Out of my mind: Disaster

The problem lies with the disastrous economic strategy chosen during the first thirty years of planning. India chose the path of making machines on the Soviet model.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: June 18, 2017 9:04 am
farmers, farmer protests, farmer loan waiver, farmer suicide, farmers suicide, indian express columns The Green Revolution solved the problem of food grain supply but it was the medium and larger farms prospered.

First there was UP. Then came Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Even before the first half of the year is over, we have a full-scale crisis of farmer indebtedness. The Opposition is having a field day. Of course, it is their duty to embarrass the government. They have so few opportunities. But no number of leaders being arrested will help a single farmer.

Nor will the massive debt forgiveness. This crisis of farmers’ suicide has been with us for 20 years now. Does anyone recall the UPA minister who flew in a helicopter over Vidarbha saying Vidarbha farmers were lazy unlike Gujarat farmers, and no wonder they were despairing? There are no heroes in this saga of farm distress.

The problem lies with the disastrous economic strategy chosen during the first thirty years of planning. India chose the path of making machines on the Soviet model. Nehru said he wanted India to be self-sufficient in its armaments. That did not work and India is the largest buyer of arms abroad. Yet we neglected employment and, for the first fifteen years, took agriculture for granted. To argue for investment in agriculture was denounced as anti-Socialist. Even in manufacturing consumer goods were not to be made.

Most countries developed by transferring rural labour to urban factories. This reduced the low productivity in agriculture, increased output and gave better income to those who had migrated away from the countryside. But not in India. There were few manufacturing jobs and most were for highly skilled workers. Even in the formal sector, hiring and firing was made difficult because we had labour laws suited for a developed economy, UK style. These still remain, restricting manufacturing employment.

The Green Revolution solved the problem of food grain supply but it was the medium and larger farms prospered. They acquired a clout in politics and you can see it in the steady rise in procurement prices. But the small subsistence farmers got nothing. Shouting Jai Kisan may sound nice but it does not fill bellies. 80 per cent of farms in India are unviable and do not afford the farmers an adequate living.

Even after 1991, while the urban economy was reformed, employment creation remained low. The informal sector especially services grew, creating most employment but wages are typically low for manual workers and employment is precarious. Public debate is about the young educated people who want White collar jobs. But the real crisis has been in the countryside.

India may be the fastest growing economy now, but for 60 of the last 70 years it has been the laggard in Asia. Economies which were poorer such as Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, China in 1947, have long surpassed India. As has been the case in the past, India impresses the visitor because its sheer size is enough to generate a million millionaires while hiding half a billion subsistence workers.

The government has promised to double farmers’ income in seven years. Good luck. More urgent would be to halve the number of kisans eking out a miserable living. The alternative is to live with suicides, debts and debt forgiveness. No matter how many chief ministers go on fast and how many opposition leaders get arrested, farmers’ lives will not improve, staying on the farms.

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  1. A
    Jun 19, 2017 at 1:47 am
    Dear Desai, Pls do not try to hide BJP behind UPA failures. 3 years have passed and need to know what BJP has done, not only to reduce but eliminate this problem?
    1. I
      Indian Abroad
      Jun 18, 2017 at 9:20 pm
      Mr Meghnad Desai, Congress, its policy and its politics have completely failed. Now they are trying to demoralize and bring down the new India that is emerging. Congress and other Pseudo-secularists are the biggest enemies of India, bigger than Pa-ki-stan and China.
      1. S
        Jun 18, 2017 at 8:48 pm
        You cannot continue to blame the dismal situation faced by farmers on colonialism or Nehru. A government enjoying a clear majority was elected in 2014 to articulate a new economic policy. And this is what you got: debt waiver and trade restriction between Indian states by cow vigilantes. Congress is history. Colonialism is a matter of the distant past. China has overtaken India starting from behind. Stop blaming the pasr and examine the present economic discourse.
        1. R
          Rajendra B Patel
          Jun 18, 2017 at 10:32 pm
        2. E
          Employ Ment
          Jun 18, 2017 at 8:47 pm
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          1. I
            Jun 18, 2017 at 8:22 pm
            Lord Desai, the Soviets may not have sleekest machines or aeroplanes, but what they have are durable and functional. Few countries can boast of the attainments of the Soviet Union in nuclear engineering, mining, aircrafts, spacecraft, submarines etc. What India lacked was the means of implementation. If we have not attained self-sufficiency it is perhaps a reflection on our limitations rather than the model we followed.
            1. S
              Seshubabu Kilambi
              Jun 18, 2017 at 7:54 pm
              ... The last three years would have been enough to correct at least some ast mistakes ...but adani came ...
              1. T
                Jun 18, 2017 at 7:18 pm
                "There are no heroes in this saga of farm distress." just one line to describe the government's (from independence till now) inability to form sustainable agriculture policy and lack of their implementation.
                1. A
                  Jun 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm
                  Excellent observation. Hope the opposition work the government to clean and clear the mess they created and support policy directions to organize and regulate agriculture sustainably.
                  1. P
                    Jun 18, 2017 at 6:33 pm
                    How? By supporting Government master-strokes like demonetisation? This id10t Desai was the amongst the first to cheer demonetisation. Now he is shedding cr0c tears for the famer.
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