By: Tikender Panwar
These days one question asked most frequently during conversations is: Did it rain in your area? How good was it? Is it sufficient for the drinking water sources to pump water supply for another few days? What about the crops; is the rain enough for the kharif produce? Expressing completely misplaced and suicidal optimism that the situation was not grave, our Union agriculture minister gave us a succinct assurance on these questions; no need to worry, the monsoon would progress and is progressing well! True for a government that has continued with perilous neo-liberal policies even as over 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide, this apathy towards the plight of the peasants and agricultural workers is not unexpected.
It is alarming that there has been a huge drop in the acreage under cultivation for various crops. So far the delayed monsoons has led to reduction in paddy transplantation by 13.66 lakh hectares and it has been completed in only 38.14 lakh hectares compared to 51.80 lakh hectares in 2008-09. This is a shortfall of nearly 25 per cent. The intensity of the crisis comes out more starkly when one considers the fact that in Punjab and Haryana, which are regions endowed with assured irrigation, there is a shortfall of 8.17 lakh hectares in paddy transplantation. The shortfall is hence very clearly not merely a response to climatic conditions but to other factors including unremunerative prices, high input costs, skeletal or near absence of procurement mechanism, etc.
The shortfall in the case of coarse cereals is nearly 53 percent and it is covering merely 26.60 lakh hectares as against 56.54 lakh hectares in 2008-09. In the case of bajra the sowing has taken place only in 6.56 lakh hectares, which is not even 8 percent of the 2008-09 figures of 78.9 lakh hectares. Jowar has seen a reduction by nearly 50 percent at 3.62 lakh hectares when compared to 6.63 lakh hectares in 2008-09. The deficit in maize is 4.17 lakh hectares with the coverage being 14.21 lakh hectares and in the case of oil seeds it is almost down by 45 percent at 35.58 lakh hectares as opposed to 68.76 lakh hectares in 2008-09. Unremunerative prices have also seen a decline in acreage under sugarcane cultivation in 2008-09 and the MSP of 107/Qtl fixed does not even meet 70 percent of the costs incurred.
The delayed monsoons and drought-like situation has obviously been a major cause for the reduction in acreage under cultivation. It, however, needs to be noted that neo-liberal policies, unremunerative prices, high input costs and ineffective procurement mechanism as well as scuttling of extension facilities for dissemination of scientific technology, drought-resistant varieties and best agronomic practices had already created a situation of acute distress and indebtedness. In times of such an agrarian crisis the climatic conditions have only accentuated the problem and a farm disaster is staring at our resilient farmers.
The response of the government is far from wanting in this regard and certain recent decisions are an indicator of their utter callousness when it comes to the lives of millions of our farmers and agricultural workers. The Finance Minister�s budget speech spoke about fertilizer subsidies and the need to streamline it such that farmers get the benefit directly. The budgetary allocations, however, show a reduction of fertilizer subsidies by over Rs. 25,000 crores when compared to the revised estimates of 2008-09. Similarly, in the case of the minimum support price, the government has been claiming that �handsome prices� are being given to our farmers. The reality remains that the recommendations of the CACP has never been accepted in this regard and the MSP fixed is more often than not even lower than the cost of production. The Swaminathan Commission recommendation of C2+50% or the YK Alagh Commission recommendation to give statutory status to the CACP has been disregarded with contempt. The MSP for Kharif crops have not yet been announced and the delay is only going to lead to distress sales.
The clear pointer is towards the making of a national calamity and the government is culpable of having created the conditions leading to it. The least the government can do is to wake up even at this late hour, recognise that a drought is in the making and take urgent remedial measures to bail out the peasantry. The drastic reduction in acreage under cultivation is bound to have a deleterious impact on the livelihoods of the peasants and the poor as well as on the nation�s food security. There has to be an immediate response to the extraordinary situation from the government, failing which it will have to face the wrath of the peasantry and the rural poor.