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The first advance estimates of GDP growth, at 2011-12 constant prices, put the growth for FY16 at 7.6 per cent over the previous year. This is the highest growth rate in the first four years of the forgotten 12th Five-Year Plan. No wonder this makes the Narendra Modi-led NDA government somewhat upbeat. Much of the focus of the new government is on Make in India, especially in the manufacturing sector. But the manufacturing sector has not yet registered impressive growth, which makes several economists sceptical of the high overall GDP growth rates.
However, very few are talking about agriculture, whose pulse is sinking by the day. The optimistic growth forecast for FY16 is 1.1 per cent over the previous year’s minus 0.2 per cent. The first two years of the NDA government will give an average agri GDP growth of just 0.45 per cent, way below even the population growth rate of about 1.3 to 1.4 per cent. This, in effect, means that per capita income in agriculture has declined in the first two years of the Modi government. In contrast, the two terminal years of the UPA government registered an average agri GDP growth of 2.85 per cent (1.5 per cent in FY13 and 4.2 per cent in FY14).
Overall, the first four years of the 12th Five-Year Plan have registered an average agri GDP growth of just 1.65 per cent against an overall GDP growth rate of 6.75 per cent, a ratio of roughly 1:4, while the target always hovers around 1:2 — 4 per cent for agri GDP and 8 per cent for overall GDP. This may be the worst performance of agriculture in any Plan since the reforms began in 1991.
It is important to put these facts on the table because almost half of India’s workforce is engaged in agriculture, and almost three-fourths of India’s poor and malnourished reside in rural areas, where the main occupation is agriculture. What is the purpose of public policy? Is it not to alleviate poverty and malnutrition at the fastest rate possible? The UPA government in its second term had focused on the “dole” model — the National Food Security Act and the MGNREGA — and was ready to throw thousands of crores on these schemes in the hope that they would wipe out poverty and malnutrition. The intention was right but the model was not only conceptually weak but the programmes were destined to fail given the large leakages in them. The PDS had leakages of more than 40 per cent, and is actually nothing short of an annual scam in the country. Almost Rs 1,25,000 crore is shown in the budget as food subsidy for this flagship programme but few know that another Rs 70,000 crore-plus is pushed under the carpet as unpaid bills of the FCI. Similarly, the MGNREGA, though supposed to be self-targeting and a fall-back programme in years of distress (like droughts), not only has high leakages but the most important criticism, which even P. Chidambaram pointed out, is that the quality of assets created is poor, making it more like a dole. It is much better to spend money on programmes like the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, which helps in building infrastructure and contributes to faster growth and reduction of poverty.
So I am not in favour of the dole model of the PDS and the MGNREGA type, but would support the growth model with at least one rider. It is not just growth per se but the nature of growth that also matters a lot if the objective of public policy is to wipe out poverty and malnutrition. It is in this context that agriculture must register at least half the rate of overall GDP growth in the economy. From that angle, targets of 8 per cent of overall GDP growth and 4 per cent for agriculture are fine and on conceptually robust ground. But the actual performance has always lagged a bit, and more so for agriculture, except in the 11th Five-Year Plan (FY08 to FY12), when agri GDP also grew at 4.1 per cent. The result of this high growth in agriculture was that poverty declined three times faster during 2004-11 than during 1993-2004.
The big question, therefore, for the Modi government is: Can it give at least 4 per cent growth in agriculture on a sustainable basis? When I politely asked the PM this in my last brief encounter, his reply was what could we do as these turned out to be drought years. Yes, fair enough, but visionaries and stalwarts are tested in difficult times. If the monsoons were good and prices were remunerative for farmers, they wouldn’t need government support. But today, the situation is grim in agriculture.
Farmers had great hopes from the NDA government, especially because the BJP had promised in its manifesto that it would make Indian agriculture more remunerative, assuring 50 per cent profits over costs. This was a great increase compared to the UPA government years, when most principal crops had profit margins of between 20 to 30 per cent. But the reality of the first two NDA years turned out to be nightmarish for farmers, with profits plunging to less than 5 per cent for most crops.
One after the other, farmer groups, which were great supporters of the Modi government, have been feeling disillusioned and deserting it. Even BJP workers who have links with the farming community whisper about their frustration in private with the agenda of their government, as they know it is elitist, which will accentuate inequality at the cost of simmering discontent in rural areas, for which they will have to pay a heavy political price.
Can the PM and finance minister show some bold moves in the forthcoming budget to put agriculture back on track to 4 per cent growth? I have serious doubts as the agenda has already been hijacked by the elites who want bank loans worth lakhs of crores of rupees to be written off for big business while the honest and hardworking farmer looks up with blank and hopeful eyes.
The writer is Infosys chair professor for Agriculture at Icrier, Delhi
A Supreme Court Bench has once again proved that our judiciary can be the torchbearer of progressive attitudes towards women.
In 2013, the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, while responding to the horrific December 16, 2012 gang rape in Delhi, prepared a report that drew from the observations of members of the women’s movement among other sources. The report was heralded as one of the most comprehensive reports not only in India but in the world.
The latest evidence of such progressive and informed thinking is a directive given to the Chhattisgarh government by a Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A.K. Sikri and A.M. Sapre. The Bench directed the State government to appoint a woman Excise Sub Inspector as Deputy Superintendent of Police after granting her relief in the upper age limit.
Richa Mishra’s name was not included in the list of successful candidates for the post as she had crossed the age limit stipulated for the same. As per the Chhattisgarh Police Executive (Gazetted) Service Recruitment and Promotion Rules, 2000, the upper age limit for appointment to the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police is 25 years and Ms. Mishra had already crossed that age.
But the judges overruled this proposition by referring to another rule which was quoted by Ms. Mishra in the court: age relaxation as per Rule 8 of the Rules, 2000 which states, “there shall be age relaxation of ten years for women candidates for direct appointment in all posts in the services under the State in addition to the upper age limit prescribed in any service rules or executive instructions”.
The judges said: “It is to encourage women, hitherto known as weaker section, to become working women, by taking up different vocations, including public employment. It would naturally lead to empowerment of women, which is the need of the hour… Empowerment of women… is perceived as equipping them to be economically independent, self-reliant, with positive esteem to enable them to face any situation and they should be able to participate in the development activities.”
Message of the women’s movement
For decades, the women’s movement has been underlining many important aspects of women’s role in the economy, as was outstandingly articulated in ‘Towards Equality: report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India’ in 1975. The movement has been highlighting the need to recognise the vital, if invisible and uncounted, role which women play in the economy and argues for their recognition in policy, data collection and programme design. It has been emphasising that economic agency or a livelihood is a critical requirement for self-affirmation. It also emphasises that economic power within and outside the household makes a difference to gender relations.
We see these thoughts resonating in this judgment which says that the agency, freedom and intra-household power of women are strengthened when women are given an economic value; when they are enabled to hold a position in the economy through employment. And by relating women’s economic empowerment to their ability to access, contribute to and direct economic development, the judges further expand on the value of their order. They state: “There is a bidirectional relationship between economic development and women’s empowerment, defined as improving the ability of women to access the constituents of development — in particular health, education, earning opportunities, rights, and political participation”.
Scholars who have explored and studied women’s work, especially among the poorest in the most marginalised locales and communities, have been highlighting the importance of recognising women’s work, the importance of women as economic agents. These include those who try and understand self-employed working women and those whose work focuses on revealing the value that women bring to agriculture, food production, and the handicaps they suffer from lack of recognition. Further, activists have been detailing how women organise themselves to escape from various types of bondage, exclusion and exploitation.
During the preparation of the 11th Five Year Plan, women scholars highlighted the kinds of changes that were required to be initiated in the development, design and allocation of funding in the Plan if women’s roles in the economy were to be taken into account.
All this affirms what the judges said: economic agency is one of the most enabling elements to shift gender relations of power, to release women from the kind of oppression, violence and powerlessness that they experience. Women’s inclusion in the development design would enhance the outcomes of development it the self.
The message in this 38-page verdict does more than simply allow Richa Mishra to get her posting. It is an advisory to all the Departments of States at all levels, to Ministries, to Niti Aayog and its State-level counterparts, as well as to research and policy forums about the importance of women in the economy.
(Devaki Jain is an economist and founderof the Institute of Social Studies Trust, New Delhi.)
Economic agency is one of the most enabling elements to release women from oppression, violence and powerlessness
The Union government’s response to the recent developments at Jawaharlal Nehru University betrays a disquieting intent to create an atmosphere of fear amongst its students and teachers. The rationale for the police action was an event to mark the anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru, a convict in the Parliament attack case, and it is alleged that slogans were raised against India’s sovereignty. However, unless there was actual incitement to violence, there really was no case for the police to swoop down on the campus, arrest students, and slap charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy on them. The Delhi Police seemed to have taken the cue from a remark made by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that “anti-national activities” would not be tolerated, and invoked the draconian pre-Constitution law of sedition. The arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the JNU Students’ Union, who belongs to the All-India Students’ Federation, an organisation known to be affiliated to the CPI, is quite inexplicable, except in terms of the theory that he was chosen for his political antipathy to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS’s student wing. Neither his union nor the party to which it is affiliated supports separatism in Kashmir or opposes parliamentary democracy. The union has in fact disassociated itself from the views expressed by a small group of students who organised the event. Yet, an impression is sought to be created that Mr. Kumar and many other like-minded student activists in JNU are ‘anti-national’.
Once again, Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, which makes sedition punishable with life imprisonment, has been casually invoked despite the Supreme Court repeatedly cautioning that even words indicating disaffection against the state will not constitute the offence, unless there is a call for violence or a pernicious tendency to create public disorder. It is difficult to dismiss the police action as a routine or expected response by the state to reports of allegedly anti-national speeches. The JNU campus nurtures political opinion of all shades. It is a haven for legitimate dissent and a locus of inevitable differences. Its atmosphere should not be undermined by some to whom its intellectual space is an eyesore. In recent times, the suicide of a scholar in the University of Hyderabad roiled the student community across the country and created an upsurge against the ruling dispensation wielding its ideological influence on campus activities. The misconceived manner in which Afzal Guru was commemorated by a handful of JNU students should not be a provocation for tarring the students’ union with the brush of alleged anti-nationalism. The government should not sense in these developments an opportunity to suppress all dissent and seek to kill the ideological orientation of some student groups. Deviation from its own notion of nationalism cannot be treated as sedition. The line between dissent and treason may be thin to some, but the ability to distinguish between the two is a constitutional duty of the state. And given the history of its misuse and its incompatibility with a modern Constitution, Section 124-A of the IPC ought to be junked altogether.