One year of Trivendra Rawat govt: Tall talk in agri sector, low on impact
In the run-up to the assembly elections in 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised to waive off loans taken by marginal and small farmers in Uttarakhand. One year on, the promise remains unfulfilled.
This comes at a time when the area under cultivation and the net irrigation area are reducing in the state as farmers, especially in the hills, are finding the occupation unprofitable.
Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, the net sown area reduced by 7.1%; area under barren and unculturable land increased by 3,720 hectares; area under cereals (rice, wheat, barley, maize etc) decreased by 15%, and the net irrigated area reduced from 3,40,129 hectares to 3,29,964 hectares.
Asked about this, agriculture secretary Gauri Shankar said, “It is natural for the agricultural area to decline as industries are also required.”
According to the data released by the directorate of statistics, Rs 151.4 crore of the Rs 239 crore (63%) sanctioned for agriculture department in the budget last year was spent as on December 31, 2017. The figure for horticulture department was 74% (Rs 154 crore of the sanction Rs 209 crore).
In this backdrop, as the Trivendra Singh Rawat-led government completes one year on March 18, Hindustan Times revisits some issues that concern farmers in the state.
Farmers’ suicide and loan waiver
On June 16, 2017, Surendra Singh, a farmer from Purana Thal village of Pithoragarh district reportedly committed suicide. His wife, Manju, said he had taken a loan of Rs 50,000 and was unable to repay. Surendra’s death was not an isolated case. Within a month, five farmers in different districts ended their lives due to their inability in repaying bank loans.
The government refused to acknowledge them as deaths caused due to agrarian distress. But as public pressure increased, the CM said the government will carry out reforms to resolve issues faced by farmers.
In an interview with Hindustan Times in September, the CM made it clear that his government has no plans to provide any monetary compensation (debt-waiver) to the farmers. Instead, the government will provide soft loans at 2% interest rate “to double farmers’ income by 2022”, the CM had said.
Land consolidation: A long road?
Small landholdings in the hilly regions of the state have been a major hindrance for commercial agriculture. To check this, the BJP had promised to introduce a law that would facilitate consolidation of land holdings. Even though the draft of the bill was prepared last year, the government is yet to start work on it.
“The major problem that we face is the fragmented land holdings. Despite promising land consolidation, the government has failed us,” said Ratan Aswal, a social activist who works on checking migration from hills.
He added that the government has also failed to commission a pan-state scientific study on soil and climatic conditions to tell farmers about the best crops suitable for cultivation in their area.
No incentives for industry
The government has also failed to enthuse the industry to invest in agriculture and horticulture sector. Industry experts say the state has immense potential but due to lack of infrastructure, the government was unable to tap it.
“We can’t see too many changes happening in state in regards to agriculture and horticulture. There is an urgent need to set up cold storage facilities across the hills so that the goods aren’t spoilt and there is continuous supply. Road infrastructure also needs to be improved,” said Virendra Kalra, co-chairperson, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Uttarakhand chapter.
Approval for 10,000 organic clusters
Meanwhile on the positive note, to boost organic farming in the hills, the Centre has approved Rs 1,500 crore to develop 10,000 horticulture clusters across the state. The state government is also preparing the ‘Organic Farming Act’ that the government claims will further strengthen prospects of organic farming.
“The horticulture clusters that are being talked about will be successful in the state if the government avails some concession from the Centre on their size. We can’t have large areas under clusters in a state like Uttarakhand,” said Kalra.
Promise for a special budget
As the government gears up for the Budget Session, finance minister Prakash Pant has promised that agriculture will the focus of the upcoming Budget, a step that the government says is aimed at increasing farmers’ income by 2022, a target set by the Prime Minister.