India is a land of agriculture. This is what we read in our geography books when we were children and this is what we say now, grownups we are. Not that we have not progressed industrially in these forty years after independence. From a nation that could not manufacture ‘nuts and bolts’ we have emerged out as a nation that can make and launch its own satellites. But primarily we remain agriculturists. Seventy five percentages of the people are connected with agriculture one way or other. And in terms of production we have some distinctions to be proud of. We are world’s number one in the production of sugarcane and number two in rice. We are only next to China in tea and to Egypt in cotton. And again in groundnuts, we are number one.
But in spite of so many firsts and seconds we are nowhere near self sufficiency in food. To feed the millions of our poor, who do not eat even two square meals a day, we import year after year, wheat from America, rice from Burma, sugar from Indonesia and cotton from Egypt. One reason that is beyond dispute is it’s multiplying mouths, though there are others that are not so obvious. Because of unscientific methods of preservation and bad storage conditions millions of tons of food stuffs are washed out in floods, if not spoiled by passage of time.
But it is our usual practice to blame the poor farmers first, for his primitive methods of agriculture. With a small patch of land that will not permit a big tractor to maneuver, without enough capital to buy costly implements, not even to buy fertilisers and pesticides, without perennial irrigational facilities how can he adopt himself to modern ignorance, lack of education and heavy indebtedness keep him firmly rooted to a state of helplessness, while a huge revolution is taking place in front of his eyes. Which farmer his crops wither away for want of water? Or would not like to reap maximum harvests if he could help it with supply of manures? Whether we accept it or not are an industry and like every other industry, it needs capital. The poor farmer with insufficient holdings can never hope to have it. There may be cooperative credit society banks. His ignorance prevents him from cutting across the red tape and gets timely help. No wonder then, the average yield per acre remains the lowest in the world.
In India lies one of the most fertile areas of the Indo-Gangetic plain, can easily become the food bowl or the world and feed it alone and completely. But, most of the water in its rivers drains off into the sea and in times they inundate vast areas, killing cattle and people alike, destroying thousands of acres of standing crops, washing village after village and finally becoming the sorrow of the land. If we have a Bhakra Nangal project, we do not know how to divide the water, to the satisfaction of every state concerned, but involve in regional feuds, rather ready to die in its cause, than to follow the path of prudence and prosper not very long ago, that an engineer had a grand vision of linking the Kaveri with the Ganga – which he called project’ and proved with figures and calculation that it was feasible.
But before it could gain popular approval, he lost his cabinet post and the scheme was thrown into a Waste Paper Box. Today, we do not know whether we should go ahead with the construction of the Narmada Valley Project, which would perhaps convert vast arid zones into beautiful green belts. There are really big people, still arguing for and against it, even after spending millions of rupees on the project work. It is not water management that we should learn, but its distribution management. Andhra Pradesh was permitted till the end of the century to utilise the surplus waters of the Krishna that would at any rate drain off into the Bay of Bengal, but the Karnataka government would not allow it. Its million dollar argument is: “If you use it now, you will be tempted to use it tomorrow”. This is the ultimate in regionalism. No wonder the people of Madras city languish in thirst for a drought of drinking water. Only a Bhagirathi should bring the Telugu Ganga to Madras.
More than 175 million acres are under cultivation now and there are nearly 60 million acres that can be brought under the plough. Even after the reclamation of these vast areas too, the country cannot achieve self sufficiency in food, as primitive methods are used. They may add another 30 million tons, which will not be sufficient to feed the increasing mouths. The rate of land reclamation cannot keep pace with the growth rate of population which is apprehended to double every forty years if remains unchecked.
Therefore the need of the hour is to have a new look at the entire structure. There are not many who own a minimum of 5 acres of land per family which may be sufficient to feed all the mouths it has. It will become a profitable venture if they adopt modern techniques, replacing the plough by the tractor, and turn to intensive cultivation. As a matter of fact, some of the people who own more than 5 acres of cultivable land have turned to modern methods of agriculture. They have their own tractors, wells and pump sets. But the vast majority of the farming community either own no land at all or own less than 5 acres.
While they constitute 80% of the cultivating community, their holdings do not exceed 20% of the cultivated land – which is to suggest their pursuits are most uneconomic. It is here that the government must come in with every possible help – can organise them into cooperatives and offer them high yielding seeds, fertilisers and other essential implements. When waste lands are reclaimed, these landless poor must be made to settle down with offers of minimum cultivable land, implements and other assistance. With a gift of 3/5 acre of land in addition to a small cash grant to every family of the landless poor, the Chinese were able to achieve a green revolution within a short span of five years.
Therefore, as matters stand at present, the small peasant with his uneconomic holdings cannot take to modern methods of cultivation; the big landlord, because of the changing tenancy laws and unpredictable conditions, is not very much interested to bring every bit of his land under the plough and strive for optimum yields. The land ceiling introduced by many states with half mind did not produce the expected results, for they were not pursued vigorously in the matter of reallocation. If, in some states, it was made, it added only to the hatred and enmity existing between the caste Hindus and the Harijans, for in most cases these were the new settlers. The Naxalite movement which believes that the end justifies the means is the outcome of such class hatred between the landed rich and the landless poor. A number of innocent people were mercilessly murdered in many states especially in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
In the name of self sufficiency in food, agriculture is exempted from income tax. Even if we do not dub it as an industry, it is the mother of all activities where millions and millions of people are engaged whether actively or not, whose task force is much bigger than the one participating in the field of industry and unfortunately it is the one which is most disorganised. A mill hand has more security than a farm worker; his interests are better taken care of, his voice more audible, he has a whole organisation behind him, to support, to struggle and even to die for him. In the socialistic type of political system we have adopted, the industrial worker will certainly have his share of profit some day in future. He has at least, his bonuses now.
To change the whole system, a change must first of all, come in the outlook and attitudes of the people who are the fortunate possessors of this vast gift of nature. If they realise that they are not really its possessors, but only the custodians, the change will be smooth, silent and peaceful. Change of heart is certainly better than the change by compulsion. But, will a man who carries his son on his shoulders, wherever he goes, easily change?