Hear farmers’ call

It has been 60 years since the Indian Parliament held its first session in 1952. In this context, the media reported that since the third Lok Sabha (1962-67) agriculturalists form the single largest group in the House. Three five-year plans laid great emphasis on agriculture — building large dams, establishing agricultural universities, undertaking major irrigation works, setting out on the path of the Green Revolution and so on. Subsequent plans laid emphasis on other sectors, whilst also supporting agriculture.
Records show that agriculture grew annually at around one per cent in the pre-Independence era, while it has hovered around three to four per cent in free India. Agricultural contribution to our gross domestic product has fallen from 43 per cent to 16 per cent in the years between 1970 and 2011. However, this fall may also be due to a faster growth in the manufacturing and service sectors.
Agriculture has become unattractive and stressful, pushing farmers to end their lives rather than endure with hope for a better future. Problems are multifarious — poor quality of seeds, high input costs, lack of sufficient water, unpredictable power supply, absence of timely produce procurement, lack of storage, saturating credit facility, inadequate and delayed minimum support price, meagre insurance at times of crop failure, etc. The youth do not want to inherit this burden resulting in migration to urban areas. It will be cruel to top this brimming cup of woes with our indifference to their plight.
The two-day Farmers’ Parliament held in New Delhi on May 12-13 this year voiced their concerns. They felt that the neglect of agriculture is now complete. Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, addressing the gathering declared that if the UPA government has any intentions to help farmers it should respond to the their call immediately. This meet has demanded a special session of Parliament to discuss agriculture.
Karnataka had started giving their farmers a separate budget and loans at an interest rate of one per cent.
Gujarat is currently holding a month-long “Krishi Mahotsav” — an annual pre-monsoon preparatory and readiness exercise where every need of the farmer is comprehensively addressed at his village or taluka so that he confidently takes on the forthcoming crop season. In the eighth “Krishi Mahotsav” this year, nearly one lakh employees belonging to various ministries, departments, corporations and boards are present in the villages with the farmers. They will facilitate them in getting Soil Health Card, Kisan Credit Card, crop insurance, enrolling for drip irrigation etc. Activities such as de-silting canals and ponds and providing new power substations are taken up in mission mode. Gujarat now has 107 soil-testing centres. Ten years ago there were only 20 such centres. The four agricultural universities in the state actively participate in this campaign, notwithstanding the fact that their interaction with farmers and extension workers is an ongoing process.
A typical day during this campaign has the morning spent on animal welfare. The cattle are vaccinated, treated and where necessary operated upon, all free of cost. Two hundred and twenty-seven mobile units — raths — one each for a taluka stay for a whole day in a village for each cluster, providing intensive training and information on specific crop/issue.
This year saw the input salesmen — of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides — follow the raths offering special discounts. The government provides a subsidised input kit to all marginal farmers. During this mahotsav, every evening chief minister Narendra Modi appeals to the farmers, assembled where the rath spent the day, to adopt best agricultural practices. Invariably citing the example of a local progressive farmer worthy of emulation, the chief minister motivates them to strive and succeed, assuring, as if incidentally, that the Gujarat government is fully with them.
Attempts to project Gujarat as an industrialised state continuing to sustain its lead in that and in trade and commerce, thereby diluting its achievements in agriculture, are completely misplaced. In the last 10 years, income from agriculture has tripled even at constant prices (base year: 2001) from `15,975 crores to `39,277 crores. Gujarat has found itself rightly on the global agricultural map for sustaining a double-digit average growth in the last decade. During the year 2010-11 the state’s agriculture grew by 16.6 per cent. Agricultural income totalled `88,000 crores. As of April 2012, over 4.69 lakh hectares are drip irrigated. In the Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2013, a separate event is being planned for agriculture.
Today, Kutchh, the salty marshland, which was ravaged by an earthquake 10 years ago, is the horticultural hub of Gujarat. The Government of India has declared 2012-13 as “Horticulture Year” and provided the National Horticulture Mission an outlay of `1,850 crores. But with an outlay of `155 crores and with a horticultural produce availability of 300kg/person vis-a-vis the national average of 198kg/person, Gujarat has raised the benchmark.
Seven years ago, Kutchh produced 1.25 lakh litres of milk per year. Now, Kutchh and Kathiyavad together produce 15 lakh litres per year, earning `5 crore daily from the sale of milk.
There are more than 100 agricultural produce marketing centres in Gujarat. They are a hub of activity for the farmers. The Gujarat government spent `2 crores on each of them for providing better facilities to the farmer. Now a farmer can get subsidised nutritious meals and his cattle can get a resting place and water to drink.
Ten years ago, farmers in Gujarat got only 15 power substations each year, vis-a-vis the present 150 power substations every year. The subsidy for providing power to the farmers is `3,000 crores now as compared to `500 crores then.
Gujarat is two-thirds an arid state. Thanks to sustained campaigning and concerted efforts, groundwater depletion has halted. The groundwater table has risen — by three metres in some areas and 13m in some others — closer to the surface. Over 6,50,000 water-harvesting structures, interlinking of rivers, check dams and canals have contributed to this critical and catalytic change. The people of Gujarat have contributed to this massive effort through “samay daan” or “sukdhi daan”.
We may consider agriculture for providing food security to the nation, or for employing the bulk of semiskilled and unskilled workers or for being the fountainhead of our rural economy. Throwing tonnes of money at it is no good. Commitment, understanding, detailed planning, sustained efforts and visionary leadership make the difference.

The writer is spokesperson of the BJP. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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