Farmers’ worries real, but they are not solely in pain

Farmers during a protest at Sambhu border near Ambala.
Farmers during a protest at Sambhu border near Ambala.


  • Agriculture has shaped our society and culture for centuries But farmers have always faced problems

Farmers in a certain region of the country are once again on the boil. They have started marching toward Delhi to exert pressure on the government through sit-ins. They claim the government has not kept the promises it gave them. However, one question arises in the context: If farmers are present throughout the country, why is their agitation not nationwide? I’ll try to explain this further, but first, let us first talk about a similar situation in Europe.

Farmers from several European countries recently drove their tractors into major cities there. They blockaded highways and attempted to halt the operation of ports. France, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Spain all succumbed to the protests. Farmers were angry owing to the policies of their respective governments, and they believed they were being treated unfairly. Resource-rich France and Germany swiftly agreed to some of the farmers’ demands. France reinstated the cuts to fuel subsidies and cancelled the mandate to restrict pesticide use. Germany has also announced similar measures. The European Union has made numerous proposals about the use of fertilizers and pesticides that farmers believe are not in their best interests. They have also been assured of a reassessment.

Can European farmers be compared with those of Punjab and Haryana? The circumstances are certainly different, but there are similarities as well. Agriculture needs a new vision and strategy, and not just ad hoc interventions. It will now have to adapt to changing circumstances.

Agriculture has shaped our society and culture for centuries But farmers have always faced problems. They continue to worry over shrinking land holdings, growing water scarcity, and land becoming progressively infertile. Has the government turned a blind eye, forcing them to obstruct roads and railways?

In the 2019 interim budget, the Union government resolved to grant farming households 6,000 each year from the treasury. Similarly, during the covid pandemic, the government began providing free foodgrain and edible oil each month to those in need. These schemes are continuing still, and are regarded as great aid in the villages of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar, which I have been in direct contact with. The Central and state governments also operate numerous social programmes for children of farmers and agricultural labourers and for women in the occupation. The needy benefit from direct “cash transfer" to farmer accounts. Not just that, this class is also entitled to several other agricultural concessions. There is no need for a telescope to see its good impact on the rural economy.

If this is the case, why are farmer suicide rates climbing year after year?

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data 11,290 persons associated with agriculture committed suicide in 2022. Of these, 5,027 were farmers, while 6,083 worked on farms as labourers. This year’s rate of such deaths has grown by 3.75% over last year. These are sorry figures, to be sure, but not everyone who is experiencing bad luck is associated with agriculture. In data from 2022, 170,921 suicides were reported to the bureau. Of these, 11.6% were self-employed, 11.6% were housewives, 9.6% were jobless, 9.2% were employed, and 7.6% were students. Another 26% were daily wage workers. Farmers ranked seventh on this list.

The entire social and economic system can be held accountable for this. Getting it properly takes resources, time, and patience.

Another issue needs to be addressed here. It is commonly stated that the agriculture sector contributed more than half of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) when the country gained Independence in 1947. In 2022-23, it became just 15%. This figure is sometimes presented by relating it to the woes of agriculture, despite the fact that in rapidly developing countries, the industry, trade, and service sectors are significantly expanding. Had this not occurred, agriculture’s small percentage of the total GDP of the richest countries in the world—the United States and Germany—would not have remained at just 1%.

Are the demands made by the protesting farmers unjustified? No. They have their own grief and suffering. We have to look at them, but it is impossible to overlook the fact that other sections of the population also require government assistance just as much, if not more, as the figures above make evident.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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