Today, we give farmers 2.2 trillion rupees in subsidies on fertiliser, power, crop insurance, seeds, credit, irrigation and a myriad other items. We have a massive programme of procurement of grains at above market prices; we give highly subsidised food grains to 75% of rural population; and we offer guaranteed employment for 100 days to one adult in each rural household. We run schemes that provide houses and LPG connections to rural poor and free primary education and free primary health care to rural households. Finally, substantial resources have been invested in bringing roads, digital connectivity and electricity to rural areas.
Yet, after seven decades of development effort, stories of widespread farmer distress remain a daily feature of our television programmes. Why? It is tempting to hypothesise that since stories of distress capture viewer attention more readily than those emphasising positive achievements, media has a vested interest in focussing on them disproportionately. Given the vastness of India, there is always farmer distress in one or another of its corners, providing fodder for primetime television on a regular basis.
Given the human tendency to generalise from anecdotes, especially when they are presented in visual form, isolated incidents of suffering then get translated into generalised distress across the length and breadth of the nation. In contrast, hard data is costly to collect, difficult to digest and often loses to vivid images offered by specific stories even if they represent an exception rather than the rule. While there is some truth in this hypothesis, in all likelihood, there is enough evidence to suggest that the stories of distress are real. Because India lost nearly four decades following the independence to poorly conceived policies, it remains a relatively low per capita income country. Within this broad scenario, agriculture has seen far slower progress than industry and services.
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