Whether or not Shivraj Singh Chouhan returns as Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister after Wednesday’s vote, he will probably go down as someone who has steered through an agricultural and rural transformation of his state no less remarkable than what Partap Singh Kairon accomplished in post-Independence Punjab. And ironically, much of Chouhan’s achievements came during the period when the Congress-led UPA, and not his own BJP, was in power at the Centre.
Consider the following.
Till the 2006-07 crop year, procurement of wheat in MP rarely crossed 5 lakh tonnes (lt). By 2011-12, that had reached 85 lt and MP soon overtook Haryana as the largest contributor to the central pool after Punjab. Chouhan’s government not only put in place an effective procurement system — including registering farmers prior to the marketing season and informing them via SMS when to bring their crop to the mandis to avoid overcrowding — but also began to pay a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal over and above the Centre’s minimum support price (MSP) from 2007-08, and enhanced it to Rs 150/quintal from 2012-13.
Assured government procurement at MSP plus bonus led to MP’s wheat output more than doubling from 62 lt in 2005-06 (when Chouhan first became CM) to over 145 lt in 2011-12. The reported increase thereafter, to 200-210 lt levels, is disputed by economists like Ashok Gulati, who point out that there has been no commensurate increase in procurement — which has actually fallen after 2011-12 (see chart). But they, too, agree that MP has seen a significant production revolution, even if the state government’s numbers for recent years are somewhat inflated.
Until 2009-10, government canals in MP irrigated barely 8 lakh hectares (lh) during the rabi winter season, when farmers grow crops such as wheat, chana (chickpea), masur (lentil) and mustard. Over the next five years, the irrigated area trebled to nearly 24 lh and reached 26.5 lh in 2016-17. The expansion was only partly due to new investments. Equally important was the focus on completing unfinished last-mile projects and improving utilisation of existing irrigation potential, through timely maintenance and concrete lining of canals.
“We enforced three basic rules. First, the canals had to operate at full-supply level (which required desilting, cleaning and fixing breaches before the season). Second, all farmers were to be treated equally, with water release by strict rotation. Everybody got water for one irrigation. If the reservoirs had enough water at the end of the monsoon, they could do three more irrigations. If the water levels were only 60%, it was 1+2 and if 40%, then 1+1. Third, the tail end farmers would get water first, whereas earlier it was being mostly used up by those at the head end,” said Radheshyam Julaniya, additional chief secretary at the state’s Water Resources Department.
Besides canals, the government increased the outstanding power connections for irrigation pumps from 13.21 lakh in 2010-11 to 18.38 lakh in 2013-14, and 24.81 lakh in 2016-17. This was accompanied by feeder separation. Farmers now got three-phase full-voltage power to run their motors for 8-10 hours daily at a flat annual rate of Rs 1,400 per horsepower. This power was supplied through a separate feeder, with electricity for regular domestic use metered and made available for 24 hours.
“The idea was to improve access to electricity, while ensuring it did not result in overexploitation of groundwater by farmers. In 2017, we also launched a scheme to convert about five lakh temporary irrigation power connections into permanent, and have already done it for 1.5 lakh,” said Rajesh Rajora, principal secretary, Agriculture Department.
Julaniya and Rajora are seen as being largely responsible for heralding MP’s agricultural and rural transformation under Chouhan.
In April 2000, out of MP’s 42,961 rural habitations with 250-plus population, 25,835 (60%) had no pucca all-weather road connectivity. That number today is down to 4,772 (11%), courtesy the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and the Chouhan government’s Mukhyamantri Gram Sadak Yojana to connect villages not covered by the former. Good bituminous or gravel surfaced roads have made it easier for farmers to transport their produce by tractors to mandis.
MP has also been the leader in implementing the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin. Out of the 66.04 lakh rural houses built since April 2017, MP alone has accounted for 11.41 lakh, ahead of West Bengal (9.97 lakh), Uttar Pradesh (8.74 lakh), Odisha (7.14 lakh) and Bihar (5.77 lakh). The beneficiaries — each having a minimum 269-square foot pucca house with toilet, electricity and LPG connection — are from less well-off rural families.
The interesting part, though, is that MP’s emergence as an agricultural powerhouse under Chouhan — similar to Punjab or Haryana under Kairon and Bansi Lal respectively — happened mainly during the UPA’s time at the Centre. This period coincided with high international prices for agricultural commodities. It allowed the Centre to double the MSP of wheat from Rs 700 to Rs 1,400 per quintal between 2005-06 and 2013-14, with Chouhan’s government declaring a bonus on top. Average realisations from soyabean, the other important crop of MP, nearly trebled because of rising export demand for its de-oiled cake/meal. The best indicator of the rural prosperity that ensued was in tractor sales — these grew from roughly 25,000 units a year in the pre-Chouhan era to 87,831 in 2013-14, making MP India’s largest tractor market after UP.
The good times ended in 2014-15, which witnessed a global agri-commodity crash. The Narendra Modi-led BJP government kept MSP hikes in check and, in June 2014, disallowed announcement of bonuses by states. With prices of soyabean and other crops, too, falling — demonetisation only made things worse — farmers have experienced a dip in fortunes, which has also been reflected in tractor sales. Some of the resultant anger spilled on to the streets in June 2017, when police resorted to firing on farmers at Mandsaur.
Since then, there have been efforts at placation, especially from the Chouhan government through restoration of wheat bonus (at Rs 200 and Rs 265/quintal for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 crops) and the Bhavantar scheme to pay farmers the difference between the MSP and market price for other crops.
“Mama (Chouhan) is the best chief minister we have had, but he did more for us when Manmohan (Singh), not Modi, ruled in Delhi,” said Radheshyam Devaram Jat, a 50-acre farmer from Ratatalai village of Harda district.