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Snapshots of people on different rungs of the development pyramid

A new global study says economic inequality in India is climbing. Why are the living conditions of people in the two Indias so disparate? Where does the rot lie?

business Updated: Dec 17, 2011 23:13 IST

‘We can eat only once a day’

Kamlabai, 60
Farmer widow, Vidarbha

Opening up markets has shut doors on many a farmer in the cotton-growing region of Vidarbha. Liberalisation, which was meant to usher in economic prosperity, has turned out quite the contrary for some.

About 35 years ago, Shyamrao Bhoyar was the sarpanch of Amla village in Maharashtra’s Wardha district. He had a flourishing milk business. This apart, Shyamrao owned 16 acresland and used to cultivate cotton. He used to get a good price for his farm produce. Times changed, especially over the last two decades, after the government liberalised the economy in 1991. Market pressures and the fierce competition in a free-market economy began taking a heavy toll on
farmers, particularly in Vidarbha.

Farmers found themselves unable to cope with the agrarian crisis. Like many, who gave in to the pressures, Shyamrao committed suicide in February 2011, at the age of 64. His eldest son, Kawdu (38) who used to cultivate the family land, too, ended his life by swallowing pesticide on November 11, 2009 because of crop failure, crippling debts and not getting remunerative prices for his produce. The Bhoyars’ story illustrates how farmers are unable to break a
market-driven vicious circle.

The family’s plight worsened when Shyamrao’s youngest son Umesh (34) too, killed himself by jumping into a well on November 12 this year. He could not cope with the mounting pressure from private moneylenders owing to the low price of raw cotton in the market . Umesh couldn’t get bank loans as he had defaulted on R97,000 loan and hence had to approach private money lenders with unrealistic interest rates.

Kamlabai (60), the widow of Shyamrao, now lives with Sumit, Umesh’s 4-year son and bears humiliation from moneylenders.

The casual farm labourer said she has no option but to end her life. “We eat only once a day. How can I repay loans?” she asks.

— Pradip Kumar Maitra


‘Take development to villages’

Pavitar Pal Singh Pangli, 53 Rich farmer, Ludhiana

This progressive farmer from Panglian village in Punjab’s Ludhiana district has reaped the benefits of government policies since the onset of liberalisation. Pangli, who owns 80 acres of land in this village of 3500 people, takes pride in having introduced irrigation, contractual labour with a common rate and a revenue map in the village.

The revenue map keeps a record of the land holdings of farmers. So, there hasn’t been a single civil litigation pertaining to land in Panglian village since 1994. “I follow the schemes introduced by the central government closely and try and benefit from those,” says Pangli.

Among the government’s steps that have benefited large farmers like him Pangli lists transfer of technology in agricultural machinery, the National Food Security Mission and the National Horticulture Mission.

It has brought him rich dividends. His profit margins have increased considerably in last two decades, says Pangli. “The subsidy on wheat seed has benefited me as well as several others. I used to earn Rs 10,000 from one acre which has now gone up to Rs 45,000 per acre. I could send both my sons to Canada for higher studies,” he says.

Does the growing divide between rich, progressive farmers like him and the poor bother him? Pangli says it is widening owing to inadequate implementation of government schemes on the ground. “Illiteracy prevents poor farmers and labourers from reaping benefits at the right time,” he says.

“The need of the hour is to fix targets for horticulture development officers and agriculture development officers to ensure implementation of the schemes,” he suggests.

— Anshu Seth

‘The almighty has been kind’

Surinder Deol 58
Food entrepreneur, Delhi

Deol proudly mentions that actor Dharmendra and he share same last name. Like the action star, he, too, left his village in Punjab to make it big in a city. As luck would have it, the pure vegetarian ended up selling meat pickle.

The founder of Wah ji Wah, a pure vegetarian food outlet chain, never thought his humble food stall in west Delhi’s Janakpuri would one day have outlets in upmarket localities such as South Extension. “I began selling meat pickle but soon shifted to selling naans,” says Deol, whose company today has 40 takeaway outlets across Delhi.

Deol says the secret of his success is providing decent gourmet options to vegetarian food lovers.

For Deol, who has recently shifted to a new house in Paschim Vihar, the turnaround came when his sons took over the business in late 90s. “Now, I just relax at home and think of new vegetarian dishes,” he says as he switches channels on his newly acquired LCD TV. Today across the city, you can see Wah Ji Wah neon boards with a Punjabi tagline: Babe di full-full kripa. “It means that the almighty has given us everything and we are blessed.”

— Rajat Arora

‘I’ll make it big like my boss’

Shankar, 26 Chef, Delhi

Like lakhs of migrants from Bihar, Shankar, 26, had come to Delhi to earn a living ten years ago. He found a job as a cleaner with food
takeaway chain Wah Ji Wah.

A decade hence, both Shankar and his employer have grown , though at an unequal pace. While Wah ji Wah is a big food chain in the capital, Shankar has graduated to become a chef from a cleaner. “My first salary was Rs 1,500. Now I get Rs 6,000. Whatever I save I send back home to my wife and kids. Delhi is too expensive for me to sustain a family,” says Shankar, who goes by just one name.

His task, apart from meeting daily takeaway orders, is to come up with new vegetarian dishes. “I sleep at around 1 a.m. after shutting the kitchen and wrapping other things up.”

He spends his days marinating the raw material and evenings preparing vegetarian barbecues. “This shop has been my home for ten years. I sleep and eat here itself and use the community washroom for the morning necessities. This way I get to save a chunk of my salary,” he says.

Shankar’s employers have become a vegetarian food major while he waits for his fortunes to turn. “My boss also began from nowhere and now he’s a big man. I, too, aspire to be like him one day,” he adds.

— Rajat Arora