New Delhi: Farmers across the country are facing distress and committing suicide due to failed crops, low procurement prices and mounting debt, but the Narendra Modi government does not even have updated data on the issue, government replies in the current Lok Sabha session have shown.
In response to a query on whether the Centre has carried out any inspection or survey on the problems faced by the agriculture sector and the farmers, S.S. Ahluwalia, minister of state for agriculture, submitted data from 2013 when the Modi government had not even come to power.
He said, “With a view to have a comprehensive assessment of the situation of farmers in the country, government conducts a ‘situation assessment survey of farmers’ from time to time. The survey was last conducted by the NSSO [National Sample Survey Office] during its 70th round (January-December 2013).”
Manmohan era data still being used
The data being used is from the time when the Manmohan Singh government was still in power. The answer did not provide information on any subsequent survey that may have been undertaken by the Modi regime. On the recent initiatives, he began by saying that “agriculture is a state subject” and that the Centre merely “supplements their efforts.”
“In order to suggest measures for reinvigorating agriculture in the country, a task force on agricultural development has been constituted by the NITI Aayog. The task force was, inter alia, assigned the responsibility of coordinating with the state and UTs’ task forces and central ministries.”
In reply to a question on unemployment in the agriculture sector, the minister went even further back in time to quote 2011-12 figures. According to Ahluwalia, as per the “latest” survey on employment and unemployment conducted by the NSSO during its 68th round (July 2011 – June 2012), “the unemployment rate in rural India based on the usual status [principal and subsidiary] has increased from 1.6% in 2009-10 to 1.7% in 2011-12. The change in unemployment rate in agriculture sector is not separately estimated in the survey.”
No bailout packages for farm loans, UP made special request
During the course of the day, Parshottam Rupala, minister of state for agriculture, declared that the Centre has “no bailout packages for farmers loans”. However, he said, the Uttar Pradesh government had in April requested the Union government for separate resources to ensure implementation of its agriculture debt waiver for the farmers of the state.
MSP raised for both rabi, kharif in 2016-17
Rupala also said in reply to a query that the central government fixes minimum support prices (MSPs) for major agricultural crops to ensure remunerative prices for farmers on the recommendation of commission for agricultural costs and prices. For the year 2016-17, he said the Centre had increased the MSP for both rabi and kharif crops. He also stated that “to incentivise cultivation of pulses and oilseeds in the country,” government had announced bonus on both rabi and kharif pulses and oilseeds.
Household income of farmers still very low
In response to other questions, Rupala also relied on the Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households conducted by NSSO between January and December 2013 in the rural areas of the country to state that it had “estimated the average monthly income per agricultural household as Rs 6,426.”
Regarding the average growth rate of agriculture and allied sector, the ministry said the sector had witnessed growth of 4.4% in 2016-17 at 2011-12 basic prices following the normal monsoon.
Record wheat, rice procurement
The minister said the Centre, which undertakes procurement of wheat and paddy under its ‘MSP operations’, had procured 308.25 lakh metric ton (LMT) of wheat in rabi marketing season 2017-18 till July 20, which was the highest during the last five years. In the case of paddy, rice, he said the procurement till July 21 stood at 386.73 LMT in kharif marketing season 2016-17, which was the highest in the last ten years.
The ministry disclosed in another reply that the “Agriculture sector, with 85% of the operational holdings held by small and marginal farmers, is one of the largest sectors under the unorganised sector,” it said, adding that various schemes are being implemented for increasing farm production and productivity.
But while the record procurement suggests that farm production and productivity has indeed increased, government data on suicide by farmers revealed that more needs to be done to end the distress among the farmers.
Suicides by farmers still a cause for concern
Rupala said that according to the National Crime Records Bureau report on ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’, which was published in 2015, the number of suicides by farmers stood at 11,772, 12,360 and 12,602 during the years, 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. The report had cited “bankruptcy or indebtedness” and “farming related issues” as the major causes of suicides among farmers and cultivators.
Though the report on suicides for 2016 and beyond has not been prepared as yet, the several cases of suicides by farmers reported from across the country indicate that more needs to be done to resolve the distress.