pointReturn’s handyman Kutty was struggling to save a two acre crop of peanuts he had grown. His family of two adults and two young children lugged 40 kg bags of peanuts to their tiny thatched hut, there to wait for the sun to break out. Another lease holder abandoned a 5 acre crop for want of hands to salvage it. Motorable access to pointReturn was closed for three days. I had ordered some bricks- the access to the kiln was flooded. Almost every work initiative I had planned for this usually dry, hot month was put on hold. I had time on my hands for further reflections.
The current government in New Delhi was formed by an unexpected election accident. It had declared it was for the ‘aam aadmi’ [‘common man’] because it was a good pose to strike. Once elected it forgot all about the slogan and went back to the way of all goverments.
For two decades New Delhi has pampered organised industry and it has delivered, keeping the economy growing at around 6.5%. But governments have treated agriculture as a hopeless, sick child. Statistics show that agriculture has been growing at less than 2.0%. But it engages close to 60% of the population. Is this not an indication of its growth potential and should have received the greater attention and investment? This insight eludes Indian economists brought up on a diet of western world’s development theories, never mind the west doesn’t have the land dependant population that India has.
Deep in its collective heart, India’s political establishment believes rapid industrialisation is the goal to aim for; that an open door trade and investment policy in every economic activity is the way to get there; that income inequalities will be evened out by prosperity trickling down; that the numerous special economic zones created, -often on agricultural lands- will generate jobs and sustained properity; that India in the long run must come to have no more than 5% of its population in agriculture and that until that ideal balance comes about the only thing to do is to manage the inevitable social churning. Policy makers’ further tenets are that unending supply of industrial grade power must be assured for high standards of living; that such a living will create demand for products and services to keep the economy growing; that rising world trade will make all products available everywhere; that all food can be grown by mechanisation and engineered crops or freely imported from global markets;that the environmental costs of modern production processes are inevitable, over estimated and in any case, can be ‘fixed’ with the surpluses that a booming economy will produce.
This monomaniacal commitment to industrial growth has made agriculture a basket case. With rising costs of agricultural inputs, poor produce price support and changes in the aspirations of young rural folk, farming in today’s India is shorn of all dignity, cheer or sustenance. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide to escape hopeless situations, a fact that would have stopped another country in its tracks but in India, barely engages the minds of most city folks.