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Call to declare agriculture a public service

Staff Reporter
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Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu P. Sainath interacting with Director of Studies M. Ramadass (centre) and former Vice Chancellor of Shivaji University D.N. Dhanagare at a seminar at the Pondicherry University on Thursday. — Photo : T.Singaravelou
Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu P. Sainath interacting with Director of Studies M. Ramadass (centre) and former Vice Chancellor of Shivaji University D.N. Dhanagare at a seminar at the Pondicherry University on Thursday. — Photo : T.Singaravelou

As one of the starting points in easing the farm crisis in the country, the government should declare agriculture a “public service.” This would ensure a minimum income for the farmers, who put the food on the nation's table, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner P. Sainath said here on Thursday.

He was delivering the keynote address at the international conference on ‘Farmer suicides in India,' organised by the Department of Sociology at the Pondicherry University. Mr. Sainath said that the growth of the agriculture sector should be measured with the growth in income of farmers and agriculture workers and not just in terms of production.

Terming the trend of farmer suicides in the last decade as the “largest wave of human suicides in a single occupation” in recorded history, he said this was the result of a “policy driven assault” on farming community by the government, which has slashed investments in several sectors that affect the poor.

Despite the number of people in farming going down - 8 million having quit agriculture between 1991 and 2001 - farmer suicides were consistently on the rise. This was the most alarming trend in agriculture today, he said.

Being the only official data of the government on farm suicides, the National Crime Records Bureau's information was authentic but far from accurate. This was because a number of groups, including women on whose name pattas usually do not exist and Dalits and Adivasis, who largely lack proper land titles, were excluded from the definition of farm suicides.

Taking the case of Aurangabad where Mercedes made its largest single day sales recently, Mr. Sainath said that Rs. 44 crore of the Rs. 63-crore deal came from loans provided by public sector State Bank of India (SBI) at 7 per cent interest. The very same SBI charged between 12 and 14 per cent interest for the funds it provided farmers for buying tractors. This was an example of why there was a crisis of credit for the farmers in the country, he said.

The National Farmers Commission has produced four volumes of reports suggesting answers to the crisis, including marking a certain percentage of GDP for agriculture and allied sectors and a Centre-State mechanism for stabilisation of price. If not as solutions, measures suggested by the commission could serve as “starting points” for dealing with the crisis on a medium and long term basis.

Former Vice-Chancellor of Shivaji University D.N. Dhanagare said a community, which had the courage to fight for its rights at various occasions in the 19 {+t} {+h} and 20 {+t} {+h} centuries, has been pushed to the state of committing suicides. From a sociologist's point of view, it was important to analyse the factors that had contributed to this change in the psyche of the farmers, he said.

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