This was in my mind for long. To start a column on the state of Indian economy in Organiser to demystify the big jigsaw of globalisation that is turning the Indian society upside down. The immediate inspiration was a small study group I was asked to preside over at the Swadeshi Vichar Kendra in the capital, which reviewed the economy in 2007 and its shadow on 2008.
The speakers, experts in their area of specialisation, painted a gloomy, agonising picture of Indian agriculture. This is the most neglected area under liberalisation. But an aspect of the economy that the reformers want to totally recast.
Devinder Sharma of Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security could not conceal his anguish when he said the promoters of globalisation in the country have a plan for the migration of some 400 million people from villages to the cities as agriculture according to them cannot sustain such a huge population. Farmers comprise almost 70 per cent of Indians. But that is their only livelihood. Forward trading in food grains is playing havoc with the farm sector. One major reason for price rise. The government wants to encourage corporate farming on the lines of the developed countries. What are the consequence of this on food security?
There are economists who put it couched in sophistry. They will say some 10 million workers have to move out from agriculture to industry and services. So many workers with their families will add to a huge number.
For India to become developed the area under agriculture has to shrink. Are the industry creating so many jobs? Why cannot the government help industry develop unirrigated land. Why attack only the area under agriculture? Nobody has given an explanation as to why agriculture has to become the casualty of urbanisation.
This is not to suggest that agriculture alone can support the entire population engaged in it. That it is not possible is proved by the continuing suicides. People stay on their farm land because they have no other thing to do.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has shown a way. He took urbanisation to villages and not vice versa. By taking irrigation, electricity, better roads and connectivity Modi changed the village landscape. Urbanised it.
India is the second largest consumer of wheat in the world. For the first time in a decade, last year production of wheat fell and the government could not procure enough to distribute under the public distribution system (PDS), which in any case is in a terrible shape.
Dr J.K. Bajaj of Centre for Policy Studies, fresh from a visit to Vidarbha, Maharashtra where thousands of farmers committed suicide because of rural indebtedness narrated the heart-wrenching tale of the failed agriculturists there. They have no hope in their traditional occupation, but he said, quoting a number of farmers that they could never imagine the kind of price their land, if sold, could fetch. Land sharks are invading the Indian villages, even the most remote and neglected with huge money bags to purchase land of any quality and in whatever unit. These days land in rural India fetch big money. Poor farmers overnight become cash rich, millionaires. Where is the money coming from? Who are the buyers? What is the purpose of their investment? This is the phenomenon in rural areas all over the country. There are scattered reports of such inexplicable, seemingly unrealistic and uneconomic land transfers. But no one has tried to unravel the mystery.
The government working under the IMF dictate has a long-time plan to change drastically the land use in the country. It is true, small land holdings cannot sustain families dependent on them. Nuclear families are breaking up land holdings into ever multiplying smaller units. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in the mid-nineties presenting the so-called dream budget had emphasised the need for Indian farmers to shift their crop pattern. He suggested cut flower, cash crops and shrimp cultivation. In the new greed of official incentives thousands of hectares of rich farm land were overnight converted to fancy cultivation.
Construction activity, residential satellite cities, multiplexes and malls are dotting the countryside thanks to globalisation. Special Economic Zones are the other craze at the moment. Supporters of the SEZ will say only less than one per cent of 162 million hectares of arable land has been sanctioned for the 200 plus SEZs.
The country has a land area of 297 million hectares, they argue. The land for SEZ in most cases are acquired forcibly by the state. The common refrain again is that the corporates are not really setting up new industrial units but they often shift their existing IT units and develop townships and grab the land. If all the benefits given to corporates are not helping the growth of new industrial units what is the net gain for the country? The SEZs are supposed to gain more export market. That is the original plan. The ultimate loss is of agriculture. For these are fertile land.
Perhaps India is in a planned way manufacturing a food crisis. The high cost of food grain has stopped worrying the state. In the last six months India imported 1.79 million metric tonnes of wheat. The price the government is paying the Indian farmer is Rs 850 per quintal. The foreign farmers India is paying is Rs 1600 per quintal. The Maharashtra BJP leader Kirit Somaya has brought out an incisive report on the wheat import scam.
But is there a conspiracy against Indian agriculture? I am convinced there is. The idea is to make India food dependent.
(The views expressed in this column are personal. The writer can be contacted at [email protected])