| Agricultural policy in India: need for a fresh look (1992) |
Public policy amounts to government intervention in a system or situation to promote a common public cause, or a common cause of a particular group of people when they cannot attain it on their own. Government intervention in agriculture has a very long history in India (Dandekar and Wadia, 1989 : 1-28). Some of the important landmarks in the history of agricultural policy in India during the period of British Raj include establishment of an Imperial Department of Agriculture in 1881, constitution of two Famine Commissions, one in 1880 and another in 1901, an Irrigation Commission in 1901, a Royal Commission on Agriculture in 1928, and launching of a Grow More Food Campaign (GMFC) in 1943. In January 1946, the government issued for the first time a Statement on Agricultural and Food Policy in India.
The main objective of the agricultural policies in the colonial era was to facilitate production of food and raw materials for export to Great Britain and to provide relief to farmers during periods of famines (GOI,1976 : 62).
Consequently during the British Raj, agriculture remained, by and large, traditional and agricultural productivity stagnated at a very low level. The government did precious little to reform land tenure systems, develop irrigation facilities, and introduce new farm technology to increase farm productivity as was done in Japan beginning with Meiji Restoration in 1868. In Japan, over a period of 20 years from 1880 to 1900, agricultural output went up by 72.3% and labour productivity by 73.3%.
After Independence, GMFC was modified as Integrated Production Programme and merged into the First Five Year Plan in 1951. Some of the important policy measures taken and agricultural development programmes launched by the government since then include Community Development Programme, National Extension Service, Land Reforms, Panchayati Raj, Intensive Agriculture District Programme, Intensive Cattle Development Programme, High Yielding Varieties Programme, Operation Flood, and constitution of various commissions and committees from time to time. While impressive achievements have been made on the foodgrains production front, output per ha and output per worker in Indian agriculture still remain at very low levels compared to the potential that exists and that has been demonstrated under good management. Most (over 76%) of the Indian farmers have land holdings below two ha and are poor. They, unlike their counter-part city dwellers, do not have access to such public amenities as good education, health care, security, transport and communi-cation.
In 1990, a Draft Agricultural Policy Resolution (DAPR) was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Government of India (GOI). The DAPR could be considered as a formal pronouncement of the GOI’s latest national agricultural policy. But it has not aroused much meaningful debate among scholars, practitioners, politi-cians, public, and press. Lack of adequate and incisive debate on the subject seems due partly to limited circulation and therefore limited access to the document and partly to sheer inertia and/ or indifference on the part of those who had seen the document or had access to it. A Standing Advisory Committee on Agriculture constituted by the GOI under the chairmanship of Shri Sharad Joshi critically reviewed the DAPR and prepared a document entitled National Agricultural Policy Resolution which was also issued in 1990. Similarly, The Indian Society of Agricultural Economics sponsored three regional seminars in 1990-1991 to discuss the DAPR. Some other associations and olopment altogether. Empowerment of farmers and building up of their capacities for development should be the major plank of the new agricultural policy. This would be in tune with the recent emphasis in development literature on people-centred development (Korten and Klauss, 1984 : Ch. 25 & 30).
The DAPR sets out eight objectives for the new agricultural policy. Briefly stated, they are : (1) achieving substantial (6% per annum) growth in agricultural output by increasing productivity and, thus, incomes of all those dependent on agriculture so that they " will attain minimal standards of living"; (2) promoting efficient management of land and water resources using the farming system approach; (3) providing farmers with profitable technology and necessary inputs, services, and incentives; (4) strengthening the institutional infrastructure including co-operatives and Panchayati Raj bodies and facilitating farmers’ participation in the formulation of agricultural policies and programmes; (5) creation of a (congenial) production environment by providing incentives and following a positive (support) price policy; (6) implementing a land reform policy; (7) encouraging processing of agricultural produce; and (8) increasing agricultural exports.
The background note on ‘Agriculture in the Eighth Plan’ lists seven objectives of which five are the same as included in the DAPR. The two objectives which are included in the Background Note but do not find any mention in the DAPR are: (1) creation of employment and income generating opportunities in rural areas; and (2) removal of regional disparities in agricultural growth. These two in conjunction with one more objective that we want to suggest, i.e., reduction in rural-urban differentials in the provision of basic infrastructural facilities are more important than the others in that they articulate what the target group of the DAPR wants most urgently. They should not only be included in the DAPR but each should be given a high priority. Although there are no new objectives listed in the DAPR that were not included in the earlier Five Year Plan documents and the report of the National Commission on Agriculture, 1976, its mention of minimal standard of living for farming community, farming system approach, agro-climatic zonal planning, and watershed approach to the development of dry land agriculture represent a significant improvement over the earlier policy statements. But there is no mention in the DAPR as to how these approaches will be implemented and how the objectives will be attained.
In our opinion, the new policy should guarantee to every farm household a reasonably adequate level of per capita income which should be on par with the average per capita income in urban areas. For computing the average per capita income in urban areas, both the average personal disposable income and the value of publicly provided services, facilities and amenities should be considered.
In addition, the issue of economic viability of marginal and small land holdings which, in 1985-86, accounted for over 76% of India’s total land holdings has not been alluded to at all in the DAPR. This seems to us to be a serious omission. This issue should be highlighted in the new agricultural policy and appropriate measures to resolve it specified.