As more and more farmers in Punjab drift into poverty, people feel that the government is not doing enough to improve their situation.
“The costs have risen immensely. We are just wasting time. But what else can we do? If our children can’t find another job, they’ll have to work with us. Farmers here have debts. Only 5 percent of them have no loans,” said Gurchan Singh, a farmer from Punjab.
The government has introduced some measures to combat the situation. At this year’s budget session, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced a complete waiver of all loans to small farmers.
Promoting industry over agriculture
More efforts are being made to promote industry to provide alternative employment for farmers.
“There’s going to be a factory in this area,” explained one villager from Naulakha in remote Punjab. “We don’t feel entirely comfortable about it but it will be good for the younger generations, which don’t have jobs and are sitting idle. If they get a job tomorrow it will be good for all of us.”
In the past five years, more than 400,000 Punjabi farmers have been forced to leave cultivation and are now working on factory sites as labourers. But some experts warn promoting the industrial sector is not the right way to go about improving the lot of farmers.
“The entire effort of the government is basically to improve the industrial and manufacturing sector,” explained Devinda Sharma, an agricultural scientist. “It is not at all bothered about agriculture and it’s not even paying lip service. But it has done great damage to the Indian agriculture over the last 15 years. The farmers’ suicide rate since 1991 has now crossed 150,000 -- I think there is something going seriously wrong in agriculture.”
An Evergreen Revolution
Investing money and building economic zones worth millions will not help, believes M. S. Swaminathan, the father of the so-called Green Revolution: “We have no option except to produce more. Land is a shrinking resource for agriculture. Therefore, we must have more productivity per unit of land, per unit of water and labour.”
“This is what I call an ‘Evergreen Revolution’ -- increase in productivity and perpetuity without technological harm. We urgently need it in the heartland of the original Green Revolution -- in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.”
The Green Revolution increased the use of fertilisers and irrigation to increase production so India would become self-sufficient in food grains.
In the first quarter of 2008, the agricultural sector grew by 3.2 percent whereas the economy as a whole grew by 8.4 percent.
Farmers hope that the government will take their grievances into consideration so that they too can benefit from India’s boom.