Wanted, a Pay commission for farmers

In 1996, I joined as an agriculture scientist at the Indian Council for Agriculture at Directorate of Oilseeds Research in Hyderabad. We used to work on castor, sunflower and safflower. My job was to coordinate the Frontline Demonstration of Improved technologies to farmers under the ‘Technology Mission on Oilseeds’ across the country.

At that time, Andhra Pradesh used to account for about 9-10 % of castor production.  The farmer used to harvest about five quintal per acre under rainfed conditions and around seven to ten quintals with hybrids under irrigated conditions.  And he would get around Rs. 1500-2500 per quintal.

My salary at that time was about 7 to 8 thousand per month with a basic of 2200 rupees or so, and we were waiting for Fifth pay commission announcement.

In 1998 or so the Fifth pay commission increased our basic from 2200 to 8000 (about 3 times) taking my salary to 16,000 or so per month.  I left the directorate of Oilseeds Research in 2004. My colleagues who continued have become senior and principal scientists and with salaries around Rs. 80,000 plus. Most of the living costs like healthcare under CGHS, tuition fee exempted from income tax, transport allowance to come to office is taken care of. Even to buy newspapers, an allowance of Rs. 100/month. This is true with almost all the government employees and others in the corporate sector would be earning much more.  The salaries of MPs, MLAs, Governors, President etc all have increased more than 500 times in the last five years alone.

But not the farmer’s.

After 15 years, today the average yield of the farmer has not increased much and same is the case with what he gets. In 2009, farmers got about 3000/q with a price rise due to lower production (because of drought). The seed prices have increased by more than 300 times, fertiliser costs, pesticide costs have increased similarly. Cost of food, education, and health equally affects the farmers. In fact, the story of castor may be better than cotton, paddy or any other crop. The farmers take home are kept low to appease the industry in case of commercial crops like cotton, sugarcane, tobacco or consumers in case of food grains.

What the farmers get is not even corrected for inflation. After the 6th Pay commission, the central government employees are paid 45 % dearness allowance and this January may take it to cross 50 %.

Money to the farmers never goes up (in real terms), while costs of cultivation have always increased.  The net incomes dwindled and many times became negative.  The increasing costs have made the farmers dependent on industry which reaped huge profits.

In 2010 which saw more than 17,000 farmers suicides (across the country) due to crop failures and indebtedness, the seed companies recorded a 50 % growth in their business, drip irrigation industry recorded more than 40 % growth. MFIs have made windfall profits, till restrictions were brought on them just a few months back.