During recent years farmers in India have been under great distress. The background to this is the governments’ neglect of investment in agriculture, which has decreased productivity, lead to a fall in farmers’ incomes and a burden of debts. Many farmers have had to borrow money from local lenders with annual interest charges of about 25 percent. These problems have plagued even the previously prosperous farming states, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Punjab.

Punjab’s problem is of particular concern as that state was once the granary of India. The state used to produce more than one-fifth of the country’s wheat and about one-tenth of its’ rice. Today, however, Punjab’s farming scenario is a far cry from the earlier years of the Green Revolution. The State of the Environment report, 2007, notes that the varieties of wheat, rice and other crops produced have been markedly reduced. And yet, with the neglect of government investment, farmers’ expenditures on chemical fertilizers and other production inputs have increased and they are faced with high debts.

The debt burden has recently been analyzed by the Institute of Development and Communication. In the decade up to 2008 the burden had increased five-fold and had reached about 80 percent of farmers’ annual incomes.

The use of chemical fertilizers has lead to widespread contamination in communal ground water and has caused cancer and other health problems. Greenpeace has reported very high levels of contamination. The contamination caused by one farmer can cause health problems to its’ neighbors.

The health problems often require medical treatment. With the declining role of the public health sector, many farmers have had to turn to the high-cost private sector and this, in turn, has aggravated the burden of debt. A study reported in the Economic and Political Weekly estimates that health debts are the highest single component of the overall burden.

Many farmers are not able to repay all of their debts. This is mainly because of the high interest charges but also because some farmers’ health problems have reduced their capacity for arduous work. In the worst-case scenario these problems could result in an increase in the level of debt.

The debt burden could even lead to inter-generational problems. Children’s schooling may be at risk. A reputable daily newspaper, The Hindu, has reported that some parents who were not able to repay their debts have had to take the children out of school and put them to work. A detailed study undertaken at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, has found that financial constraints have been a major reason why children have had to drop out of school.

Recently these bleak prospects have been recognized even by the state and central governments. The Planning Commission has approved loans for the state governments to help pay off farmers’ debts. The impact of this has, however, yet to be seen. There could well be bureaucratic hold ups in the transfer of the monies to the farmers..

In the long run there is also a need for other measures to help enhance farmers’ incomes and reduce the risks to their health. Fortunately there are encouraging signs that farmers are adopting the methods organic farming. This will help reduce the dependence on chemical fertilizers.

Currently there are about 300 thousand organic farms in India. Although this is only a small proportion of the total the experience so far has been encouraging. The use of organic fertilizers has helped provide more income, per unit costs, and reduced the risks of cancer and other health problems.

But could organic farming be a panacea for all, or most, of the distressed farmers? The answer, unfortunately, is ‘No’. The increased incomes and saving in health expenditures may not be sufficient to repay the outstanding debts and allow the children to continue at school. There would still be need for some other policy measures. One such measure, that could have significant long run benefits, is the provision of free school education, or school vouchers to be given to those that attend school.

Homi Katrak

Visiting Professor 1998 – 2012

University of Surrey

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

The road to Tashkent

Inder Malhotra

How the Soviet Union brought India and Pakistan to the negotiating table after the 1965 war

As early as August 18, 1965, the Soviet prime minister, Alexei Kosygin, had written to his Indian counterpart, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Pakistan President Ayub Khan, asking them "not to take any steps that might lead to a major conflict". He wrote again on September 4 appealing for "an immediate cessation of hostilities and a reciprocal withdrawal of troops behind the ceasefire line". He also offered the Soviet Union's "good offices" in negotiating a peaceful settlement of differences between India and Pakistan. Neither country reacted to this offer for the obvious reason that two days later the war had escalated, and the Indian army was on the march to the prized Pakistani city of Lahore.

On September 18, Kosygin sent his third letter to the two South Asian leaders, proposing that they "should meet in Tashkent or any other Soviet city for negotiations", and even offered to take part in the discussions himself, "if both sides so desired". He underscored his serious concern because the war was taking place "close to the Soviet Union's borders".

Shastri waited until September 23, when the ceasefire came into force, before disclosing to Parliament the Soviet offer, adding that he had "informed Mr Kosygin that we would welcome his efforts and good offices". In Pakistan, however, there was complete silence on the subject because of its extreme reluctance to take part in Soviet-sponsored negotiations.

"Ayub," records his closest confidant and biographer Altaf Gauhar, "was quite disturbed that the US and the British should leave the field to the Soviet Union... the subcontinent had been traditionally the area of Western influence, and the induction of the Soviet Union into the region as a mediator would only strengthen India's position". Consequently, even after agreeing to the Tashkent talks on November 11, he decided to go to London and Washington to persuade Harold Wilson, the British prime minister, and US President Lyndon Johnson to so arrange things that some "self-executing machinery" could be set up to resolve Kashmir, preferably before the Tashkent meeting. In both capitals he drew a blank. Wilson bluntly told Ayub that China was the "greatest danger in the region because it was far more expansionist than the Soviet Union or India". His foreign secretary added that in its present mood, "China was an extremely dangerous friend to have". Wilson's concluding remark at the end of a marathon meeting was: "We cannot hurry the Kashmir issue, though we realise the conflict is driving India and Pakistan to orbits we fear".

On way to Washington, Ayub stopped over in New York to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly. He devoted it almost entirely to Kashmir and ended his oration with the demand: "Let India honour her agreement as we would, to let all the people of Kashmir settle their own future through self-determination, in accordance with past pledges." In Washington the next day, at his prolonged meeting with Johnson, he returned to this theme and said with some emotion that the Kashmir problem must be resolved. "If India could not comply with the UN resolutions then arbitration by an independent body was the only peaceful way to settle the dispute."

According to Gauhar's account, Johnson said little about Kashmir but dilated at some length on America's problems in Vietnam, where both the Soviet Union and China were helping North Vietnam. The US president then told his guest that he was "praying for the success of the Tashkent meeting". Whereupon Ayub "regretted" that US and Soviet policy "had come to coincide in India, and that was why the Soviet Union was helping India, and the US, too, had allowed itself to be 'suckered' by the Indians".

While the two presidents were engaged in one-to-one talks, Pakistan officials told their American opposite numbers that throughout the "crisis", the feeling in Pakistan was that the US "had let down Pakistan and equated it with the aggressor". Ayub said the same thing somewhat politely at his final meeting with Johnson: "Let us hope we get more comfort in future out of our alliance with the US."

As was perhaps to be expected, China acted promptly to vindicate Johnson's apprehension that it would "fish in troubled waters" in both South Asia and Indochina. No sooner had Pakistan announced its willingness to partake in the Tashkent talks under Soviet auspices, that the Chinese tried to throw a spanner in the works by suddenly opening fire on two Indian posts on the Sikkim-China border and making repeated intrusions across this frontier. What added to Indian worries was a report by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies that China had "massed 15 divisions in Tibet, of which at least six were stationed near the borders of Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal". However, New Delhi's assessment was that Beijing was only trying to create tensions and wasn't paving the way to a renewed invasion.

Shastri's greater worry was about the withdrawal of troops to the positions they held before Pakistan's infiltrations into Kashmir on August 5. The Indian army had paid a heavy price to wrest from Pakistan the highly strategic Haji Pir Pass, the most convenient route for Pakistan's infiltrators. There was a strong feeling in the country that Haji Pir should never be returned to Pakistan. Though normally a cautious man, Shastri himself intensified this sentiment by declaring repeatedly that if Haji Pir were to be given back to Pakistan, "some other prime minister would do it".

Meanwhile, the Soviets invited foreign minister Swaran Singh to Moscow a week before the start of the Tashkent conference. The message he brought back was that while the Soviet Union stuck to its traditional stand that Kashmir was a part of India, it was also of the firm view that peace between India and Pakistan must be established on the basis of the UN Security Council resolution of September 20, which demanded the "withdrawal of all armed personnel to positions held prior to August 5, 1965".

This, as we shall see, was to be a source of great trouble during the Tashkent talks, as well as afterwards.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

courtesy : "The Indian Express", 04.02.2013


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features