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Fasting without repentance?
By Devinder Sharma

TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu's fast to demand higher compensation for rain-affected farmers is being seen as his pro-farmer stance. But can we forget the miseries his faulty agri-policies brought to the Andhra Pradesh farmers?


Chandrababu is demanding higher relief for farmers

Former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu is on an indefinite hunger strike. Former Congress MP Jaganmohan Reddy too launched a 48-hour hunger strike against “leaving distressed farmers in the lurch.” They are demanding an enhanced compensation package for farmers who lost their crops because of natural calamities. Several political leaders have visited the fasting leader at Hyderabad and extended their support to him.

Reacting to their demands, Prime Minister didn’t waste the opportunity. Knowing that the Andhra Pradesh is crucial for his party’s electoral prospects, he promptly announced a relief of Rs 400-crore to the farmers affected by recent incessant rains.

With more political support pouring in, Chandrababu Naidu’s fast will surely take a political turn. It already has. While the political fallout will definitely boost Chandrababu Naidu’s electoral prospects, the bigger question remains whether his support for the farmers’ cause will finally bring an end to the great Indian farm tragedy.

The serial death dance in the crop fields across the country has already taken a heavy toll. More than 200,000 farmers have taken to the gallows in the past 15 years, and the nation is still counting.

Chandrababu Naidu is essentially demanding Rs 10,000 per acre as compensation to farmers who lost their paddy crop and Rs 15,000 for commercial crops like cotton and sugarcane. While the short-term gain may win him accolades from the beleaguered farming community, this is unlikely to stem the tide. I am not sure whether he has learnt any lessons from the debacle that he had actually created on the farm front before his government was swept away by a tidal wave of angry farmers. Blindly aping the World Bank model of agriculture (as suggested by McKinsey), Andhra had pumped in huge finances to push in an industry-driven agriculture that has not only exacerbated the crisis leading to an environmental catastrophe but also destroyed millions of rural livelihoods.

Chandrababu Naidu’s much talked about Vision 2020 programme aimed at reducing the number of farmers in the State to 40 per cent of the population, but did not have any significant programme to adequately rehabilitate the remaining 30 per cent of the farming population. The objective was to promote the commercial interests of the agribusiness companies (read foreign financial institutes and international bankers) and the IT hardware units. All benefit would have accrued to these companies in the name of farmers.

In reality, Chandrbabu Naidu was only helping the rich kamma community which was keen to make investments in land and agriculture. Because of his faulty policies, which benefited the rich business class, rural-urban migration had reached its peak and livestock deaths and the plight of dalits and other landless and marginalised had worsened. Farmers were asked not to produce more rice (the staple food) as the State had no place to stock it. Farmer suicides had become so common that Mr Naidu had actually sent team of psychiatrists to convince them against taking their own lives.

Chandrababu Naidu’s much talked about Vision 2020 programme aimed at reducing the number of farmers in the State to 40 per cent of the population, but did not have any significant programme to adequately rehabilitate the remaining 30 per cent of the farming population.

The unending bloodbath in the Andhra Pradesh countryside has not only failed to evoke any political urgency so as to turn suicides into history but at the same time failed to move the intelligentsia and the academicians to point to the fundamental reasons that have led to the unprecedented agrarian crisis. In fact, what Chandrababu Naidu needs to realise is that his own model of growth what is popularly called the ‘Naidu model’ had failed. It also means failure of the McKinsey’s model of economic development. To talk of ‘Naidu Plus’, as some economists have said, indicates the level of arrogance among a school of economic thought that refuses to see anything except what benefits the industry.

Instead of only stroking the fire, I think here is an opportunity for Chandrababu Naidu to first accept that he committed mistakes, and then come out with a set of policy recommendations that may force the governments to enunciate radical measures that helps resurrect agriculture. It has to begin by providing farmers with an assured monthly income, and extending the non-pesticide management system of sustainable farming that Andhra Pradesh has created to the entire country. After all, with agriculture turning into a highly losing proposition, what is more startling is that over the years the farm earnings of marginal farmers have dropped to less than that of the daily wage labourers.

The only way to ensure economic viability for the farm sector is to set up a Farmers Income Commission on the lines of the 6th pay commission. Based on the minimum land-holdings, and the agro-climatic conditions, the Commission should work out an assured income per acre for the farmers. There is no reason why a farmer cannot earn equal to at least what the peon in the government service gets every moth. Isn’t it sad that while a chaprasi earns Rs 15,000 every month, a farmer does not get more than Rs 2400?

Chandrababu Naidu also needs to know that the future of farming remains hidden in the non-pesticides management of agriculture being promoted by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty in Andhra Pradesh. At present, thousands of farmers are cultivating crops without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in 28 lakh acres. Their incomes have gone up, and the soil health is being restored. The programme which began from Andhra Pradesh needs to be extended to the entire country if the aim is to wipe out every tear from the farmers face.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Socio-Economic Development  > Indian Economy > Agriculture

Saving Punjab farmer
Tuesday, October 04, 2011

To overcome the adverse long term impacts of intensive farming, Punjab needs to make its agriculture more sustainable and farmer centric.

Distressed farmers declare crop-holiday
Thursday, September 15, 2011

To revive agriculture and to make farmers debt-free, government must bring in a Farmers Income Guarantee Act to determine the monthly income package a farm family must receive.

Corruption behind farm-crisis
Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Corruption has not only hindered development of India but its role in creating and aggravating farm crisis is no less critical. Corrupt scientists, bank officials and policy makers have pushed farmers to the brink.

UP goes the Punjab way
Friday, March 25, 2011

Considering the role of mandis in making Punjab food bowl of country, it is urgently required to set up a nationwide network of mandis in India. Though late, but UP government has taken a right decision to increase their number.
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