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Farmers’ stir in MP: Politics of farm distress

| | in Oped

Despite the poor condition of agriculture in MP prevailing before 2009, under the stewardship of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the State has registered highest agriculture growth rate in India since then

The agricultural progress in Madhya Pradesh (MP) and pro-farmer image of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan came into question with recent farmers’ agitation and unfortunate incidents of violence which resulted in the death of six persons. The whole episode compels us to contemplate the situation of State farmers who have resorted to agitation, surprisingly in the year of relatively good harvest. But they navigated unscathed during the recent painful years marked by severe drought. We have here tried to compare the agricultural performance of Madhya Pradesh during Shivraj’s regime with large and agriculturally forward States of India i.e. Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh (undivided), Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.

 

State of agriculture when Shivraj assumed power

In 2004-05, the agricultural productivity of almost all major crops in Madhya Pradesh was among the lowest strata of above mentioned Indian States. The area under cultivation as percentage of total geographical land in MP was just 51 per cent, which was third lowest among all mentioned agrarian States. Similarly, net irrigated area was 38.8 per cent (5th lowest) of cultivated area, net irrigated area by canal was only 16.6 per cent (lowest) of net irrigated area and average normal rainfall was the 6th lowest among all the compared States. Among all indicators that help develop agriculture, we find MP mostly in or close to the bottom among these 11 States. The major chunk of investments by successive Central Governments, since Independence, was spent on canal irrigation in Punjab and Haryana, whereas Madhya Pradesh received negligible investment.

 

Agrarian progress during Shivraj regime

The first tenure of the Shivraj (November 2005 to December 2008) regime witnessed neither substantial improvement in agricultural investment nor remarkable progress in the field of agriculture. Significant investment in agriculture has been made during his second tenure from 2009.

Approximately 75 per cent of gross cropped area of the State is under soya bean, wheat, gram and paddy. Other important crops are maize and cotton, whose gross cropped area is less than 4 per cent. A comparison (2009 and 2014) of the yields of major crops (soya bean, rice, wheat, maize and cotton) of MP reflects drastic improvement although not highest (except for soya bean) in any of the comparison years. For instance during this period, the yield of rice increased by 93 per cent while wheat, maize and cotton improved by 29.7 per cent, 42.5 per cent, and 117.8 per cent respectively. This places MP among one of the fastest growing States in agriculture with an average annual growth rate of 19.1 per cent between 2011 and 2014.

However, it will not be fair to compare agricultural productivity of MP with Punjab, Haryana and other highly irrigated and agriculturally forward States. Districts under Central Narmada agro-climatic zone (Hoshangabad and Narsinghpur) of MP have relatively better irrigation facilities and flat terrain but certainly not superior to Punjab’s or Haryana’s. Interestingly, the yield per hectare of some crops in this zone is either equal (4,300 kg for wheat) or higher (1,543 kg for soya bean) in comparison. The State is recipient of Krishi Karman Award for five consecutive years, which includes terminal three years of the UPA-II regime.

MP is the best performer in reducing its current fallow land substantially by 37 per cent. This has been achieved despite deficiency of rainfall in the last 10-15 years and lack of good perennial source of surface water. Even gross cropped area, net irrigated area by canal, net irrigated and gross irrigated area have witnessed the highest positive growth in comparison, it is ranked third for the increase in net sown area and cultivated land. Interestingly, Punjab and Haryana witnessed negative growth in net sown area and cultivated land.

 

What policies brought these changes?

Spectacular performance isn’t possible without the serious intent of the State Government. Massive investment in irrigation, better management of canal irrigation, massive expansion in the supply of electric pumps, assured quality electricity to agriculture, subsidised farm implements and assets as well as transparency in accessing majority of schemes have been drivers of agricultural growth.

The State irrigation Budget witnessed 320 per cent rise during 2009-10 to 2016-17. This resulted in massive increase in area irrigated through ground and surface water by approximately 1.3 and 1.5 times respectively between 2009 and 2014. Realising the limit on the expansion of irrigation using canal due to paucity of surface water, the Shivraj Government strategically resorted to completion of lining of existing canals rather than increasing the length of canals. This not only ensured seepage of water is checked but also increased the culturable command area under existing canals. Considering the high cost of extracting water with diesel pumps, the Shivraj Government rapidly increased the supply of subsidised electric pumps by 98.8 per cent between 2009 and 2016. The percentage increase in investment in irrigation and expansion of irrigation facilities in such short period was perhaps highest during post-independence period by any State.

Comprehensive focus, investments and execution translates to commendable results. What next? While most State Governments resorted to populist measures like free electricity, the Shivraj regime adopted a contrasting and viable policy of subsidising the electricity infrastructure i.e. electricity connection and agricultural electricity pumps. The Government also provided an assured supply of quality electricity of 10 hours a day at an affordable price. This policy not only expanded the reach of electricity to all types of farmers but also averted over consumption through positive tariff for electricity. One time capex subsidy is more desirable than an indefinite opex subsidy. It is worth mentioning that electricity consumption from agriculture sector increased by around 3 times between 2009 and 2016 and the share of revenue for the State Electricity Board of Madhya Pradesh from sale of electricity to agriculture sector is 25 per cent, the highest among the States.

Apart from better irrigation and electricity facilities, supply of quality seeds increased by approximately 3.5 times between 2009 and 2014, 40,000 villages were provided with spiral graders and seed treating drums at 100 per cent subsidy. Yantradoot scheme, lauded as best practice by NITI Aayog, was launched in 2009-10 for providing small and marginal farmers an access to variety of farm implements at a very nominal rate. Similarly, Mukhya Mantri Khet Tirath Yojana has been formulated to provide exposure to farmers about ongoing modern techniques implemented by farmers of other districts, States and countries.

One of the major achievements of the Shivraj Government is the introduction of transparency in the access of all schemes. It is a tendency of successive Governments in the country to favour applicants who are loyal to the political party to reap electoral benefit. Bringing transparency for availing benefits of various schemes is a very difficult decision for any Government but the Shivraj Government has undertaken a bold step in making online applications mandatory for most schemes which have a cap on number of beneficiaries. Not only are the applications submitted online but the priority is set according to the date of application, ceteris paribus.

Every scheme of the Government not only gives priority/reservation to SC/ST/female farmers but also provides additional benefit to them. The Shivraj Government, the pioneer in many sectoral policies and initiatives, has displayed the intent, by introducing a Bill in the MP Assembly to address the plight of tenant farmers who have been unable to access any type of compensation and benefits due to lack of possession of legal tenancy agreement.

 

What led to this agitation?

Despite the poor condition of agriculture in MP prevailing before 2009, the State has since registered the highest agriculture growth rate in India. Undoubtedly there are unresolved and un-addressed farmers’ issues in MP and rest of India i.e. limited coverage of PMFBY, lack of MSP for all major crops, distant procurement centers, no permissibility of access to benefits by tenant farmers, etc.

The video footage of agitation depicts some Opposition leaders inciting the gathering to go on rampage. This compels us to believe that the agitation may have been politically motivated. Moreover, the Indian Express report on June 9, 2017 reveals that none of the five deceased persons have any land registered in their name.

Undoubtedly some farmers were involved in the agitation since every political party has an associated farmers’ organisation which is bound to obey the diktat of their party chief. But the most painful aspect was wrongly attributing unfounded factors like crash in prices of garlic, tur and onion as well as cash crunch to demonetisation leading to the agitation. Interestingly the combined share of gross cropped area of these three crops is less than 4 per cent. Similarly, holding cash crunch responsible for agitation is unfounded since almost equal amount of demonetised currency has already come back into the economy. Likewise, bumper production reflects unaffected sowing activity. Certainly, the farmers’ problems shouldn’t be trivialised while commendable achievements shouldn’t go unnoticed.

 

(Anish Gupta holds PhD in agrarian issues and teaches Economics at Delhi University. Sandeep Vempati pursued MSc. Mathematical Trading and Finance from Cass Business School, London, with specialisation in Agriculture Futures and Commodities. They can be reached at pioneer.article@gmail.com)

 
 
 
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