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Land acquisition will prevent farmer suicide

We need to dismantle the regulation, control, permission and clearance regime.

Anang Pal Malik  2nd May 2015

Farmers gather at the Jantar Mantar to protest the land acquisition ordinance, in New Delhi on 18 March. PTI

n India, the average salary of an engineering graduate, fresh out of college, is between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 per month. It is easy to hire them for a salary as low as Rs 10,000 per month.

Farmers in India are committing suicide, both in areas where crops have failed because of drought or unseasonal rains (such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra), and in areas where crops have been very good (such as West Bengal).

Both the above facts are a result of the present state of development of the Indian economy.

The starting salaries of engineers in India are so low because there are a large number of engineers chasing a limited number of jobs. The companies that hire them make very low profits because there are very few people who can afford to buy their products. The people who can afford their products are few because there are not enough modern economic activities in India that enable people to earn enough to buy those products.

Farmer suicides occur not because of land acquisition (not even 4% of Indian land is under industry) or modern agricultural practices having destroyed the old agricultural economy of organic manure and own seed. Nor has "climate change" forced the use of pesticides that led to farming becoming expensive, pushing farmers into debt and eventually to suicide in case of crop failure/crop glut.

The population explosion in the last 75 years because of developments in modern medicine made life expectancy in India comparable to the developed world. As a result of this explosion, the land holdings per family in India have become almost 1/20th of what they were at the time of Independence. Modern practices like artificial irrigation, use of better seeds, fertiliser, and pesticides have increased yields to a level that this country, which was not able to feed 40 crore people at Independence, is successfully feeding the 125 crore people now, and is even exporting food grains. However, per capita farm incomes have plummeted to the level that every crop failure or glut means that farmers are bankrupted to the extent that many take their own lives.

This has happened because socialism, our ruling philosophy for the last 60 years, has made sure that industrialisation of India remains comatose, so only a very small portion of the population has shifted from subsistence agriculture to factories and service industry. Therefore, even as the developed world has almost 99% of its population working outside agriculture now, in India the percentage of the population dependent on agriculture is still close to 60%.

In the past, the farmers did not commit suicides in case of crop failures or gluts, because each family had enough land to cultivate many different crops. If cash/grain crops failed, the fodder crop would make sure that the farmers could survive by selling milk and ghee from the livestock they owned. In fact, the livestock would survive on grass, even if all crops failed. In extreme distress, farmers could still survive by selling their livestock. Now a farmer family typically owns 5 to 10 bighas of land, and to increase income from this meagre holding, uses better seeds, fertiliser, and pesticides, all usually purchased on credit. The ox and plough have nearly disappeared as the present generation does not want to use them, and tractors and other machine-driven implements make planting crops a costly affair. Therefore, a crop failure, or crashing of prices because of a glut, devastates farmers. There was one more back up earlier. Unseasonal rains typically destroy crops in a few villages or a block, leaving adjoining areas largely unaffected. The farmers in the affected areas could seek help from relatives in non-affected areas. With nobody now having any surplus, relatives are also not able to come to the rescue.

The only solution, it should be clear by now, is to take people off agriculture and absorb them in primary, secondary, and tertiary industry. The only solution is the rapid industrialisation of India.

This will also help prevent farmer suicides and ensure proper salaries for our educated. For that to happen, we must make sure that on the ease of doing business index, we are number one in the world, not 142nd (our present ranking). And to achieve this, we need to dismantle the regulation, control, permission, and clearance regime. Doing so would in fact save us the money that we spend on the massive bureaucracy engaged in administering this regime. And of course, we need easy land acquisition for industry. An acre of land under agriculture can hardly support one family, but a factory on that one acre can easily support a thousand families.

The Land Acquistion Act of 2013 should be junked in toto. The old Act of 1894 should be recast to ensure easy and speedy acquisition, and proper compensation.

Not only does land acquisition not cause farmer suicides, it is the only thing that can prevent farmer suicides and ensure proper salaries for educated people. The government should be firm, and for now at least, pass the Land Acquisition Ordinance it has introduced in Parliament. Once it has the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, it should further improve it.

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