There is no country in the world where agriculture doesn’t need the support of the government. If the policies of the government are supportive enough, farming flourishes. In the Indian scenario, the case has been different. It’s not that the government policies are anti-farming per se, but the fact established over a period of time is that these policies have not been effective on-ground, thereby not making any concrete solution to the overall situation.
Although it seems difficult to assess each and every scheme of the government, it can be argued that populism is the major force driving agricultural policies, take the recently launched Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) for example. In this scheme, income support of ₹6000/- per year is provided to all landholding farmer families across the country, irrespective of land size, in three equal instalments of ₹2000/- every four months.
Let’s analyse it. If I am not weak in the basics of mathematics, ₹6000/- per year means ₹16.43/- per day. I do not understand this. Providing someone just ₹16 per day is not income support in any way, at least for me.
Moreover, it provides so-called income support to all landholding farmer families irrespective of land size. I don’t know why prosperous farmers with large landholdings require income support? What about tenants or those who are not owners of land and merely work as agricultural labours?
Many agriculturalists and economists appreciate this scheme. For me, it’s just another fancy scheme launched by the government to gain votes. It is nothing but another unnecessary burden on the state exchequer.
Unfortunately, a plethora of such useless schemes exist at both the central and state level. Exponents of such schemes describe them as farmer-friendly, but we know the reality.
The problem is that our approach is not clear.
We are aiming to achieve productivity and sustainability at the same time. After realizing the adverse consequences of agrochemicals, we are planning to adapt to organic farming in the form of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana. On the other hand, we are thinking of bringing the Green Revolution in the North East, further devastating the land already degraded by practices like shifting cultivation. It’s high time the government give up this hit-and-trial approach.
When the policies are made without consulting the stakeholders involved, it is highly likely that political and bureaucratic efforts are going to be in vain. Madhya Pradesh government had launched Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana, touted as India’s first price deficiency payment system, in 2017. It hoped to provide support to the farmers by compensating them for the difference between the minimum support price (MSP) of the produce and the price at which farmers sold their produce in the market.
Like what always happens, the idea was noble, but implementation was not.
First of all, the scheme considers average district yield for calculating the potential income of the farmer, rather than an individual farmer’s yield. Sudhakar Gummula, in his article, wrote that these district’s average figures are highly unreliable as they are based on sample crop cutting experiments as conducted by the agricultural department.
Further, the absurd thing about the scheme is that if the price is higher than the modal price and lower than MSP, he will be paid less by the government. Sumedha Pal reported that the farmers who had sold their rabi produce were taken aback when the news of crop being returned by their mandi broke. Return slips of over 350 quintals of rabi produce were handed over to the farmers as the details of the farmers could not be successfully logged into the government portal.
Another major shortcoming is that the scheme excludes farmers selling outside the mandi system. In short, it can be concluded that the experiment remains complicated and disincentivizing, which explains why the registration of farmers on the portal remains insignificant.
A study on agricultural policies in India by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, an organization for economic cooperation and development, and co-authored by the renowned farm economist Ashok Gulati, was published with startling revelations. It concluded that the restrictions on agricultural marketing amounted to ‘implicit taxation’ on farmers to the tune of ₹45 lakh crore from 2000–01 to 2016–17. This is nearly ₹2.56 lakh crore per year. No other country does this.
Multiple schemes exist for a single objective. What else can we expect in such a situation other than a fiscal deficit or extravagant expenditure, to be precise? Whether it’s Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana replacing erstwhile crop insurance schemes or Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana subsuming older schemes, it’s nothing but old wine in a new bottle, to be frank. Policies change because of the change in the government not because flaws have to be corrected. Welfare schemes, thus, remain only fanfare.
There is something terribly wrong with our approach. We have now started talking about Farming 3.0 which is primarily and largely about a technologically-driven environment. It basically assumes that all the farmers have high-tech smartphones in their hand in which they can see weather forecasting updates, sell their crops to distant locations and so on. But the fact is that we have miserably failed in Farming 1.0, which was all about bringing land reforms and Farming 2.0, which aimed at improving productivity and attaining food self-sufficiency thereafter.
Policies have to designed and framed by considering the ground realities, analyzing socio-economic profiles in rural areas, and understanding geographical, climatic and edaphic diversity. Reforms (to be discussed in next parts) are to be introduced considering the needs of our own system. Our growth model doesn’t need to be in line with growth models of the western world.
I believe, one factor, unsure if it is major or minor, behind policy paralysis pertaining to agriculture lies in the fact that agriculture, as per our constitution, is a state subject. The Center is free to make model laws, but it’s all up to states to accede to it or not. Had the subject been in the concurrent list, it would have been easier to establish harmony between the Center and the states regarding policy formulation associated with farming.