The continuing suicide by farmers in many states of the country has put the government machinery in an awkward position. Initially the Maharashtra government ignored such suicides, but the pressure kept on mounting, as every day there is news of fresh suicides by farmers, notwithstanding the relief package for those families who have lost their bread-earners. The state government is now finding it difficult to keep silence on the matter as the Bombay High Court, on the plea from All India Biodynamic and Organic Association, has taken up the matter. Reacting to this plea the Court had requested the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), a reputed institution involved in doing a quality research work in the field of social sciences to conduct a study. The TISS submitted its report on March 15, 2005 to the Court.
On going through the report, one finds that TISS has unequivocally endorsed the findings of farmers? forum established in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra under the banner of Maharashtra Cotton Growers Sangh (MCGS), led by Dr W.R. Korpe, Dr M.G. Bokare, Dr Govindrao Gudadhe, Sudam Deshmukh and many other leading personalities in early 1970s. It only means that during these 35 years no one in the government has bothered to address the basic issues faced by agricultural sector of the country and make the agriculture operation permanently sustainable.
The TISS report has brought out various fundamental issues for the consideration of the Court. The report has also requested the Court to advise the government machinery to take corrective steps without loss of time to prevent further suicides. It has come out loud and clear that governments? wrong agricultural policies of the past five decades have been responsible for the present pathetic condition of the sector in general and the farmers in particular.
Investment and indebtedness of farmers
The decrease in investment in this sector is huge over the Plan period of five decades despite having over 70 per cent of population dependent on this sector and sector's25 per cent contribution in total GDP, and also providing maximum employment. About three-fourth contribution to GDP is from subsistence agriculture. Despite this, the investment in this sector has climbed down from 14.9 per cent during the First Plan to only 5.2 per cent during the Tenth Plan. The decrease is steep particularly during the last seven years as per data available with TISS. It is also said that the total investment to the GDP ratio has also declined from 1.6 per cent to 1.3 per cent.
Despite having several schemes for irrigation and harnessing of water resources on plan papers, the sector has been suffering from shortage of water, including ground water, in these affected states. As a result, agriculture is mostly rain dependent. There are at least one or some time two, dry spells in a period of four years, thereby making farming an uneconomic activity. Also, due to this uncertainity, many farmers have, during late 1980s, shifted their priority in favour of cash crops.
The report exposes ineffectiveness of the government machinery in providing required information as regard to crop patterns, how to deal with pests menace and declining productivity of land. Many farmers complained that they did not get any timely guidance from the concerned government agencies on matters relating to supply of spurious seeds by manufacturers as well as dealers, use of unlimited fertilizers and chemicals, etc. Dealers and manufacturers of such products were the only source of information to the affected farmers. These agents and suppliers have been painting rosy pictures about quick prosperity by using these chemical products. But when the crops failed on this account, none of them came forward to take the responsibility.
TISS, by taking some clues from a research study, says, ?Under the guidance of the IMF and World Bank, successive Indian governments slashed their expenditure on rural development (including expenditure on agriculture, rural development, special areas development, irrigation and flood control, village industry, energy and transport?the figures are for Centre and states combined) from 14.5 per cent of GDP in 1985-90 to 5.9 per cent in 2000-2001. Rural growth is now flat; per capita food grains consumption has fallen dramatically to levels lower than the 1939-44 famine, the situation is calamitous.? (emphasis original).
The report says that roots of crisis in the agrarian systems can be seen in pre-liberalisation era. However the said problems have accentuated due to the changed global context.
Government programmes have induced farmers to go for large-scale use of fertilizers and other chemicals with a hope to reap the benefits of higher productivity. Over dependence on fertilizers, pesticides and even HYV seeds, demands more water. However, TISS has found that farmers have been spending more on fertilizers even while crop performance had been showing a declining trend. The research team observes that such large-scale use of chemical products by the farmers has only given benefits to suppliers and not to farmers. As such the report says, ?The Court should direct the Central Government to come up with policies that focus on farmers rather than seed and fertilizer corporations, who enhance their profit margins at the cost of millions of farmers. The Court could direct the Central Government to frame policies that would support the marginal and small farmers to remain on land.?
Mismatch between input cost and selling prices
This issue was the major contribution made by MCGS in early 1970s by demanding cost of production-based prices for all agriculture products. The farming community was all the time suffering due to price manipulations by traders and speculators. They were all the time incurring losses as the prices obtained for farm products were invariably much less than the actual cost of production. The then Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik, himself being a farmer, had quickly understood the ground realities how the farmers were made to financially suffer by these middlemen. He quickly legislated the cotton monopoly purchase scheme for farmers of the state. Interestingly the TISS team has also found a serious mismatch between actual cost of production and realisation from sale of agriculture products. This is a single major issue affecting the entire farming community for more than five decades and making the agriculture activity unviable, and, as such unsustainable.
The research team of TISS has obtained most of the data from the government departments to understand the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism as well as the extent of losses suffered by marginal and small farmers on this account.
The farming community of Maharashtra and other similar states has lost very heavily on account of their governments using unscientific methods for arriving at MSP for decades. The report states a few cases of such mass scale exploitation of farmers.