Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha Bandh organised by Naba Nirman Krushak Sangthan (NNKS), an umbrella body of farmers, was a reminder that everything is not fine with the state’s vast farming community, a major contributor to the economy.
Significantly, the shut-down coincided with the ruling Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) Chasi Mahasamavesh (mega farmers’ convention ) at Bargarh where chief minister, Naveen Patnaik distributed financial assistance worth Rs.700 crore to over 14 lakh beneficiaries of KALIA ( Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation ) scheme, which is being touted by the state government as the answer to all the problems afflicting the farming community.

Patnaik even taunted NNKS activists, who courted arrests in various parts of the state, asserting that no one would be able to stop KALIA’s onward march. “Some people have given a bandh call but no one can ‘bandh’ (check or block) KALIA,” he is reported to have remarked. Describing KALIA as historic and all-encompassing with even small farmers, sharecroppers, landless farmers and farm labourers coming under its net, he sought to pit it against the Centre’s PM-KISAN Yojana.

Eager to score a political point against the Centre, he said he had urged the Prime Minister to include small, landless farmers and sharecroppers in the PM-KISAN Yojana and provide them Rs.10,000 instead of Rs. 6,000 as financial assistance. His statement is likely to intensify the war of words between BJD and BJP over this scheme.

KALIA, no doubt, is ambitious in its sweep and progressive in its approach, but to proclaim it as the panacea for all the problems afflicting the farming community would be an exaggeration. That the problems of the community are too diverse and complex is evident from the spate of farmer suicides that the state has seen over the years. Despite stout denials by the government almost each case of suicide has been linked to either crop loss or loan burden of the ill-fated farmers.

Farmer suicides are like the elephant in the room that the state government wants to shut its eyes to because of the acute embarrassment that they cause. What is more distressing, however, is the lack of effort on the part of the government to address the core issues behind the macabre phenomenon. For example, the state is yet to come up with a sure-fire formula to ensure that farmers get remunerative prices for their produce.

While this has become imperative with rising costs of inputs like fertiliser, seeds, water, pesticides and labour, we still frequently come across cases of distress sale of paddy in the state. Right now farmers in several districts are struggling to sell their paddy stocks as the state procurement mechanism has failed them. Odisha is a paddy surplus state but here plenty seems to be begetting poverty.

Low minimum support price (MSP), unavailability of cheap credit, lack of adequate cold storages and irrigation facilities have further added to the woes of farmers. While the state could take the excuse of Centre being stingy on the MSP front, it has no fig leaf to cover itself on issues like credit and its inadequate irrigation mechanism.

Woefully short of irrigation facilities, large parts of western Odisha, the region that has been reporting maximum cases farmer suicides, still remain rain-fed. While large irrigation projects are few and far between, smaller structures often stop working in this belt because of the recurrent power problem. Even watershed management structures have become non-functional at several places.

Credit scenario appears to be equally bad in poverty-stricken western Odisha where droughts are recurrent and migration of labour an annual phenomenon. While the institutional credit mechanism in this belt leaves much to be desired, the Shylocks running the loan business in the rural pockets trap hapless farmers in a manner that makes repayment almost impossible. The end result is suicide.

This being the overall scenario, no scheme for farmers is likely to work in the state unless the basic issues responsible for the current plight of the community, specially the growing impoverisation of share-croppers and farm labourers, are addressed with the urgency they deserve.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)