Looking at the crucial role played by the small and marginal farmers in Indian economy, politics and society and yet neglected and not being give due recognition, support; the famous American authors duo Llyod and Susanne Rudolph in their classic book In Pursuit of Lakshmi termed the small and marginal farmers as ‘Bullock Capitalists’ which essentially means they have just enough capital to support two bullocks only.
Moreover, the term brilliantly captured the ever-vulnerable conditions of the small and marginal farmers in the country.
With the presentation of the General Budget 2016 in Parliament, the Government of India has shown its determination to ameliorate the economic distress faced by the self-funded and self-employed peasants.
When the contours of the Budget 2016 were given final touches in the month of February Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy interacting with the peasant communities in the different hinterlands of India.
The Prime Minister addressed four farmers’ rallies in Odisha, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in a month, which signaled the concerns, priorities and importance attached to the agrarian distress, rural backwardness by the Central government.
The average annual agrarian growth rate slipped down to mere 1.8 percent during the 12th Plan. Poor harvest during 2014-15 and 2015-16 due to deficient rainfall for the fourth consecutive seasons in a row aggravated the already existing agrarian distress.
As a result, India witnessed a large number of farmers’ suicide. The dispensation at the Centre now desirous of a pro-active policy on rural and agriculture sector in order to revive and reform the sector.
The hallmark in this direction through the budgetary pronouncements has been the systematic targeting of the famous ‘bullock capitalists’ i.e, the small and marginal farmers of India through an innovative fertilizer subsidy through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and lifting agricultural income along with moderating the prices of farm produces.
The allocation of Rs. 27,000 crore for augmenting the agriculture markets through 2,477 main regulated markets known as Agriculture Produce Market Committee across the geographical territory of the country is certainly a game changer along with the Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme.
Lack of easy access to credit with the nominal rate of interest is certainly an issue where the government must step in. This has been the major cause of the prevailing agrarian distress across the country.
The prevalence of the ubiquitous non-institutional credit structure not only vitiates the rural economy but also aggravates the vulnerability of the small and marginal farming community.
Empowering the Panchayat institutions both administratively and financially for arranging timely credit could provide the required support to the financially weak bullock capitalists.
According priority to agricultural infrastructure is definitely a bold step; however reduction of vulnerability must also be equally given weightage, failing which the goals set in the budget for reviving the agriculture sector will be half-met.
The unshackling of the bullock capitalists from the shackles of non-institutional structure retains the master key for reviving the agriculture and paving the way for empowering the peasant community.
The government needs to bring in more policy initiatives and implement strategic interventions in the agrarian sector through ensuring higher procurement price for their produce and enhancing the rate of return and profitability in the agrarian sector.
Hopefully, these policy pronouncements can set the direction of change and help put the agrarian sector in the trajectory of stable and sustainable growth.
(The authors are lead policy analysts and tweet at @SachiSatapathy)