Addressing rural India’s misery

| | in Oped

The vicious cycle of bad loans can only be broken by supporting farmers in ways other than to provide them with credit. Expunging middlemen, empowering village families, increasing animal husbandry are some

Growing bad loans in banks indicate that all is not well in our economy. If entrepreneurship does not generate surplus after repayment of bank loans, there is something wrong at both the micro and the macro levels. The bank alone is not responsible for the growing bad loan. Political, economic, social, cultural and environmental factors are equally responsible for it. How to understand the various factors which are responsible for bad loan, is the biggest challenge.

Politicians want banks to flow credit to poor people in the priority sector. Though credit is an important ingredient for growth and development, it needs the right environment to produce results. In the 70s, Pattnaik Sahi of Sakhigopal block in Odisha was a flourishing village. The families owned agricultural land, fish ponds and coconut gardens. They had a decent income and allied economic activities. Every family had surplus food grain as well as surplus income to educate their children and spend during festivals. The villagers had less diseases, less stress and more happiness.

They were disciplined, god-fearing people. During the 80s, the educated people left villages for jobs in urban areas. Some got good jobs and others ended up in small vocations. The village had lost its charm and the happiness of people withered away. In the 90s, there was large-scale migration to urban centres. Only old and helpless people were left in their houses. In the beginning of the 21st century, it was a deserted village. The young people who were left behind in the village became politicians or worked for their political boss. Ninety per cent of labour had already shifted to the cities and other non-agricultural activities. Agriculture without labour was too difficult for those who had land. If the Government instructs bank to flow credit in this village, the credit will not generate surplus. This is the situation in a majority of villages across the country. The promise of loan-waivers and subsidised food grains has killed the entrepreneurship of the hardworking villagers in the country.

The majority of villages in Kerala are underperforming due to labour shortage, high cost of labour and water scarcity due to wanton destruction of water bodies. A farm labour charges Rs800 per day in Kerala. How can small and medium farmers take up agriculture as a profession? The majority of the coffee, tea and spice farms are owned by big corporates in Kerala. Small and medium farmers lease-out their land to the big corporates. A few farmers pluck coconut, as coconut farmers cannot afford to pay labour charge. This is the reason why many Keralites leave home for big and small jobs across the world.

Migration to cities has already crumbled many urban centres. India’s 50 crore urbanites, is too huge a population to work for manufacturing and services sectors. Any attempt to push the rest 78 crore people to urban centres in manufacturing or services sector will be disastrous for the economy. Small nations in the West have limited economic sectors and they have no other option; India has multiple economic sectors which can be nurtured.

Let people understand their villages better. The children in the villages, while learning computers, should know how to earn from a fish pond, how to maintain a coconut garden and how to develop a nursery as well. They should learn how to grow two crops in a year and how to build a water-harvesting structure. The role of the Government is not to give rice at almost free but to ensure transparency in supply chain.

The Government has to ensure that the farmers are not cheated by the traders and the middlemen. No spurious seed or fertiliser should be sold. Building schools, hospitals and play grounds is the job of the Government. Let villagers love their village again. The Government should protect the rivers and ponds from encroachment. The villagers will have surplus from their entrepreneurship. The bank’s credit cycle will then be healthy.

We can’t overlook crop diversity to produce a few commercial crops the way the developed nations do. It will lead to food shortage. There will be a loss of income from export as many exotic crops will disappear due to mono-cropping and hybridisation. The mantra should be to save the exotic native crops and animals to command a premium price in the global bazaar. We have neglected Ongole cow breed and the breed has revolutionised animal husbandry sector in Brazil and the US. Jallikattu festival is nothing but a search for the best breed of bull to boost animal husbandry sector. But it should be celebrated without inflicting cruelty. Every village festival increases the enthusiasm level which contributes to productivity. Over decades, we have neglected our own potential due to an obsession with th West. A change in attitude will help millions to earn surplus income. Public sector banks will do business well, have a better network to achieve the objectives of improve the people’s living condition.

(The writer is a freelance commentator)


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