3, 18, 528…
See the number above? It is the number of farmers killing themselves to get out of the ever-increasing amount of debt. Over the course of 10 years, about 3, 18, 528 farmers (an estimate given by the National Crime Records Bureau) have killed themselves; this means that a farmer is killing himself every half hour. The issue is so serious that Supreme Court bench asked the Centre on 27th March to file a report on the situation. They also asked respective state governments to place a report regarding the solutions they would be adopting. The court also wants the government to bring a policy in place, that would deal with the cause of farmers’ suicide in India.
Easier said than done!
With a race towards the development, it seems like farmers’ conditions and causes have fallen through the cracks of bureaucracy. However, it is not the first time that cases as sensitive as these have placed the government in jeopardy. Whether it was the NDA government in the center or the present Modi Sarkar, agriculture issue and loan waiving schemes have always been a thorn in their side. To waive the loans of the farmers across the country, Centre would need Rs. 3,000,000,000,000. Is it possible? To answer the question, we have to understand the root of the issue and figure out, what happened to the developing Indian agriculture.
The Root Cause
Despite what the ruling or the opposing parties might be saying, the unrelenting heat wave and the changing political scenes are not the reasons for the farmers’ crisis; nor is the demonetization. The actual cause of the present crisis is the volatile market.
Farmers of our country buy all the needed materials, such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and more, from the retail market, which sells the product at a higher price. However, they sell the farm produce at the wholesale market, which gives them the lowest maximum price of the product. This results in the middleman, i.e. the wholesalers, earning the maximum profit (as they sell the same product in the retail market at a much higher rate) and farmers ending up with just pennies despite their grueling efforts.
Add the cost of various treatments and increasing costs of education, the money that farmers make is not enough to pay the debts and plant another season of crops, while managing the family life. This often leads to the farmers getting loans at a higher rate from moneylenders. The political pundits, who are often asked to meet the demands of the farmers, do nothing when they are in power.
Droughts and Volatile Growth
The past decade has been a little temperamental for the agriculture industry. The two back-to-back droughts have brought four consecutive failures of Kharif and Rabi crops between 2014 and 2016. This led to the farmers suffering massive losses. The majority of farmers killed themselves when after suffering those losses. Many got their crops eaten by animals, while others were victims of droughts, debt burden, and price crashes.
However, the production did not suffer. There was a production of 252 million tons of food grains in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, and with the monsoon back to normal, the food production for 2016-2017 has already surpassed the production of the last year.
The Vote Bank
For years, both sides of the government have used the agriculture section as a stepping-stone to win the polls. Loan waivers act as a plank for the contesting party. The recent assembly polls in Punjab saw Capt. Amarinder Singh promised ‘Karza kurki khatam’ (end to farm debt recovery) ahead of the polls. This resulted in farmers (with total farm loans of Rs 7500 crore) deliberately defaulting the payment at the start of Rabi season.
Maharastra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had to agree to loan waivers (with a few conditions) to keep the government running as the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray issued a veiled threat to pull out of the government if his demands were not met.
Similarly, the unconventional agitation by the Tamil Nadu farmers in Delhi in March and April resulted in Madras High Court directing the state to waive the loans. This would lead to the state suffering a setback of about Rs. 40,000 crore. With their outrageous yet unique way, the farmers of Tamil Nadu have grabbed attention. They have shaved their heads and half their mustaches, conducted mock funerals, put mice and snakes in their mouths, stripped at Raisina Hill, carried skulls of farmers who committed suicide and even flogged themselves.
They have given the CM of Tamil Nadu one month and threatened to continue their protest in July if their demands are not met.
Addressing the Issue
All political parties have their reasons to get behind the protesting farmers, the national opposition party, Congress, has called for Bharat Bandh, a nationwide lockdown. While the Maharastra and Tamil Nadu chief minister had assured the farmers they’d meet their demands, the Punjab chief minister, despite his promise before the assembly elections, has not agreed to the demands of loan waivers.
However, there is another number in the play and seems to be dutifully ignored by the protestors and opposition alike.
Rs. 3,000,000,000,000 is the amount it would cost to waive the loans of farmers across all states. The government of India has always acknowledged farmers as the backbone of Indian economy, but they should realize that acknowledgments are not enough. Agreeing to the farmers’ demands might be the best course for now. However, if the Modi government is serious about doubling the farmers’ income by 2022, they would need to fix the imbalances in the government policies. This would mean offering crop insurance, reducing the dependence on monsoon for irrigation purposes and creating awareness regarding the crop variation system, to keep the soil fertile all the year long.