Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today regretted that all mainstream parties were indulging in competitive agitations on farmers’ immediate problems without going to the roots of the crisis bedeviling Indian agriculture. Dr.JP recalled that the Lok Satta was the first to focus on the structural problems in Agriculture and not on piece-meal agenda.
Addressing a media meet, Dr. JP referred to the spate of agitations in the wake of the heavy damage caused to crops by torrential rains on December 7 and 8 and said that even if the Government conceded all of their demands, some of them unprecedented in Indian history, the crisis in the agricultural sector would not fade away. By focusing their entire attention on the rain havoc, the agitating political parties were overlooking some fundamental issues.
Dr. JP traced the agrarian crisis to successive Governments’ failure to liberalize the agriculture sector. Without the agriculture sector being unshackled, the farmer cannot be rescued.
Dr. JP explained that India produced more food grains and cotton than it consumed and at much lesser cost than in other countries. In contrast, it had a comparative disadvantage in production of oil seeds.
India for instance produced 100 million tons of rice against an annual consumption of about 60 million tons. The production is expected to go up year after year with more and more irrigation projects materializing even as per capita grain consumption is going down because of higher consumption of other food items like eggs and meat, fruits and vegetables. Yet the Government would not permit rice exports and enable farmers to benefit from the high prices prevailing abroad. The excuse was that the poor in the country would suffer if prices go up because of exports. Cotton production too has gone up substantially thanks to farmers switching over to the BT variety. Yet the Government imposed restrictions on cotton exports, with a view to depressing prices and benefiting the indigenous textile industry.
Dr. JP said that the Government adopted double standards in dealing with industry and agriculture. It does not ban export of Nano, a car designed and produced for the common man, under the pretext it might hurt the consumer. It has, however, no qualms in banning or restricting export of rice and cotton.
Again, the Government permitted duty-free import of edible oils, resulting in indigenous oilseed prices and cultivation going down. India imported nearly 60 percent of its edible oil requirements. A solution lay in imposing a stiff duty on imports and utilizing the proceeds to promote oilseed cultivation in India.
Dr. JP said that farmers would get remunerative prices if the Government promoted storage and processing of semi-perishable and perishable commodities to add value to them and compress the market chain between the producer and the consumer to reduce the number of intermediaries.
Dr. JP pointed out that the country every year produced millions of unemployable educated youth even as the manufacturing sector complains of a serious shortage of skilled personnel. The hordes of these unemployed youth have become the raw material for political parties and leaders pursuing their sectional agendas. Unless energetic steps are taken to provide skills to the youth and create millions of jobs, the nation will be in deep crisis, and the economy will be ruined. Most of these unemployed youth are migrating from villages in hope of a better life in towns, but to no avail.
Dr. JP recalled that Chinese leaders have been deeply concerned about unrest among youth although they provided livelihood to 140 million youth in the last 15 years by promoting small towns and small enterprises. In India, manufacturing hardly accounted for 10 percent of the total workforce of 330 million. Unless manufacturing grows and provides employment opportunities, the unrest among youth is bound to go up. The Government should take up a massive program to impart skills to the youth and enable them to earn their livelihood in manufacturing.
Resolution of farmers’ problems and skilling of youth should become the sheet-anchors of Lok Satta politics, apart from fight against corruption and empowerment of local governments.