Elections are approaching in Punjab and all political parties are preparing the poll manifestos for invocation of two voters. The poll manifesto is the most important document of hustings. The main emphasis is given to the farm agenda to woo 60 per cent, a big chunk of population engaged in agriculture. All the parties would try to present the most glittering picture in this present glooming ambience in farming where the share of agriculture in the state GDP has decelerated to 28 per cent depicting much inequality in the farm and non farm income. Albeit the contribution of agriculture in national GDP is just 14 per cent that is half of the Punjab contribution. But as the agricultural income is perpetually depleting and it is explicit that majority of the people engaged in agriculture are facing abject poverty in Punjab.
The escalating farm loan that has reached Rs 3.5 lakh per farm household seems formidable. The main stress on farm agenda would be laid on the road map of recovery to augment the farm income, though the hard realities would be ignored keeping in view the myopic target in mind. The number of concessions and subsidies would be announced whether those might not suit for the sustainable growth. The marginal and small farmers constitute about 83 per cent of the total holdings. According to a NSS survey, the holding below 10 acre is not an economical holding but about 91 per cent of the holdings are less then 10 acres in Punjab and 40 per cent of the farmers are willing to leave agriculture if some alternative job is available to them.
The number of farmers has committed suicides because of the over burdened debt. The variable reports about suicides are given by different organisations. According to the Punjab government report there were 2111 suicides between 1988 and 2005, but on the other side, the Bhartiya Kissan Union has given this figure as 29766, this figure was prepared on the basis of sample survey of eight districts. Another report of Movement Against State Repression (MASR) has expressed that since 1988 about 50,000 suicides were committed. It is true that all the suicides were not committed because of the debt. But it is also true that number of suicides were committed because of farm debt. The government must address this issue as an priority.
The criticality of Punjab agriculture is the declining size of the holding resulting in surplus labour force in agriculture. The average size of holding that was about 6 acres in 1970 has depleted to about 3 acres only. The surplus labour force is required to be shifted from agriculture to the other sectors of the economy to ameliorate the standard of living of agricultural population. There is an ample scope of Agro- Processed and Non-Farm Industries in Punjab. The Punjab Industry has number of constraints in its development. Among them the 1500 kilometer distance from the exporting ports and 1200 kilometers from the Iron, Coal and other types of raw material, is the major constraint. Since 1991, with the ushering of liberalization, privatization and globalization era, the competitive techniques are being applied, resulting in replacing of labour with capital leading to unemployment and stagnation on the employment front.
Agricultural population is a part of the state, no demarcation can be drawn for the sole farm agenda. All the economic factors are affecting the farming as well as non-farming community. It was reported that only 4 per cent of the rural students are studying in universities and higher educational institutes. As 68 per cent of the Punjab population is residing in villages, then why the enrolment of students in higher educational institutes is not equal to its proportionate population. The inaccessibility is affected by the higher level of free, why all types of education might not be free or within the easy reach of every family? Why the equal opportunities for careers may not be availed by everyone? Why the free education may not be made a part of the farm or non-farm agenda. Similarly the free medication or medication within the reach of everyone should be the most important document in the political agenda of every party. The health insurance for everyone in the state must be a goal of the welfare state. Education and health are the most important elements to ameliorate the standard of living in every family. Still the rate of literacy is 72 per cent in Punjab, and 28 per cent drop outs even before their middle classes is a serious issue and why it may not be addressed in the poll agenda? The cheap travel, generation of jobs, social security and human rights should be the import components of the poll agenda. Unemployment is the main problem of the state. The agenda must envisage the road map to generate new jobs in the coming five years.
While touching the farm agenda, stress should be laid to make the farmer a share holder in the sale of farm products. It has been observed that farmer’s share in vegetables, fruits, pulses and oil seeds and particularly in the processed goods is much smaller and the middlemen are earning lot of income. The farmer can be made a share holder in the sale on the pattern of dairy co-operatives, where the village milk salesman remains the share holder in dairy products even in the sale at national and international levels. The diversification in agriculture is most desirable but it needs the state intervention by assuring the minimum price and marketing. The wheat and Rice cropping pattern that had exacerbated the soil and water situation can be reverted only by assured marketing in other products through government intervention.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow, Institute of Social
Sciences, New Delhi)
DR s s Chhina
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