Falling Farm Income under Modi’s Rule
Narendra Modi and the BJP came to power with a promise that they would double farmers' income by 2022. A committee was constituted in April 2016 to examine issues relating to the doubling of farmers' income. The Committee submitted its report to the government in September 2018 with the aim and strategy for doubling the income of farmers by 2022. The Committee further recommended that farm income has to grow at 10.4 per cent, at constant base-year prices, to achieve the goal. But ironically, the National Statistical Office (NSO) published the latest Situational Assessment Survey (SAS) on 10 September 2021, showcasing the farce behind these tall, false claims. This is the most comprehensive official survey on the economic conditions of farmers in India.
The report revealed that an Indian farmer earned Rs 27 per day on an average from cultivation, which is much lower than what could be earned through MGNREGA round the year. This data itself exposes the grave crisis in Indian agriculture. Even as Modi and his honchos are claiming big strides achieved under Modi's rule, which according to them has reached the zenith, the cruel reality is that after 75 years of Independence, farmers’ income in India has nose-dived to a nadir. It would not be out of context to mention here that while the wealth of Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased by 22 lakhs during June 2020 to March 2021, 23 crore Indians slipped below the official poverty line in the same period which was the first phase of lockdown.
As per the estimates of SAS, there are 93.1 million agricultural households in rural India and almost half of India's rural population does not even have the minimal economic stakes in agriculture. The overwhelming non-agricultural households, almost 99 per cent, possess less than one hectare of land and naturally the major source of income for almost half of this population is from casual employment. Self-employment in cultivation coupled with animal farming is the largest source of income for 71 per cent of the estimated 93.1 million agricultural households.
SAS has also found that an average agricultural household earned a smaller share of its total income from cultivation, which is a meagre 38 per cent, than from wages which is around 40 percent. During July 2012-June 2013, which was the last SAS round, the share of income from cultivation in total income was 48 per cent. This again declined to 38 per cent under the 2018-19 survey. During the same period, the share of farm income from wages alone rose from 32 per cent to 40 per cent. The survey shows, this is the first instance when cultivation is not the biggest source of income for India's agricultural households.
India witnessed an unprecedented humanitarian crisis after the sudden and brutal lockdown and the sordid spectacle of millions of migrant workers walking back to their villages after losing their wages and livelihood despite all odds is still alive in our mind. It was proved that when urban India shut its doors, employment opportunities evaporated during the pandemic and lockdown. In these circumstances, agriculture was the last straw for the desperate migrants. However, it was only in this exceptional period that the share of agricultural employment increased for the first time in India. Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) was the first official proof depicting this grave distress. While the share of employment has been dwindling at a faster pace, the figures for 2019-20 emerged as an exception to this trend. Agricultural employment actually increased from 42.5 per cent in 2018-19 to 45.6 per cent in 2019-20. Job losses in all other sectors of the economy in the April-June 2020 period were compensated by agriculture, and this sector emerged as the last resort of employment in India. The tragic part of the story is that MGNREGA workers are considered to be the poorest of all and wages under MGNREGA are below the unskilled wages in the open market. SAS shows that for all but 5 states, average income from cultivation per agricultural household is actually less than what MGNREGA work would pay in 365 days. So, the farmers are now the poorest of all, earning less than the MGNREGA workers. Commenting on this situation, Devinder Sharma, an expert on India’s agricultural policy, stated: “Income from cultivation is certainly less than the earnings from an average lactating cow on a per day basis, given the farm gate price of approximately Rs 30 per litre'' (https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/all-pain-no-gain-for-farmers-311197).
Curiously, a NITI Aayog paper by Ramesh Chand has stated that past strategies centred around raising agricultural output and improving food security. But ''the strategy did not explicitly recognise the need to raise farmers' income and to promote farmers' welfare...Farmers’ income did not grow much with the increase in output''. This was the candid confession of a policy paper published by the NITI Aayog.
SAS further revealed that more than half of India's agricultural households are indebted, with an average outstanding of Rs 74,121. While the debt of average households reduced before 2013, it again leaped by 57 per cent from Rs 47,000 in 2013. Of late, the Parliament was informed, at the end of March 2021 that the total outstanding farm loans totalled Rs 16.8 lakh crores, with Tamil Nadu at the top of this list. Mizoram witnessed an unprecedented increase of 70.9 per cent of outstanding farm loans, followed by Assam and Tripura, both having BJP at the helm of affairs.
The Global Hunger Index released on 14 October again exposed the real picture of the Modi's India. This year, India slipped seven positions and stood at 101 among 116 countries, behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. After this report was published, the Indian Government reacted sharply and rejected the report stating that the concerned agency has not done "due diligence".
It is clear that this government does not care for the poor and the marginalised. Minimum wages due to workers is still not determined. The floor level Committee to fix the entire exercise has again been reconstituted for the third time. The income of farmers has crashed to an unimaginable low. These two basic classes, the producers of wealth of the nation, are facing an existential crisis. The need of the hour is to strengthen unity between these two classes.