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Fertile ground for discontent in farmers’ dwindling bowl

New Delhi, Feb. 29: BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu says the mood in India is not only “feel good”, but “feel great”. The kisan may not agree.

Data compiled by economists working for agriculture minister Rajnath Singh, and available with The Telegraph, show that farm income in real terms — when adjusted for inflation — has slumped over the past five years.

Rice farmers in Bengal earn 28 per cent less now in real terms as compared with 1996-97 while their brothers in Uttar Pradesh have an income that is 9 per cent less than what they had five years ago.

North Indian wheat farmers, who can make or break political fortunes in Delhi, have seen their real income erode by 10 per cent over the period.

The data show the story is even worse for sugar. The real income of cane farmers in western Uttar Pradesh has declined nearly 32 per cent and in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra by 40 per cent.

While real income has been going up in urban areas, the countryside presents the opposite picture.

This may be the reason deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said 10 days ago: “We think the feel-good will really be so when the farming community says so. Today, they are not saying so.”

North Indian farmers have been known to be unhappy with the BJP-led government on a number of counts, ranging from a freeze in wheat and rice procurement prices to a perception that the government is selling out on their interests at global trade talks.

In the eruption of schemes since the government decided to go in for early polls, farmers received their share of government generosity, such as loans at lower than market rates. But even Advani did not think it enough.

“Opening up to the world and international competition are the key factors for the fall in real farm income,” admitted B.B. Bhattacharya, head of the Institute of Economic Growth, a government think tank.

Inflation — with rising prices of industrial products such as steel, cement, power and fertilisers without a comparable increase in food prices — has put farmers in a situation where living standards could have dropped.

Because of a policy that has relied on subsidy and not investment, agriculture growth has steadily declined, which again would depress the income of 70 per cent of the population.

As part of the campaign, with Indian Shining as the centrepiece, the government had claimed credit for bumper harvests and for the highest-ever prices being paid to farmers for their crops by the official grain buying agency, the Food Corporation of India (FCI).

The FCI buys as much as 85 per cent of the grain produced in north India and a freeze in prices means that farm income does not go up because of a rise in input costs.

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