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Opinion Punjab’s Downhill Journey

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Punjab’s downhill journey

Gobind Thukral - South Asia Post - February 15, 2011

EVER since India took to neo liberal economic model of growth, a sector that has suffered nearly total neglect is agriculture. Public investment has declined since 1991. Agriculture research is not keeping pace with changed needs of the farm sector. Farmers, particularly in the predominantly agriculture states like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa etc have been resorting to suicides.

Such is their desperation due to heavy indebtedness. While in Punjab and Haryana as well as in many other parts land size has been shirking. More and more farmers have been leaving age old profession of farming; some 12 lakhs have left farming in Punjab alone. In the country number is five times. This is happening when there are not visible many avenues for employment. National farm sector growth last year touched 0.2 per cent. Planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia had to eat a humble pie as he had projected at least 4 per cent growth.

At another level, farmers have been drawing excess water from all available resources and using excessive doses of fertilizers and other chemicals. This way the quality of their land and life both have suffered irreparable loss. So when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh declares the beginning of the second green revolution one can only pity him. Revolutions do not fall from heaven. These are planned over the years with lot of effort and pain. This UPA government presiding over worst cases of corruption and marked by lethargy, fatigue, inefficiency can at best Indian farm sector to America by permitting big multinational companies like Monsanto and by dismantling mandi system.

It is therefore no paradox that Punjab, one of the biggest contributors of food grains to the central pool has a negative of mere 0.17% growth in 2009-10. It is slightly better than the national average. But that is no consolation.

It can way meet 2.4% growth in farm sector projected in the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12).

Latest estimates for, the primary sector’s contribution to Punjab’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) stands at 30% (constant prices with 2004-05 base year), of which agriculture accounts for nearly 23% and allied activities such as dairy, forestry and poultry make up the remaining seven per cent. Within agriculture, 16 out of 23% is accounted by the three main crops of wheat, paddy and cotton. All attempts to diversify the farm sector have failed.

Punjab’s farm growth was consistent in 2007-08 and 2008-09, at 3.8% and 3.3%, respectively. However, in 2009-10, the growth story got sour, first with high temperatures playing a spoilsport for wheat and later untimely rains for cotton.

Punjab’s farm growth depends on two factors; minimum support price [MSP] and weather. Unlike states like Gujarat and Bihar, Punjab’s base is already high. The growth rate is decided by the value of output of three main crops; wheat, paddy and cotton and multiplied by the MSPs. Land has achieved saturation as far as productivity is concerned and so only variable that changes in weather counted. How pitiable is this situation.

If there is no good interplay of these factors, the result would be negative. While the MSP for the three crops moved up sharply in the preceding years bringing over three per cent growth rate, in 2009-10, the hike was not substantial. The Rabi 2008-09 wheat yield was hit by high temperatures and the cotton crop suffered due to late rains in September. As for the kharif season, it saw a good yield of paddy, mainly due to a significant jump in area under basmati, despite poor rains. In 2009-10, though MSP for paddy was hiked by Rs 100, the hike in wheat MSP was Rs 80. In the years between 2003-04 and 2008-09 paddy’s MSP jumped from Rs 550 to 850 per quintal, that of cotton from Rs 1,725-1,925 to Rs 2,500-3,000 a quintal and wheat from Rs 640 in 2004-05 a quintal to Rs 1000 in 2008-09.

While farmers and the government are hopeful of a positive turnaround this year to be able to achieve Planning Commission’s 2.4% projected growth during the 11th Five Year Plan. But these are temporary reckonings. In 2010-11, the cotton crop and prices both have been good and so was the Rabi crop. The paddy output has not been as high. Notably, the national target for agriculture growth is 4% per annum in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12).

Punjab Farmers Commission wants a massive doze of technology and diversification to take Punjab out of this tragic situation. No one seems to be listening to this Commission. How long Punjab’s farm growth will hinge on prices of its three main crops and their output?

Already, farmers are getting 85 to 90% of the potential yield from available seed varieties of these crops. Where is the scope for more after such saturation? There is no effort to improve technology and increase yields. Diversification is just a pep talk of the politicians. And, for a better growth rate, diversification should come not just in agriculture but also state’s economy. Of the over 10 lakh operational landholdings in Punjab, 32% belong to farmers who own less than five acres of land.

Punjab’s farm hands should move towards manufacturing and service sectors like neighboring Haryana. The shift is slow, from 65% in 1960s; total workforce in the farm sector in Punjab has slipped to 40%. Even today farm sector provides more livelihood opportunities

Gram Sabha land.
There is happy news for Punjab’s villages as it is for other states. In a far-reaching order, the Supreme Court has directed all the state governments to take immediate steps to restore Gram Sabha land allotted to private persons to the respective village panchayats.

A Bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra ruled, “In many states, orders have been issued by the state governments permitting the allotment of gram sabha land to private persons and commercial enterprises on the payment of some money. In our opinion, all such government orders are illegal and should be ignored,” All the state governments “should prepare schemes for the eviction of illegal/unauthorised occupants of gram sabha/gram panchayat/shamlat land and these must be restored to the gram sabha/gram panchayat for the common use of villagers of the village”.

The Bench regretted that in large parts of the country, common village land had been grabbed since Independence by “unscrupulous persons using muscle power, money power or political clout, and in many states now there is not an inch of such land left for the common use of the people of the village, though it may exist on paper.”

The court directed, “For this purpose, the Chief Secretaries of all state governments/UTs are directed to do the needful taking the help of other senior officers of the governments. The said scheme should provide for the speedy eviction of such illegal occupant after giving him a show-cause notice and a brief hearing. If any land has been in the possession of private persons of any kind, villagers can approach the state government and write to the Supreme Court.




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