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Corruption behind farm-crisis
By Devinder Sharma

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.

Farmers are at the receiving end of corrupt scientists and officials

I haven’t forgotten that night. Sitting with a group of farmers in a village in Ludhiana district in Punjab, at the height of the Green Revolution, a farmer showed me a bag of fertiliser that he brought from the market.

“Why are you showing me this bag”, I asked. “Wait”, he said, and began to open the bag. It was only when he crushed the granules with his hands that I realised why he wanted me to see the fertiliser bag. The fertiliser was spurious. The jute bag, neatly packed and branded, contained mud granules.

Several years later I was travelling in the villages of Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh to understand the reasons behind the spate of farm suicides that had first rocked the nation. This was in 1997 when 37 farmers committed suicide in this district alone. While everyone blamed the weather gods for inflicting a terrible blow to farmers, I found spurious pesticides to be the reason for the failure of the cotton crop.

More than 80 per cent of pesticides sold in Warangal district that year were later found to be fake.

Two and a half decades later, agriculture is in ruins. The story of slow death of agriculture across the country is the same. Dying crop fields, and crying farmers. With degraded soils, depleting groundwater, and chemical pesticides playing havoc with the environment, agriculture is in terrible distress. With farming becoming a losing proposition, and with the entire equation going wrong, agriculture is witnessing a mass exodus.

Fake and sub-standard inputs – seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and machinery is only one part of the story. With quality control in complete shambles, and with many testing laboratories known to have a fixed price tag for approving samples, farmers are always on the receiving end.

While academicians, economists and policy makers are ascribing several complex reasons for the decline of agriculture, the dark underbelly has somehow remained unexposed. What has actually eaten into the vitals of agriculture over the years is rampant corruption. It is like the vultures swarming around a dead animal carcase. Believe it or not, the despicable farm scenario is no less gory.

Fake and sub-standard inputs – seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and machinery is only one part of the story. With quality control in complete shambles, and with many testing laboratories known to have a fixed price tag for approving samples, farmers are always on the receiving end. No wonder, the post of plant protection officers as well as quality control is one of the most sought after in the State Departments of Agriculture.

Massive public outlays under the National Horticulture Mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna, and the National Food Security Mission are in fact being used as grants. When I see the misuse of these outlays, often going into the pockets of senior farm officials, I have always wondered why the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has refrained from focusing on the flagrant misuse of resources in the name of food security.

Agricultural officials and input suppliers have always maintained a cosy relationship. Even where upright officials have blacklisted erring firms, it isn’t difficult to pull down the shutters and then float a new company. Over the years, I have seen the business growing for those who were once known to be selling sub-standard products.

If you think scientific research, agricultural development and policy framing is devoid of corruption you are grossly mistaken. Much of what hits the farmer is the result of wrong policies.

Fly-by-night operators adorn the seed industry, and despite seed laws spelling out stringent punishment for marketing fake seeds, the market is full of spurious seeds. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had recently said that a big seed company had supplied inferior maize hybrid seed, and had refused to account for the losses. Ultimately, Bihar government had to pay for the Rs 60-crore loss.

Post harvest, the travails of a farmer take a different turn. In areas where procurement centres and mandis exist (mainly in the Green Revolution belt of Punjab, Haryana, western UP and some parts of Madhya Pradesh), invariably farmers are at the mercy of the arhtiyas and the mandi agents. In rest of the country, the farmer is exploited, fleeced and ends up selling his produce in distress. It will not be wrong to say that it is a nightmare for a farmer to get a fair price for his produce and that too after putting in so much of hard labour.

Banks, money lenders and micro-credit agencies have been perpetual suckers. Several studies have pointed to the mismanagement (and corruption) in distribution of bank credit to be the primary reason for the agrarian crisis. Usurping interest charged by micro-finance institutions, often exceeding 24 per cent and that too to be repaid at weekly intervals, as well as the dependence on private money lenders has been the bane of farming.

A recent study by NABARD shows how farmers are being duped by nationalised banks. Farmers are being charged double the interest rate for subsidised credit as announced in the annual budget last year. Against the provision of a maximum of 7 per cent interest, banks have included the contingency expenses and other costs, which in reality means the farmer has to shell out an interest of 14 per cent.

If you think scientific research, agricultural development and policy framing is devoid of corruption you are grossly mistaken. Much of what hits the farmer is the result of wrong policies. These policies are framed keeping the interest of service providers before farmers. But then, it is topic for another day.

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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Feedback /Comments on this article
Corruption and farmers

Corruption hits the poor and powerless hardest. It is not just the farmers, but the powerless in every sphere who must pay to line the pockets of the corrupt and powerful!

Posted By: Rina Mukherji
Dated: Friday, September 09, 2011

Corruption behind farm- crises

Apalling situation! We need to spread more awareness on this issue. There is an agricultural ministry in this country which seems to have failed in every way! A very informative article.

Posted By: Anuradha
Dated: Friday, September 09, 2011

the price of urea is cheaper than salt

I am deeply touched by the observations the writer made... Just to highlight one point that price of urea is less than price of common salt per Kg. Goverments have not paid the subsidy money, for years together and wherever paid, 50% went to the corrupt. The aadhat or the mandi tax is over 20%. There is no compensation policy for goods stored in cold storages, the insurance is not mandatory.

Posted By: Bhadra Chalam
Dated: Thursday, September 08, 2011

 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.

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.

Dismantling mandis to benefit MNCs
Friday, January 28, 2011

Not withstanding poor management, mandis have played a critical role in ensuring remunerative prices and timely purchase for the benefit of farmers and therefore, India needs improvement in mandi system, not its dismantlement as desired by industry bodies and Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
  1  2  3     
 Other Articles in Socio-Economic Development
Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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