive governments in the past, starting from land reforms in the period immediately after independence to the latest PM Kisan scheme. However, despite numerous steps taken by the various central and state governments, it just continues to elude the ordinary farmer in India, and he continues to remain an epitome of poverty in  India.   

This requires a careful analysis of the reasons for the state of affairs policy, what went wrong with the government policies, how the situation of changed in all these years and in what way the government policies should be modified so that the condition of the farmers is improved in the changed scenario.  

The process of land reforms started with the dawn of independence with great expectations of a turnaround in the farm sector, however, that was not the case. It was mainly because the land was distributed among those who used to till it, but once they got the land, they started leasing it to tenants and employing croppers to cultivate it. Furthermore, on several occasions, there were disproportionate allotments due to weaknesses in the Benami Act. 

The next important development in the farm sector was the revolution, which was touted as the elixir for food security country. Though the Green Revolution resulted in a tremendous jump in the quantum of agricultural production along with, it also skewed Indian agriculture substantially. Since it was largely concentrated in the areas of Punjab,  Haryana and western UP and primarily focused only on the production of rice and wheat-the two crops procured by the government under the MSP  regime, it resulted in disturbing crop patterns and fertility of the land in these areas. It also leads to indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater resources to cater to the water-guzzling rice crop, resulting in increased alkalinity of the soil and depletion of precious groundwater resources.  Furthermore, increased thrust over crop output led to indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers, thereby further depleting the natural revolution, continuing to remain largely insulated from the benefits of scientific and planned farming.  

Once the problem of food security was sorted out, agricultural growth and productivity ceased to occupy centre stage in government policy; rather, the government shifted its attention to the development of the industry and services sector. This further aggravated the crisis as in the absence of targeted and adequate government support in the forward and backward linkages, the profitability of the farm sector continued to decline, and consequently, the incomes of the farmers dipped. Though the government has been taking sporadic and localised initiatives on a  time-to-time basis, nothing substantial has come out of it, and immediate attention of the government is solicited on the issue of agricultural reforms. 

First of all, there is a need to look at the farm process in its entirety, right from the first step of preparation of the field to the selling of the crop The farmer has to be supported at every point. Now, since there are clear restrictions on procurements and direct subsidies under the amber box subsidies in the Agreement on Agriculture under the WTO, the government needs to concentrate more on supporting the farmer through the blue box and green box subsidies. In the same reference, the idea of the government providing robust agricultural infrastructure assumes importance. This implies that the government should have such a support structure at every point of the cycle across the country that the farmer can easily utilise it to streamline his pumping efficiencies. This can extend to suggestions like the availability of modern agricultural implements e, reference the create operations on rent, efficient crop modes of communication in the form of roads to transport the to the mandis, state-of-the-art cold storage facilities for increasing the shelf life of particularly the perishable crops, efficient online system of marketing covering the mandis of the country to ensure the most competitive pricing for the farmers from across the country. This could be supplemented with a robust programme of crop insurance to cover the damages caused to crops by natural calamities and other unavoidable factors. 

Apart from these measures, there is a strong narrative in favour of direct income transfer to the farmers in order to cover the income shortfall. This measure, along with similar measures like loan waivers, has become important in the wake of the restrictions on farm subsidies under the  Agreement on Agriculture (AOA). Since there are no restrictions on any kind of Direct Income Transfer under the WTO, the same is being extensively sold as a measure to alleviate the woes of the farmers and bring about an improvement in their income levels In the same reference,  several states are already running such schemes in their states, and recently the central government has also started a similar scheme to cover the beneficiary farmers under the PM-Kisan ha scheme. Nevertheless,  such measures of direct income transfer or loan waiver could be handy in the short run, but they could not be made a permanent feature. 

Perhaps the most important challenge starting the farm sector in the future is going to be climate change. Climate change has the potential to alter both drastically the income levels of the farmers as well as endanger the food security of the country. With the rise in global temperatures, there has been an increased tendency of floods and droughts throughout the world, which is going to have a serious bearing on the farm sector. In this context, some of the popular suggestions include working on the creation of drought-resistant varieties of seeds which can also survive major changes in temperature and pressure. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for large-scale afforestation, particularly in hilly areas, to prevent flash floods and soil erosion. 

Another aspect that is worth mentioning in the context of delivering justice to the farmers is through the creation of alternative means of income for them. In this context, the role of the construction sector and the animal husbandry sector assumes importance. There is a strong need for updating and enforcing the existing legislation in the construction sector.  Registration of workers with the Welfare Board should be made mandatory and be the responsibility of the contractor and the builder. If the contractor is found to engage or employ any worker without a  registration card/ID, penalties (monetary and non-monetary) should be imposed, which would then be used to improve awareness and penetration of registration cards and their benefits. 

As for the livestock sector, there is a strong case for improving the breeds of indigenous cattle to improve dairy production. In this context, an environment of competition must be created among alternative suppliers of artificial insemination. Consensus must be built among breeders to develop indigenous breeds. Animal health care should be prioritized, with greater investment in preventive health care. 

Farmers in India have been undeniably insulated from the benefits of development in the post-independence era. Despite the farmers being at the helm of the food security of the Indian nation, the government has largely failed to address their woes. Given the fact that the income security of around 70% of the country’s population is linked to farm incomes, the growth and prosperity of the farmers are intrinsically vital to both economic growth as well as the prosperity of the nation at large. In such a scenario, it is well established that India’s economic growth shall remain subdued till the time justice is not delivered to the farmers of the country.