Rs 32,000 crore for public relations

Published: Saturday 15 March 2008

by the time a copy of this magazine reaches you, the finance minister would would have presented the Union Budget in Parliament. The details of the Rs 32,000-crore debt relief package--reported by the media mid-February--would be out. There will be discussions on the effectiveness of the package. The ruling upa coalition is already hard at work to make this relief package look like the fulfillment of promises made after it came to power in 2004.

It is now evident the upa government has made no difference. The debt relief package itself shows the reason for this failure: the government refusal to acknowledge the crisis in Indian agriculture. The present government has made no real attempt to refashion what is wrong. The accepted thinking is that there is nothing essentially wrong with systems that govern agriculture in India. The problem is one of delivery. Farmers should get more credit to buy more inputs to produce more. This thinking arose after the successes of the Green Revolution. Since the 1980s, there has been no concerted effort to understand what's ruining a majority of India's farmers.

The symptoms are there for all to see: inputs costs have outstripped the prices farmers get for their produce. The government will do nothing to ensure better prices for Indian farmers, who have to compete with the heavily subsidized rich farmers of Europe and North America--the excuse being if prices increase beyond a certain range, food would become unaffordable for millions. So the farmers have to pay the price of affordable food and the government's failure to negotiate subsidies at the World Trade Organization.

Another way to improve farm income is to cut down the price of inputs, or better still, the amount of inputs; economists call it demand side management. But this is inimical to the way the Indian Council of Agricultural Research thinks. For four decades now, this body has drilled it into the farmers that the more inputs they apply, the greater the produce. The plateauing of agricultural growth is a testament to the council's scientific ineptitue. Agricultural scientists have great proximity with the input industry--pesticides and seed companies, for example. This ensures that research is not targeted towards reducing agricultural costs without cutting down on production. Instead, wha the Indian farmers get is a relief package that will do nothing to alleviate the long-term crisis.

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