Sunday, 7 February 2016

Rural India : How Can We Ensure Participative Growth?

Continuing the series of thoughts on farming, let us  look at some real examples of human tragedy – not suicide, but examples of poverty in farming and rural India to put things in perspective, and look at the scale of the problems facing us as a nation. We in Urban India wax eloquent on industry, technology developments; the question is how to give amelioration in the rural tracts of the country? How can we ensure participative growth? I am not looking at the economic argument of trickle down versus inclusive growth; I am looking at the human side of things – which, in my opinion, is the only way to look at things.

That is a question that requires an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem confronting us. In a previous article, I had listed the problems facing agriculture; and had also analysed profitability from farming Wheat and Paddy for a period of seven years. Those articles list a series of research reports that provide hard data on the abysmal status of the farming community as a general statement;  specifically the Small and Marginal Farmers {and the landless}

To quote from that article : “Now take a look at the absolute numbers of profit that are coming out. It is ranging from a loss of 1400 Rs per crop, to a profit of 9700 approximately per crop. What can a family do in that meagre amount? “ That is one aspect of the problem; the second aspect is the number of Small and Marginal Farmers in India, with holdings of less than 2Ha {avg holding size is 1.41Ha approximately, from memory} – these number more than 70% of total farm holdings, which are in the region of 116 Million, and might even be 80%+ of holdings. We are looking at a huge number:  90 Million Families. Add to that landless agricultural labour, and the reality stares at you in its stark and naked truth : We are talking of 100s of Millions of people.

You might state – with some degree of accuracy – that industrial development will create opportunities and jobs, that slow change will trickle down to all levels. There are two major objections to this from a human perspective. The first challenge is how will uneducated people, people with limited skills outside farming take true advantage of industrial growth? And are the opportunity creations in the rural areas – or are they in the cities? Are we capable of dealing with increasing inward migration and pressure on the cities, or are we creating urban slums? Will the displaced labour get an improved life?

Second level of the problem in this approach is, trickle down takes place over a period of time; that it is effective in eradicating poverty over time is not in debate, under the proper set of conditions. What happens to the people in the meantime? That is why a large level of intervention and help is required by these people from the State as well as the Haves of society. This is so that they can live a decent life, and enable to them to provide health and education to their children. These are the “proper set of circumstances” I am referring to – are we, as a people, truly and really focussing on education and on health?

How can people move from Farming to jobs without a decent education and a functioning and delivering health scenario? Without access to affordable health services of a standard, and access to affordable schooling of a proper education standard that helps in developing the demographic dividend we are so fond of extolling? Thus, if you have focus on Urban India, on Infrastructure {which also benefits rural India}, without an adequate focus on education and health – where is the guarantee that development will percolate faster than what is the current rate?

Given the vagaries of farming in India as a profession and its attendant challenges {my post}, it is a requirement that a helping hand be extended to the farming community for us as a people; Urban Indians would do well to understand that rural India and farmers in particular are facing a series of challenges that have led to serious problems and losses for them as a community, especially in the immediately preceding few years, as covered in my previous article.

The challenge is misunderstood to be one of creating jobs and opportunities – it is also one of creating the right conditions that will enable the rural community to actively partake in developmental opportunities cutting across income lines. That means education & a decent livelihood for their current status that can enable them to attend school. With the terrifyingly low income levels that we have seen, how can a father ensure a decent education and health to his children  and his family?

Are we, as a nation, giving adequate attention to education and to health? Ask that question of yourselves...

To understand,  read this hard hitting article with live examples of the reality of Rural India :

Akash says he stayed back because he did not want to miss school. “I don’t want to be a labourer. I want to get a government job,” he smiles. But for the Class VI student, life has changed. His grandfather is 65, and the 12-year-old must sweep the floor, prepare the hearth in the kitchen with cowdung cakes, and often make chapatis before he leaves for school at 8 am. “I know how to knead atta,” he says. “Today there were no vegetables, so we made chutney.” Chaudhary Sundar Singh Inter-College where he studies is about 10 km away, and he cycles there. When he returns at 4 pm, the chapatis from the morning serve as meal. “This year nothing has been sown, increasing the migration to other states,” says pradhan Raju Dixit, adding that many in Mahoba have also disowned their cattle...

Just before Diwali last year, trucks queued up outside Chichara village on NH 86, just like the past few years. Among the villagers who left on it for brick kilns of Rajasthan were parents of 18-year-old Javitri. Last year the crops on their one-bigha land were damaged by rains, and this time, the fields were not sown because of lack of water. Village pradhan Narendra says nearly 30 per cent of the residents of Chichara, that has a population of about 3,500, have left in search of work. Villagers say earlier only the poor migrated, now even landowning communities do. “Even Thakurs and Brahmins have left,” says Dinesh Dwivedi.  Javitri, who dropped out of school in 2014 after Class XI as her family couldn’t afford her studies, lives alone in the family’s two-room home now. Her aunt and uncle live next door...

Dhalchand Patel’s father Chaturbhuj had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh using his Kisan credit card four years ago. The Patels own 10 acres in Ghutai village of Mahoba. Chaturbhuj died in summer last year, leaving behind a family of six and the unpaid loan. On December 21, Dhalchand, 46, was found dead on a railway track nearby. His family members say he had got a notice to attend a Lok Adalat in connection with the loan. “The night before his death, he spoke to me about the loan. He was worried,” says Pratap Singh, Dhalchand’s uncle and the village pradhan

In Kalipahadi village near Mahoba town, Ram Babu Upadhyay, 40, had been struggling to irrigate his eight bigha land, on which he had sown wheat. On January 21, while discussing his problem, Upadhyay fainted, and died before reaching hospital. “The wheat crop is our only hope,” says his widow Pinki, holding their two-year-old son Manav. Most of the tubewells have dried up here, with handpumps only providing enough water for drinking. Most of the seven rivers in Mahoba are also dry. The biggest irrigation project, Arjun Sahayak Pariyojana, inaugurated in 2009, is still not complete. The budget was recently doubled to around Rs 1,600 crore. The Rs 7,266-crore Bundelkhand Package, also announced in 2009, kept aside Rs 3,506 crore for the UP districts. It has proved ineffectual in this round of droughts

Wearing a torn shirt and trousers, Rajput says his condition has only worsened since. “Both my sons work as labourers. I work as a security guard in Surat. My daughter-in-law’s two deliveries cost me Rs 80,000, and I had to pawn my four bighas..

Each case a testament of the status of Rural India, although these cases are from Bundelkhand, They, each of them, give an indication of the apathy in our society, of societal ills, of lack of access to education, and of distress. The cases tell of societal pressure, of failure of crops, of migration, of deep distress... how can these people or their wards partake in development that we are so fond of extolling? That is why, these people need a helping hand, and that is why Governments regardless of party lines give that helping hand. They need it, they need our help...

Not everything in life can be a simple profit-and-loss statement. Some things are beyond that, the call of humanity. Rather than question the aid given to them without suggesting alternative solutions, let us introspect as to how can we turn around the situation? How can we ensure participative growth? It is easy to state that curtail this and that; rather than do that,  the question should be, is and remains : how can we ensure skills, education, a decent life to our fellow citizens? 

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