A day before Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled FY17 budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told children in a radio chat that he has an exam tomorrow and that he was confident of coming out of it with flying colors. If FY17 budgetary provisions for the farm sector is any indication, it can well be predicted that his performance at the end of the year may at best be average. Unless, of course, he uses the most effective tool at his command to spend the money allocated for the farm sector.
What’s this tool? This is ecological battalions of the Indian Army. Not too many of them are around. But the PM can ask his defence minister to divert some of the defence moneys to raising a large number of these battalions to rejuvenate rural ponds and build check dams mentioned in the budget. Unlike the fighting battalions, these ones cost very little to raise as their operational mandate is different and they don’t have to be equipped with expensive combat weapons. They can also be manned laterally by retiring soldiers without much additional cost to the exchequer. Their command and control structure, coupled with their ingrained discipline, would ensure that there is no laxity in executing rural irrigation projects that may be taken up under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP).
Since everyone is aware, it would be a surprise if the PM is unaware of the fact that panahyati raj institutions (PRIs) have turned into a vehicle of grass root corruption. Handing over AIBP schemes, for which the large part of MNREGA fund of Rs 38,500 crore is earmarked, to PRIs for execution would be a grand political folly. By coupling the programme with DBT and by putting ecological battalions’ task forces in commanding position (they should be left to their discretion to involve PRI institutions wherever required), the scheme would have greater chances of spinning off political benefits that are targeted by sudden love of NaMo for this much-vaunted UPA-2 scheme.
If NaMo so desires, he can keep the sum of Rs 500 crore that he has provided for improving pulses production in the country. If ecological battalions are at all employed, they can be mandated to clear off the Chenab-Yamuna-Ganga valleys of the species called Nil Gai that has emerged in the last 20 years the biggest threat to raising farm productivity and ecological balance. This pestilence harasses and destroys farmers’ labour on a 24x7x365 basis. Change the Wild Life Preservation Act 1972 that declared this goat family member into an endangered species. Change it now during the budget session and legally enable the ecological task forces to handle this menace because Hindus being Hindus would not touch an animal if it carries the word cow as prefix or suffix but they won’t mind if the government goes for limiting the population of this animal.
Along with neutralizing the Nil Gai, the government may require to drop its parasitic attitude while fixing the MSPs for pulses. It will have to rethink and recalibrate the pulses prices to ensure that its production does not work out as a losing proposition to farmers versus wheat and rice. Unless there is price tilt in favour of the pulses, NaMo should know as an ordinary man that farmers won’t be prompted to produce pulses. At the moment, pricing structure favours production of rice and wheat.
So, dear PM, if you really wish to be truly considered a ‘kisan mitra’, the title your trumpters have conferred on you, you better start acting in farmers’ interests and be seen and believed to be doing so. No one is taking your seriously when you hold out the promise of doubling the income of farmers’ by 2022. If you don’t double it by 2018, be sure you are not coming back to power. Not only that, declining farm income would ensure that farmers, who have been driven into Neo-Dalit marginalized classes thanks to pro-mercantile class policies of governments since Independence, would hit the streets – like Patels in your own state Gujarat and Jats in Haryana – demanding reservation. You rode to power promising farmers a 50 percent return on cost of production; you may find yourself at the bottom of the political whirlpool if you fail to befriend farmers here and now.
By M K Shukla & Rakesh Ranjan