In June, 1964 when Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri ji sworn in as Prime Minister of India, country was actually going thru a tough phase of poverty, insecurity, unemployment and polarized socioeconomics after partition. The need of time was to encourage agricultural produce, bring in self-sustainability and therefore he called for “Jai Jawaan- Jai Kisaan”.
67 long years… since our independence, have gone by. India has taken the world on various parameters; we emerged as think tank for IT, grew our Atomic, Nuclear and defense power, evolved scientific researches, been to moon and have developed a huge market for trans-national companies to come, participate in our growth & in the exchange have ventured in various industries of nations across the Globe. Ever since we attained our independence, various 5 years plans, planning commissions, bundles of schemes to empower people and provide them good education for better employment and thus life.. have been announced and perhaps implemented, let say at least partially. while we have come a long way now but an important and essential sector of our economy has been grossly ignored and overlooked. Agriculture… has not been given it due attention and therefore I write with complete responsibility that having ignored its importance, we have indeed embarked on a path that is more fragile and less assured.
Our history is evident to understand that 75% of India’s population still lives in rural india despite accelerated urbanization which is less growth driven and more to do with selfishness of politicians and land/ real estate mafias. Importance of Agriculture sector in Indian economy has always been very significant. As per reports published by various institutions, India ranks 2nd largest producer of Agro products, farm output and associated sectors such as forestry, fishery & milk products. All these sectors accounted 17% of GDP and considered to have deployed approx 50% of workforce, as evaluated in 2009.
The painful, shocking and concerning fact is that economic contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP is gradually and steadily declining. While India is moving ahead with its broad-based economic growth, agriculture is demographically the broadest economic sector and plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic fabric of India. Referring to the census done during 2011, India now have 95.8 million people for whom farming is their main occupation which is indeed less than 8% of total population base. The count has come down from 103 million in 2001 and 110 million in 1991 and this also Includes small time farmers who are marginally aligned and engaged into land cultivation (22.8 million) which is still less than 10% of the population.
MGNREGA: The other side of Coin
In 2005, when UPA Govt introduced much talked MGNREGA scheme which was aimed to be given employment guarantee to each work who is above 18 years of age, the nation has a perspective that this plan is going to change the overall socio-economic paradigm for good. This scheme though had helped drive many people to get work but the key objective of plan was lost mid way in its own execution and within prevailing system which has many flaws. No one can ensure or comment (except political parties) that MGNREGA funds have been utilized to its fullest or even maximum per say. As per reports published by Ministry of Rural development and Planning commission, a huge sum of Rs 1,10,000 cr have been spent by now. We may debate about the final delivery of the scheme but objective was very broad and intent was good. It is corruption against which such a good plan has succumbed.
By sharing the above mentioned fact about MGNREGA, my very purpose is to highlight that fact that while Govt has given its focus on providing employment to people by building roads, canals, ponds, schools & hospitals (ironically some of them were though constructed on papers and could never go beyond a red taped file), it was grossly overlooked that if Agriculture sector was considered for giving employment opportunities, there could have been multiple beneficiaries and a multifold growth could have been attained. If people were trained and attracted to work in the farms, agro produced would have increased, a sector could have got focus, sustainability on food, grains or milk products would have improved.
Today, as the facts are evident, there is extreme scarcity of agricultural laborers. Villagers have either migrated to cities in search of better life and substantial earnings or they have become defunct and are no longer ready to work in the farms. This is therefore evident that despite MGNREGA kind of programs, the gradual migration has rather increased and there is increasing shortage of workers now. Even if we put together all cultivators and agricultural labourers in count, the number would be around 263 million (22 % of the national population). Interestingly, this reduced figure comes after a few big states have actually reported a rise in the total number of cultivators. Since 85 per cent of all marginal workers reported more than a 100 days work, this could possibly reflect the reverse pull of MNREGA, among other factors).
MGNREGA Sameeksha report-2012 published by Ministry of Rural development states the facts that an average of Rs 120-191 per person per day wage has been attained under the scheme and that average wage has increased by 81% ever since the MGNREGA is introduced. It is also reported that 80% households are being paid directly thru banks/post office accounts (a questionable fact indeed). As per data, 146 lakhs works have been performed which are of electrification, rural road connectivity (19%), irrigation (14%), water conservation and harvesting (25%), flood and drought protection (12%) and construction of houses for SC/ST (14%) etc. Keeping all these statistics in perspective, the very first question that appears here is if aforesaid details are to be believed, what is compelling these people to migrate out of their villages despite a guaranteed income & employment? And the answers are;
- Rs 191 do not reach to person whom it has been intended for. She/he merely gets Rs 80-90 which is 50% of planned wage.
- Since, Rs 80-90 are sufficient (arguably) for day’s expenditure & livelihood in the villages, one can buy rice, flour & dals/vegetables & oil to cook food for a day…it look viable for a worker to agree for Rs 80-90 without actually working.
- The village head, contractors, officials gang up and pick their own shares from balance of the amount.
- From the leftover amount the laborer buys liquor from the syndicate run by same set of people who are either contractor or village heads. A magazine Down to Earth has done a very good expose. The magazine gives the example of one Sunil Verma, reportedly a village head of Dakkin panchayat who has assets worth more than Rs 3.75 crore, investments over Rs 35 lakh in insurance policies and nearly 14 bank accounts. Village heads who earn around Rs 8000 per month are purchasing guns, SUVs and appointing private guards for their security? Isn’t it evident that how the money planned to be given to poors is being looted in an organized way?
- There are fake job cards that have been issued to scamsters, Fake construction works that indeed don’t take place, fictitious bills and claims, payments being made to ghost firms and many more ways of corruption.
I believe that MGNREGA is an example of helicopter economics where the government plans to spend a huge amount of tax-payers money to guarantee jobs (or to meet their political objectives) to poor people of this country but without adequate checks and balances, without correcting the loopholes or rather supporting the defaulters. Govt. is repeatedly being failed to figure out whether the money is actually being spent for what it is meant for and indeed being siphoned off in various ways. The village heads in Bihar would have operated along similar lines. The people MGNREGA is benefiting the most, are the village heads and government officials, who are standing right under the helicopter from which the government is dropping money.
The Need of Hour:
Nation requires immediate attention on its core industry, Agriculture. There are essential decisions, changes and policy correction that are required to be taken at accelerated pace. Not only financial support but also training, marketing & skill developments are some aspects, which are to be looked upon. An emergence of migration from village to city is not only hampering agro production but also leading to a disastrous situation for the time to come.
Training: Farmers needs to be given qualitative input so as to they can get best out of the work they are putting up. They need to be taught about the high value crops and modern methods of agriculture that is scientifically robust and more beneficial. Block Development officers are to be engaged with group of farmers and facilitate them. Important activities such as Soil testing, availability of appropriate Seeds & fertilizers are some of the work which can turn around the situation if handled properly.
Skill Development: Across country, conservative way of Agriculture is another challenge. Farmers do not venture into good crops because they lack knowledge, exposure and also know how. Understanding of improved and scientific methods, skills to handle new equipment and tools, exposure about outer world and correct information about market are usually found missing. They only produce what their ancestors had been doing and what they had been taught about. While there are plans and provisions made in development policies but it does not reach to the right people. Ensuring that farmers are given adequate skill development training, knowing what is in demand, what can be produced in less expenditure and hassle and yield them better returns, will surely help attain the purpose.
The need of hour is participation, cooperative initiatives, transparent and speedy execution of plans that are required to bring positive change. Appropriate contribution should come from education and learning where new generation should be taught and encouraged about India’s biggest industry.