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Here are some points that give a broad overview of farmers in India as statistics and other data based information.

How many farmers are there in India?

Depends on what you call farmers. There are cultivators and there are agricultural labour. The data over the years is as follows.

YearCultivators (in million)Agricultural labourers (in million)% of cultivators% of Agricultural labourers
195169.927.349.919.5
196199.631.552.816.7
198192.555.537.822.7
1991110.774.635.223.8
2001127.6107.531.726.7
2011118.6144.324.630

As you see, many things have changed in recent years. Soon after independence, we had more farmers, but more importantly, they were tilling their own land. This number grew at varying rates even though not as fast as overall population growth in later years (indicated by dropping % of population). What we see in the 2011 census is that there are actually more agricultural labourers (working on other people's land) than cultivators (working on their own/leased land).

What is the drop in the number of farmers in India?

The drop of 9 million cultivators between 2001 and 2011 amounts to 2000 farmers giving up agriculture per day in that period. This echoes the dramatic rise in farmer suicides in the corresponding period. It is worth noting that the decline could have started any time between 1991 and 2011, as it is possible that we had even more cultivators that dropped to 127.6 million by 2001 or that cultivators increased for a while and then dropped to 118.6 million by 2011. However, going by other data that went through changes around the same time - like economic policies, agricultural policies, cattle populations and farmer suicides, my guess would be that farmers started giving up on agriculture at some point in the late 90s.

Personally, I find it noteworthy that we had the most % of cultivators just before the green revolution, and the most number of cultivators just before the GM onslaught. Both corporate influenced widespread interventions in agriculture that had a dramatic impact on how farming was done.

How many farmer suicides has India seen?

This is the data as per NCRB.

199510720
199613729
199713622
199816015
199916082
200016603
200116415
200217971
200317164
200418241
200517131
200617060
200716632
200816796
200917368
201015964
201114027
201213754
201311772
201412360
201512602

So aren't farmer suicide numbers decreasing in recent years?

Not really. They are being concealed in various ways from outright not reporting farm suicides to NCRB to creating sub-categories and refusing the suicides under other headings. There are even ways that discourage reporting of farmer suicides - for example financial compensation for accidental deaths, but no relief for suicides. There will be a more detailed article coming up about this showing the various ways. There are, astonishingly, even attempts to show farmers suicides as lower than the overall population by misinterpreting figures!

But isn't the government doing more to provide agricultural loans and waivers?

Agricultural loans go to the agricultural sector and not just farmers. An interesting analysis by R Ramakumar and Pallavi Chavan titled "Revival of Agricultural Credit in the 2000s: An Explanation" shows that a lot of the credit does not actually go to small and marginal farmers - the subsection that accounts for over 72% of farmer suicides. As Pallavi Chavan explains in her article in the Hindu (emphasis mine):

First, a significant proportion of the increase in agricultural credit from commercial banks was accounted for by indirect finance to agriculture. Indirect finance refers to loans given to institutions that support agricultural production, such as input dealers, irrigation equipment suppliers and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) that on-lend to agriculture.

Second, a number of changes were made in the definition of agricultural credit under the priority sector. The definitional changes broadly involved (a) the addition of new forms of financing commercial, export-oriented and capital-intensive agriculture; and (b) raising the credit limit of many existing forms of agricultural financing. To cite an instance, loans given to corporates and partnership firms for agriculture and allied activities in excess of Rs 1 crore in aggregate per borrower was considered as priority sector lending under agriculture, from 2007 onwards.

[...]

Third, much of the increase in the total advances to agriculture in the 2000s was on account of a sharp increase in the number of loans with a credit limit of Rs.10 crore and above, and especially Rs.25 crore and above.

Even within direct agricultural finance, which goes directly to farmers, there was a sharp rise in the number of loans with a credit limit above Rs.1 crore. It seems likely that these large loans were advanced towards financing the new activities added to the definition of agricultural credit.

Recent data on banking has brought out a fourth disturbing feature of the revival in agricultural credit. There has been a sharp growth of agricultural finance that is urban in nature. Between 1995 and 2005, the share of agricultural credit supplied by urban and metropolitan bank branches in India increased from 16.3 per cent to 30.7 per cent. The share of agricultural credit supplied by metropolitan branches alone increased from 7.3 per cent in 1995 to 19 per cent in 2005. While there was a moderate decrease in these shares between 2006 and 2008, urban and metropolitan branches continued to supply about one-third of the total agricultural credit in 2008. Concurrently, there was a sharp fall in the share of agricultural credit supplied by rural and semi-urban branches from 83.7 per cent in 1995 to 69.3 per cent in 2005. In 2008, the share of rural and semi-urban branches in total agricultural credit was 66 per cent.

So when we talk of waiving off agricultural loans...

The fact is, small and marginal farmers find it difficult to get loans from banks even when they have all the requisite paperwork. Those without land cannot get such credit at all, and money lenders continue to be the reliable source of loans. Loans taken from money lenders are unaffected by loan waivers.

What exactly is the problem farmers have then?

The problem is one of income. Inpur prices have risen steeply over the years, while the price of their produce hasn't. Additionally, with less than a third of cultivable land in India being irrigated, farmers are left to the mercies of monsoon for water for growing their crops. Additionally, the reckless promotion of inappropriate cash crops that fail for various reasons from inadequate water to pests developing resistance to much publicized Bt Cotton has left farmers stranded for choices that generate reliable income.

The average income of an Indian farmer is about Rs. 6,400 a month. With such a low income, even agricultural loans are debt traps. If the harvest fails or if prices crash, the farmer ends up not only losing all his investment, but owing a loan on top of that.

What is urgently needed is making inputs cheaper as well as raising the income of farmers with MSPs that are fair (and not just something for desperate farmers to grab as an alternative to complete loss). There is a need to ensure credit to farmers specifically and ensure that it can be availed easily. Electricity and water need to be cheaper. Irrigation needs to be expanded. There are also other supportive measures that would help rural India overall - like reliable healthcare - most people in rural India cannot afford healthcare. This has an impact on productivity and can push them into debt in the event of unavoidable health expenses. Expansion of schemes like MNREGA serve to provide additional incomes where farming alone is not adequate for survival. Many things can be done that break this cycle of death and despair and there are many wiser people than me who are more competent at making recommendations.

 

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I will answer as best I can.

2

A Twitter tag #JaiKisan is attempting to educate Indians on the realities and conditions of farmers in India. Farmers produce the country's food. They purchase inputs at retail prices, sell produce at wholesale prices. Unlike a lot of products, farm produce is relatively short lived and takes a long time to grow. A crash in prices basically means doom, because they have already invested in the produce. The reasons for their losses are many and varied. From the vagaries of nature to corruption depriving them of irrigation. From failed crops to bumper harvests with no value because demonetisation has sucked all the money out of the market. This year we saw excellent harvests of tomatoes post a good monsoon being dumped on the streets or cut down as they stood ready for harvest, because there wasn't enough money in the market and prices had crashed so badly, that even transporting them to markets for selling was a loss making venture.

There are other oddities and absurdities you will notice on the #JaiKisan tag. Take for instance Tuvar dal with an MSP of Rs5050/Qt when the input Cost is Rs6403/Qt. Not only is this loss making by design, the farmers actually got only Rs4200/Qt resulting in a loss of Rs2200/Qt. On the other hand, India imported 28 lakh tonnes of tuvar dal at Rs 10114/Qt. The input cost for wheat is Rs 1943/Qt, while the farmer got Rs 1525 - resulting in a LOSS of Rs. 418/Qt!!! Where is the sense in this? Why couldn't the government purchase from farmers at fair prices that covered at least input costs and ideally at least some profit, when they were willing to spend foreign reserves to buy for much higher prices? There are no answers.

This is particularly brutal for small farmers, who have to live on the profits off much smaller land. Is it any wonder then that over 72% of farmer suicides are among small farmers with less than 2 hectares of land? One would think that small farms are inefficient and therefore they are making losses, but that is not true, research after research has shown that small farms are actually between 200% to 1000% more productive than large farms in terms of harvest per area around the world. The problem lies in the greater productivity being over a smaller area, and thus not amounting to large enough profit in total. Yet small farms are clearly the answer if we wish to have maximum productivity from available land!

"Jai jawan, jai kisan" was a powerful slogan by then Prime Minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 at a public gathering at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi. Today, the average income of an Indian farmer is around Rs. 6,400. What sort of life can a person afford with that kind of income? Is it any surprise that India is losing farmers at a rate of about 2000 farmers a day leaving the occupation nationwide?

All this boils down to policies. We seem to have lost a holistic view of what sustainability means to a country. The only time policy makers appear to pay attention to the plight of farmers seems to be when it is time to get votes. Then you have big promises and loan waivers. But the story of loan waivers too is not what it seems. While the perception of agricultural credit is that it would go to farmers, agricultural credit is for the agricultural sector. Farmers get maybe 35% of it, the rest going to industries and businesses related to the agricultural sectors, or as P. Sainath puts it, "the starving farmers of Malabar hill (an elite locality in Mumbai)". Most small farmers find it extremely difficult to get loans from the bank, even when they have the required documents, Others cannot get the loans when they don't own the land they cultivate (no collateral). This drives most farmers to seek loans from informal money lenders, even, in many cases money lenders taking loans from a bank and forwarding them to farmers at higher interest rates! Thus, farm loan waivers amount to maybe 35% of the waivers going to farmers, with the rest going to businesses and industries that are not in distress, while having no impact on the crippling loans taken from moneylenders (though the money lender may get a waiver if they took the agricultural loan from a bank to lend at higher rate).

There has always been a lack of foresight in our approach to agriculture. Influenced by large industries and what they wish to sell rather than listening to the person working the soil. The "Green Revolution" that relied heavily on chemical fertilizers brought a period of bounty that led to heavily depleted soil that cannot produce without heavy applications of fertilizers. The chemical damage to soil ecology, the contamination of ground water from the chemical runoff, the thoughtless push of GM crops like Bt Cotton (which requires more water than regular cotton) in places with depleting groundwater tables and dependent on scant rainfall.... All this has resulted in long term damage to the viability of agriculture and the economic sustainability of farmers. We are not able to see solutions beyond magic wands waved for votes.

Consider the absurdity of pushing GM crops when they have not proved as beneficial to small farms. All that it has resulted in is more resistant pests in return for some short term increase in production, that is already dwindling. On the other hand, the government is also pushing organic farming to prove some utility for cattle manure. Here is the deal. Organic farming depends on a robust ecology of the soil and surroundings with natural checks and balances that enable thriving crops. GM crops are accompanied with heavy doses of fertilizers, herbicides and as the resistant pests increase, pesticides as well - these destroy naturally abundant life forms that are necessary for organic farming. Pushing both at the same time basically squashes the farmer between two completely incompatible methods of growing crops. One from big industry influence, the other for ideological justification. Who pays the price? It is the cultivator, forced to stand with one foot on two stones, becaue while he may choose one method or the other, the ground water or pests do not understand boundaries indicating ownership of land and other cultivators may be making other choices.

This is but the tip of the iceberg. What is needed at this time is to ensure that farmers have an income they can live on - particularly where food crops are discouraged by the government in favor of cash crops that are at the mercy of market prices and cannot be consumed by the farmer for survival, regardless of the gamble with nature. There is a need to ensure irrigation on a war footing. There is a need to ensure low input costs and better sale prices. There is a need for an agricultural vision that is grounded strongly in research and making the country food sufficient and not dependent on imports to meet nutritional needs. There is a need to improve the capacity for food processing and storage with farmers so that they are not forced to sell at low rates for fear of perishability.

But all this needs a government with a vision. It needs citizens with voice interested in where their food comes from, and what the risks are, if that system is breaking down. in my view, the #JaiKisan tag serves this educational purpose in a time where agitating farmers from Tamil Nadu are protesting in increasingly desperate ways - sitting with skulls of farmers who committed suicide, eating rats, drinking urine, eating food served on the road and worse - with complete disinterest from a government that always makes a big show of concern for farmers when it comes to seeking votes.

I urge you all to read the content on the tag #JaiKisan and educate yourselves. The future food security of your children could well depend on it. The current survival of your food growers does depend on it. Happy next meal.

6

Lalu Prasad Yadav's candid remark on "Even Hindus eat " appears to have shocked Sushil Kumar , and he's asking Sonia Gandhi and Nitish Kumar for explanations, as though there is something difficult to comprehend about a four word sentence.

While the is busy rewriting and and science and textbooks to studiously insert belief everywhere and anywhere, and undermining organizations of learning by installing carefully mediocre (read incompetent) people to key positions, surely the supposed gatekeepers are not unaware of the fact that Hindus can and do eat beef.

I personally know several Brahmins who have eaten beef. I know plenty of Hindus abroad who eat beef. My first taste of beef was a can of corned beef on a trek - brought along by someone whose father was a senior leader of a BJP affiliate party. That too a girl. And this is the Brahmins. The supposed vegetarians, all mentioned so far. Plenty of non-vegetarian friends eat beef. In my late teens and early twenties, I went to the bhendi bazaar almost religiously every Friday, to pick up cheap and interesting things - particularly art materials. One of the friends on the group - a CKP - a meat eating considered very upper caste and equals of Brahmins was a total beef fan. If he went to Bhendi bazaar, it was impossible to get him out without eating beef in one of the restaurants there - I forget the name now. I have had beef several times with him, though at that point I was mostly a vegetarian and lived in a Brahmin society, so these experiences came largely in the company of other meat eaters - not just beef, even chicken or other meat.

Kerala BJP leader Surendran enjoying parotta and beef
Kerala BJP leader Surendran enjoying parotta and beef
Over the years, I have heard of countless Hindus eating beef. Perhaps Sushil Kumar Modi is not aware, but there are photos of BJP leaders eating beef as well. In Kerala. In 2013, BJP Tribal leader Devlal Dugga sacrificed a cow to a tribal deity in his native village of Khadka in Narayanpur district of Chattisgarh - against the wishes of local villagers and in a place where animal sacrifices had been banned. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, BJP leader in - Khurshid Ahmed Malik (probably not Hindu unless gharwapsied) threw a beef party protesting the beef ban in Jammu and Kashmir and invited Hindus and Muslims. In 2012, dalits organized a beef eating festival in protest of a beef ban imposed on the college campus at Osmania University. ABVP activists even gatecrashed and got violent there, so it isn't as though BJP didn't know. If you look at the campaign page of the beef and pork eating campaign at JNU, you will notice that most of the profiles listed sound Hindu.

Beef is happily eaten in the northeast tribes, in West Bengal. Countless Hindus have openly stated on various social that they do eat beef in the last few days. Like waving "hello! Hindu here. Eats beef."

And this is hardly a new thing.

Here's Savarkar for you.

When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected…(Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.341)

This is Vivekananda:

If we did not eat beef and mutton, there would be no butchers. Eating meat is only allowable for people who do very hard work, and who are not going to be Bhaktas; but if you are going to be Bhaktas, you should avoid meat.

The Brahmins at one time ate beef and married Sudras. [A] calf was killed to please a guest. Sudras cooked for Brahmins.[Source]

There was a time in this very when, without eating beef, no Brahmin could remain a Brahmin; you read in the Vedas how, when a Sannyasin, a king, or a great man came into a house, the best bullock was killed; how in time it was found that as we were an agricultural race, killing the best bulls meant annihilation of the race. Therefore the practice was stopped, and a voice was raised against the killing of cows.[Source]

Vivekananda is even alleged to have eaten beef himself (though he has also given contradictory quotes claiming no Hindu eats beef - worth a separate article to examine what he said and to which audience).

So, either an organization claiming to speak about Hindus is ignorant about Hindus, or it pretends to call everyone it can lay its hands on as Hindus, but in the end will only recognize its core upper caste cartel as real Hindus. BJP has to decide whether beef eating castes and tribes it claims under Hinduism are Hindu or not. It has to decide whether the Buddhists it calls Hindu are Hindu or not. If yes, then Hindus most certainly eat beef. If not, they must stop lying in election campaigns and propaganda about the holy cow and Hindu Rashtra. Though of course, Sushil Kumar Modi may not think of beef-eating dalits as Hindus, given how his name was implicated in support to murderers of dalits from the Ranvir Sena. Surely a son of wouldn't endorse of Hindus like some invading Mughal?

Surely the messiahs of Hindus wouldn't do the most harm to Hindus with beef bans?

Because, even Savarkar had the nature of upper caste zealotry nailed, and himself being atheist and uneasy with and had explicitly said:

…When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected…(Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p.341)

Ring any bells about Dadri and zealot leaders recommending murder on national television?

But then that is exactly what BJP is doing, no? Creating an artificial "truth" of Hinduism, that excludes non-upper-caste practices and herds everyone into following the "dharma" their leaders are best at defining for everyone - with carrot and stick?

Regardless, at least at this date, it cannot be denied that Hindus do eat beef, which BJP is trying its hardest to deny and prevent. One wonders why, if BJP is supposedly pro-Hindu. One wonders why BJP claims to care about Hindus at all, when its agenda is Hindutva, affiliates of which are happy to Hindus who don't conform to their zealot agenda for India. When the poison fed by nationalists and their profiteering hits the roof so bad that retired veterans are assaulted by state controlled , and BJP leader's son incites a murder by lynching with a manufactured accusation of beef eating - against the family of an Air Force warrior of India, where the Air Force chief is moving the family threatened by the murderous rage unleashed by BJP's insanity to its own secure base to protect them.

You can wake up one who is sleeping, not one who pretends to sleep. You can reason with one conflicted over information, not ones seeking to interpret anything and everything and photoshop where not available to incite civil war in a country they pretend to love. Where they report to an organization giving open calls to people to have arms in their home. When there is massive political profit to be reaped from threatening the safety of people and winning by polarizing the greater number of people in a direction you represent, what is the small sacrifice of truth, safety, life?

Is that not the plan? To raze India to the ground and build a Hindu Rashtra on its carcass?

What does it matter that fundamental rights be overruled, bitter hatred be spawned among communities, violence warp Hindu minds till they think of nothing beyond hostility to Muslims. What does it matter? Riots win elections. That is all that matters to abject greed. BJP leaders will be unable to see Hindus who eat beef. They will redefine Hindus, attack them as "not real Hindus" or "anti-Hindus", recommend murders for "secularists", anything, everything to avoid that four word sentence Lalu Prasad Yadav threw out. "Even Hindus eat beef."

It is true.

Facts have published an article by Prashant Sudhakaran called "Sonia Falerio's sleight of hand in the New York times" which refers to an article by Sonia Falerio in the New York times and debunks it.

Disclosure 1: I have not read Sonia Falerio's article and am not planning to. Not even read Prashant's article properly.

Disclosure 2: My sole issue is that I'm touchy about bogus statistics.

Prashant Sudhakaran for some reason uses meat prices from USDA and IMF as "evidence" to prove that beef is more expensive than pork, instead of prices from India:

Unless of course, if Sonia Faleiro’s contention is that Indian commodity prices are an island, and that they are significantly cheaper than global prices—in which case she has uncovered a massive global arbitrage opportunity.

Beef is expensive worldwide, because it is among preferred meats. In India, beef prices are indeed lower.

Here is the products page for Meat Products of India. Surf prices to your heart's content. Beef is indeed more economical than pork. Will Prashant reverse his argument on beef in light of the fact that Indian commodity prices for beef are indeed an island and he was merely ignorant of the "global arbitrage opportunity" already being profited from that makes India the largest exporter of beef?

Does Prashant or India "Facts" have the courage to publish a correction?

Recently in Durg, Raipur and Rajnandgaon (Chhattisgarh)

Jagdish Ram Nishad’s winter paddy crop is about to be harvested. On his three-acre farm, a few km from his home, green paddy strands stand along the neat rows of cabbage that are now in full bloom.

In the last ten years, the 38-year-old farmer in Kopedih village, about 30 km from Rajnandgaon town off the four-lane National Highway 6, assiduously transformed his rain-fed single crop land into an irrigated lush-green multi-crop farm. He improved his land’s productivity by ploughing back part of his profits to create assets like a bore-well which, he says, in turn helped him diversify into growing vegetables.

A paddy procurement guarantee and a bonus amount over the support prices gave him more cash that he could reinvest in his farm. In return Nishad voted for Raman Singh, who became popular across rural Chhattisgarh as ‘Chaur (rice) Wale Baba’ for his paddy procurement and rice distribution programmes.

Nishad is, however, concerned today if the returns from paddy would remain steady. The Raman Singh government, mired in a multi-crore food distribution scam that is threatening to dent its image, didn’t buy his entire paddy crop in the season that just ended the way it did this past decade. Plus, it has not paid him the bonus amount that it has been giving from its treasury by the season end.

This is the first year in a decade that Nishad says his returns actually declined as compared with his last year’s income. “Nuksaan to bahut hua, dhaan bhi pura nahi liya aur bonus bhi nahi diya (my loss is big; the government did not fully procure my paddy, nor gave me the bonus amount),” Nishad says. He’s not the only one sulking. In Chhattisgarh, paddy growers suddenly look unhappy with the chief minister.

More than a million paddy growers in Chhattisgarh are agitated over Raman government’s sudden shift in procurement policy and an inexplicable scrapping of bonus. They felt it was a breach of their trust. In the run up to December 2013 assembly elections, the BJP promised in its manifesto that if voted back to power, its government would procure “every grain of paddy produced” and hike the bonus to Rs 300 per quintal.

The state’s decision is actually driven by a paradigm shift in the Centre’s procurement policy.In June last year, immediately after coming to power, the Modi government asked all states to scrap bonus payment to wheat and paddy growers saying it “distorts markets and keeps private players out of the food business”. If they continued to pay bonus, the Centre warned in a letter to the states, Central agencies would restrict procurement leaving the states to bear the burden for surplus grain. The move was aimed apparently at tackling the rising food prices by keeping the surplus grain in the market.

So while the UPA government supported him in subsidizing his state’s paddy economy, the Modi government is hitting the ‘Chaur-wale Baba’ where it hurts the most. It is in a way forcing Chhattisgarh to cut its paddy procurement, scrap the bonus and ultimately alter its much-touted public distribution system (PDS) by bringing in direct cash transfers. But the policy shift is hurting small farmers like Nishad when rural economy is in tatters, even some of the Chhattisgarh ministers admit privately.

“It’s like Jor ka jhatka dhire se lage,” remarked the food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma. The Centre is slowly dismantling two drivers of green revolution: the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which is the backbone of food procurement, storage, transportation and distribution, and price guarantee.”

In the last week of March 2015, Professor M S Swaminathan, regarded as the father of India’s green revolution, urged the Modi government to implement recommendations of the Farmers' Commission he had chaired. Citing a need to safeguard interests of small farmers in the face of growing risks in agriculture due to climate change, he suggested the formulae for support price for commodities should be production cost plus 50 per cent.

“Our green revolution has been sustained only because of public procurement of wheat and rice at a fairly reasonable MSP,” he said. “There is no other profession that has such low return”, he said adding that farming is the riskiest profession in the world due to uncertain weather conditions arising from climate change. “The future will belong to nations with grains and not guns.”

Chhattisgarh began procuring paddy from growers immediately after its creation in 2001 at a premium of Rs 50 over the then prevailing support prices, mainly because farmers sold their produce in distress in open markets controlled by private traders and rice millers then. The state marketing federation procured paddy from farmers through cooperative societies, each catering to a cluster of 15-20 villages. The FCI bought the surplus rice after the state met its PDS requirement of about 2 MMT.

The burden of bonus was borne by the state; the Centre paid for procurement, distribution, handling and storage. This system may now be dumped if the Centre accepts the recommendations of a high-level committee led by BJP MP Shanta Kumar on the FCI restructuring. The committee gave its report in January 2015.

In 2014-15, Chhattisgarh’s paddy farmers earned, by a modest estimate, Rs 2,500 crore less on account of non-payment of bonus and part-sale of their produce to private traders at lower rates, a former Chhattisgarh minister who did not want to be named admitted.

Not just the growers but also about 1350 village cooperative societies, which work as sub-agents for the Chhattisgarh state marketing federation, a nodal agency for paddy procurement, face uncertainty, said Raviprakash Tamrakar, a farmer and chairman of the Vruttakar Sahkari Society, Nankatti. “We are being taken back to the previous system where millers and traders will exploit producers,” he feared.

Tamrakar, who leads a United Farmers’ front in Chhattisgarh, said the procurement system has several flaws that need to be rectified, but it’d be a disaster for farmers if the government scraps the policy. “A farmer has a guarantee that his produce would be procured at a support price and he would get bonus as an incentive to produce the grain; it stabilizes his economy and helps him meet his expenses.”

The high level committee in its report thought otherwise. In an 80-page exhaustive report, it explains how the current food-procurement system and FCI functioning is obsolete and hence must be changed. The committee has said the FCI should leave the procurement to state agencies and private players in the states where such a system is fully developed and move to eastern states like West Bengal where procurement is weak and where through private participation it could help build a robust system.

As regards the bonus, the committee recommends a per hectare crop-neutral cash subsidy to the tune of Rs 7000 but a total decontrol of fertilizer prices.

Modi had begun to speak of his idea about unbundling of the FCI into three separate arms even before he became the Prime Minister. A section of economists feel the Union government needs to tide over a “wasteful expenditure” on food subsidies that include of paying a high price to wheat and rice growers, while growers say the support prices still don’t meet their every-burgeoning production costs. While Raman Singh, who’s on a sticky turf over the multi-crore PDS scam, has not yet made any open remarks against this shift, people close to him say he is concerned.

The CM wrote to the PM last October months after the June diktat. Highlighting the plight of his state’s paddy growers, he urged Modi to reconsider his directive to stop bonus on paddy procurement.

In 2013-14, his government gave Rs 2,400 crore in bonus payments to farmers on 8 MMT of paddy it procured – it came to Rs 270 per quintal. The principle paddy procurement price cost Rs 13,000 crore at Rs 1360 a quintal. In his letter to the PM, the CM said withdrawal of bonus would “reduce buffer stock” and “adversely impact the overall food security of the country.” He said since the bonus is paid by the state, it should be left alone to decide about it.

Chhattisgarh’s promise of Rs 300/quintal as bonus for the 2014-15 was the highest in the country. To the PM, the CM said bonus payment is “the most important decision” of his government to improve farmers’ condition in his state. It was a promise made by the BJP in November 2013 assembly polls, he reminded. The CM said in his letter that 8 MMT of paddy would give about 5.4 MMT of rice and since the state needs only 2.4 MMT rice for its public distribution system, it would be left with a “surplus of 3 MMT” should the Centre not procure this rice in central pool. Chhattisgarh is the third largest contributor of rice to central pool with a significant share in the food subsidy bill.

A former minister in the Raman government said: “People are unhappy; I hope good sense prevails on the Prime Minister.” The Centre has not taken a call on the HLC report, but has accepted some recommendations. Last Wednesday, the Centre asked the FCI not to purchase food-grains in Punjab and Haryana. While the latter has reportedly toed the diktat, the former has pleaded for a phased-withdrawal. “It (the policy change) will have a strong impact on Chhattisgarh’s economy,” TS Singhdeo, the leader of opposition in Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly, said. “The BJP did not keep its promise to farmers,” he said. “We want the government to restore bonus.”

In the last decade, Chhattisgarh emerged as the largest exporter of non-Basmati rice in the country – a success largely credited to its policy of price incentive and procurement. Last year, the state procured about 8 MMT of paddy; this year (2014-15), it initially said it would restrict procurement to 10 quintal an acre, but later raised it to 15 quintals in view of ensuing local body polls.

But the damage had been done. The CM, who called for a ‘Congress-Mukt Chhattisgarh’, instead saw swathes of rural Chhattisgarh getting BJP-Mukt. In his home district of Rajnandgaon, his party could win the municipal corporation, but was wiped it out in the Zilla Panchayat on the issue of paddy price. Out of 24 seats, the Congress in that panchayat won 18 seats, while the BJP won the remaining six.

The ruling party’s defeat was spread across the state – it lost in the tribal belt of Surguja and Bastar, central plains, rural centres as well as Raipur, the biggest urban body.

By the end of the procurement season in February, Chhattisgarh government bought 6.3 MMT of paddy, nearly 1.7 MMT less compared to last year, when actual production has reportedly increased.

As Tamrakar, the farmers’ leader explained: “Farmers are angry; to dissuade them from selling their paddy to a society the government imposed so many conditions that small farmers felt it’s better to sell their paddy to private traders event at a loss.” Oblivious of the top-down policy changes, farmers like Nishad are wondering if Modi and Raman Singh have turned their backs to the promise of placing more money in the hands of rural peasantry.

Take his own case: On an acre, he earned at least Rs 7,000 less this year, Nishad says. He explains: He got 20 quintals of paddy on an acre, about 60 quintals overall in Kharif. If the government procured his entire crop, he would get Rs 1360 (MSP) a quintal. If you take Rs 270 bonus that it gave on a quintal last year, his income would stand at Rs 97,800. Exclude the input and production cost, he would make a profit of Rs 45,000, at least. But here’s how much he actually made this year. He sold 25 quintals to private traders at Rs 1100/quintal. He sold 35 quintals to the government at Rs 1360.

In all he earned Rs 75,100, or Rs 22,700 less than what he would have made had the government stuck to its promise of procuring his produce and giving him a bonus like it did last year.

Nishad says he would usually use the bonus amount to buy inputs for the next season. “Bonus payment usually comes this time when we begin the next season’s preparation,” he says.

“Will the state procurement system stay?” Nishad wonders. It’s not clear if Modi has made up his mind.

Across Chhattisgarh, the withdrawal of bonus and a drop in state procurement of paddy meant a drop in the income of farmers. Nishad is better off than other farmers, since he is among 20 per cent who have irrigation facilities. Someone like Kunjlal Tandon, a dalit farmer of two acres in Bodegaon village of Durg district, is not only unhappy; he’s mighty worried. For the next season he has no money, he says. Even a small bonus was his big support from March to June. Now, he says, he’ll either sell or lease out his land.