BESIDES the vagaries of nature, the plight of farmers belonging to the Maratha community has been worsened by the approach of the both central and state governments, banks and the money lenders — these are some of the findings of the Bhumata Charitable Trust, Pune, on the status of the Maratha farming community in the state.
The findings of the survey have been submitted to the Justice N G Gaikwad-led State Backward Class Commission that forwarded its report to the state government last week. The government is yet to table the report before the state legislature. “The subsidy extended by central government is trimmed by the state government. Similarly, the benefit of the Minimum Support Price set by the state government is brought down by the state government. Both the Centre and the state government, over the years, have been largely responsible for the plight of farmers in the state, which has forced scores of them to end their lives. They are strangling the hapless farmers for no fault of theirs…,” said Budhajirao Mulik, who heads the Bhumata Charitable Trust, in the report. Mulik, however, refused to speak further about it as the report is yet to be placed before the legislature.
“The total number of farmers in Maharashtra is 1.5 crore.Of them, 82 per cent are Maratha farmers — 1.23 crore. Out of the 82 per cent, 78 per cent are rain-fed, small and marginal farmers. The figure is around one crore. With (an average) family size of five, the total population of Maratha farmers depending on agriculture, that too rain-fed, having small and marginal holding, is five crores,” the survey report said.
It added that the Maratha farmer families have expenditure for education, health and medical expenses, for marriage, clothes, social traditions and other expenses, without any off-farm income. “Education, health and other expenses are growing exponentially. Compared to the past, the percentage of girls attending school and colleges is more. If on an average, two children are taking college education, the expenses are about two lakh per year,” the survey said.
Pointing out that planned allocation to agriculture and allied industry from 1951 was decreased from 25 per cent 5 per cent by the Government of India and 30.87 per cent to 5 per cent by the Government of Maharashtra from 1961, Mulik, an agriculture expert who has drafted the survey report, said: “Because of the severe odds, private investment through borrowed money by farmers is increasing continuously. They borrow money for capital expenditure like digging wells, drip irrigation, drainage laying, farm machinery, land development. And then get trapped in the vicious cycles of money lenders.”
“There is in increase in cost of cultivation by many folds since 1970s but price of the produce is not realised in proportion. The Government of Maharashtra, through a submission to Bombay High Court, has admitted that farmers are doing farming in loss from the period 1996 to 2004. In this eight year period, if the benchmark MSP of central government is taken, farmers were doing farming in loss for 12 crops from 32 to 50 per cent. This was stated by the Joint Director of Agriculture before the high court,” said Mulik, adding that for instance, the cost of production of milk is Rs 40 per litre and the price realised by farmers is from Rs 17 to Rs 25 per litre.
The survey said: “Since the last two decades, the credit provided by banks to agriculture is only about 50 per cent of the actual cost of production. Therefore to remain in business, farmers approach private money lenders for credit. They borrow money at the interest rate of 24 per cent to 60 per cent per year. In 2006, the credit to rural area, whose major occupation agriculture in relation to their deposit, was 66.39 per cent in comparison with 90 per cent in metropolitan cities.”
Stating that the banks don’t strictly follow the RBI guidelines, the report said: “As per the RBI guidelines, out of the total credit, 18 per cent should be given to agriculture and allied industries. These guidelines are never followed and farmer has to borrow money…”
He added: “India claims to be an agrarian economy, but the present policies and approach towards agriculture are not in that direction, envisaging for a brighter agricultural future. While the production is dictated by nature, there are also other issues that negatively influence the farming activity.”
Highlighting how farmers are treated, the report said: “At the production stage, subsidies are given to the producers whereas at the consumption stage they are given to the final consumers… No incentive is given to the farmers who actually do production, despite severe odds…” The report said there are also inefficiencies in the support system that goes without accountability. “In fact, a poor farmer has to suffer and incur financial loss because of inefficiencies of the input providers…”