Farmers rally in Maharashtra: It’s time for a reality check
The demands of the farmers of the rally have categorically shown that there is a need for more effective implementation of the present entitlements and generate a rainfed policy perspective.
More than their tired feet, the battered minds of the marching farmers during a recent rally in Mumbai rattled us. Their demands were not typical of a farmers’ rally; they went well beyond the usual demands of loan waivers and support prices. Instead, the marching farmers wanted implementation of the right to food, right to work and the forest rights acts.
The demands are much more comprehensive and complex. They want implementation of the Forest Rights Act because a land title gives them dignity and can help them apply for government schemes. Though the Act is a decade old, its implementation is inefficient, thanks to poor administration, difficult procedures and a feudal forest department that does not want to hand over its land.
For the government and its bureaucracy busy making statements that there is labour shortage in different sectors of the country and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is not really required, these demands from 35,000 farmers who took part in the rally will hopefully wake them up. The implementation of the right to work programme lacks political will. Farmers want this since this is one programme which creates basic infrastructure for rainfed geographies.
Of the five major crops grown in India — paddy, wheat, pulses, cotton and oilseeds — only wheat is irrigated; the other four crops are unirrigated, or fall under the rainfed farming category. At approximately 55% of India’s gross crop area, rainfed farming constitutes a major chunk of the country’s farm sector.
Yet, the government’s policies do not cater to this segment of farmers. They require a more comprehensive set of programmes such as protective irrigation (which saves crops from the adverse effects of deficiency of soil moisture) to tide over dry spells during the kharif season; small investment programmes such as back yard poultry, goat rearing or small pond fisheries than the big off-farm enterprises, which require high investments and technical input. There has to be a revival of coarse cereals, which is one of their livelihood options and which they grow and consume. All this has to come with scientific management practices which are then transferred to the local community.
Unless we overcome our mental stereotypes about farmers, we cannot find solutions. The demands of the farmers at the rally have categorically shown that there is a need for more effective implementation of the present entitlements and the need to generate a rainfed policy perspective. But putting together a robust delivery mechanism requires that the government spend time, energy and human resources on fixing the systems.
Ashwini Kulkarni is with Pragati Abhiyan, Nashik
The views expressed are personal