Saturday, August 29, 2009


The current drought like situation which is assuming alarming proportions because of failed or delayed monsoon rains in many regions of India is pregnant with alarming ramifications. In a country where more than two thirds of the population depend on agriculture for leading a decent life, skewed policies of the government are driving hundreds of farmers to suicide out of frustration and desperation. As a welfare state, India has worked out minimum support prices considered reasonable for a few crops and massive subsidies are in place for giving socour to the farming community. The major focus of successive governments being on welfare and family security, raising farm level productivity has not been given adequate attention as reflected by uneven production of many staples and chronic shortage of others. The much vaunted irrigation system is reported to be not able to deliver water even to the extent of 35% of its capacity.

Many experts feel that India can redeem itself by taking a leaf out of China in boosting agricultural production through opening the grain market to large organizations as is being done in some states in the country. "Nobody could accuse India of neglecting its farmers. The country lavishes huge subsidies on the sector, sets minimum prices to shield farmers from price fluctuations and offers free electricity and water. Yet the spending has contributed to the parlous state of Indian public finances while doing little to increase agricultural productivity and farm incomes. State intervention is a stifling embrace — focusing on welfare and security rather than on efforts to make the sector more dynamic".

The uncontrolled escalation of prices in commodities like rice, wheat, pulses, sugar and others is causing misery and depredation amongst low and middle income populations and large scale hoarding of foods by the traders, in spite of preventive measures by the government, is making the problem more acute. Distortion in the policy vis-à-vis crop mix that needs to e encouraged is further causing surpluses in some cases while aggravating shortages in many other cases. GOI, Planning Commission and the State Governments ought to be concerned about the dangers posed by food shortages and increasing farmer woes.

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