Rural Distress :
The Supreme Court has come down harshly on the government for not releasing money under the NREGA. Since last year there has been a delay in release of funds, as a result new works could not be taken up in various states. This means that farmers who can’t till their drought affected land, cannot find work too. Even when they find work, their payments have been held up. That is why the court slammed the government saying that relief that is given a year later is useless. It further added insult to injury when the honorable court commented that if wages are disbursed three months late, workers might not even be alive to receive these payments.
With a rural thrust given in the budget, the government has indeed tried to show that it was now going to focus to agriculture. However, nothing has changed. Nine states across the country are facing a tough drought situation. The suicide rate has gone up significantly and some estimates suggest that nine farmers are killing themselves every day in Maharashtra alone. Funds under therural employment guarantee act have been withheld and the court had to harshly question the government’s motives
Let us understand what is happening in the country today, particularly in rural India. Historically we have seen poor rains once every five years on an average. However, over the last two years, we had a freak phenomenon when we had poor rains twice in succession. Sixty per cent of our farmers depend on rain for their cultivation. For such a large percentage of farmers, the last two years has left them fragile and broken. A few of our farmers have some bare savings to fight one bad year, but no farmer can withstand two successive failures of monsoons.
For a long time now, outlays on irrigation and public investment in agriculture has drastically reduced. The onus is on giving input subsidies, like the two lakh crores we spend paying fertilizer companies. We also focus on providing minimum support prices which again benefit a certain elite who produce food grains and in states that have the capacity to procure them. The small farmer is marginalized and the lack of public investment hurts them the most. Post harvest conditions are abysmal and the supply chain continues to be over regulated and under funded.
Over the last two decades there has been talk of large sums of moneys that would be spent on villages and farms. However, a government and a political system that does not understand and believe in agricultural reforms cannot suddenly turn around. While it made several promises, it is unable to take any actions. The National Rural Employment Guarantee program was called a monumental failure of policy only last year. This year the rural development minister called the scheme among the best ever. Such double speak cannot but result in what we have seen and heard the Supreme Court say
What the highest court of the land has underlined is the lack of conviction that we see in government. Even when it allotted a large budget to NREGA, the government is not following it up with releasing money. When farmers face problems because of poor rains, they look for work in the non farm sector and want money at the end of the day so they don’t starve. But when the central government does not release money for weeks together, there is no point in such a scheme and it leads to distress and suicide. A government that does not fundamentally believe in solving c
Amir Ullah Khan
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