Ramandeep Singh Mann Rural India seems to be the step-child of the development model being followed since long. The narrative being peddled by the urban economic “pundits” and the Ivy League “babus”, being seconded by policymakers, is that the best way forward is to take the agriculture labour out of the villages and into the cities.
But the million-dollar question is: From where will you create so many jobs, and accommodate this influx of labour in already overburdened cities? At the onset of the Modi-I government, the National Skills Development Council (NSDC) had ‘naively’ estimated that 18 per cent of India’s workforce would be employed in agriculture by 2022 — compared to 56 per cent in 2014 — which was scaled down “prudently” to a target of 38 per cent in 2017. The numbers still won’t be anywhere near the 38 per cent target by 2022.
Ramesh Chand, a member of the NITI Aayog, had done a study in 2017 which highlighted that India could double “real” farmer incomes by 2022, if cultivators were shifted to non-farm and subsidiary activities. According to the study, if the population of farmers were to decline in the same rate as during 2004-05 to 2011-12, their numbers would reduce by 13.4 per cent between 2015-16 and 2022-23. Farm income will be distributed among 13.4 per cent fewer farmers, thus increasing their incomes. It looks fine on paper, but where will these farmers go, and what will their families eat?
As per the results of the latest Agriculture Census 2015-16, the average size of operational holdings in the country is 1.08 hectare, and this is decreasing by the day; the total number of operational holdings in the country has increased from 138 million in 2010-11 to 146 million in 2015-16 — an increase of 5.33 per cent. Operational holdings are getting fragmented, which makes farming a less viable option for the small and marginal farmer (0-2 hectares) constituting 86.21 per cent of the total holdings in 2015-16 against 84.97 per cent in 2010-11. But can this mean that everyone is made to shun farming as an occupation and migrate to cities, which are already bursting at the seams? This will only serve to provide cheap labour to urbanites.
A better way out is perhaps for the government create MSMEs around rural clusters, which could give employment to rural labour. The government should ensure that the people into farming also get a “respectable” minimum monthly income through Direct Benefit Transfer, and by ensuring minimum support prices.
The disbursal of direct income to farmers has already started through the PM-KISAN scheme, and at best would need to be fine tuned. According to news reports, States have submitted data of 7.4 crore farmers, of which 5.5 crore have been validated by the Centre and the remaining are under different stages of verification. The feedback received from the farmers is that the amount of ₹6,000 per year will have to be increased to a respectable level for the scheme to make a dent. The Centre also needs to create a robust procurement mechanism, which includes price deficiency payments.
Last but not the least, the government has to ensure that every farmer gets a fair share of the price being paid by the consumers for his produce. To ensure this, the number of agri-markets in the country needs to increase.
The government must work in tandem with the States to ensure that Gramin Agricultural Markets are up and running at their full potential.
The writer is a Haryana-based farmer-activist