Agri-reforms should be placed on priority: Dr Ashok Gulati
Monday, May 16, 2011
Irum Khan

Dr Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), says liberal agri-reforms with more involvement of private players will help begetting progressive changes in the market. Gulati particularly stresses on building an intelligent market agency to expediting the decision making process during critical market situations. Excerpts from the interview..

What is the role that you would want Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) to play pro-actively under your chairmanship in the coming days?
First and foremost, I would like to see that the MSP (minimum support price), which is announced by the government for various agricultural commodities, after taking into consideration the recommendations of the CACP, is effective and actually paid to the farmers. There are reports even in the current marketing season that wheat is being sold at 10 to 15% below the MSP in several markets in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. This does not auger well for incentivising peasantry to adopt new technologies and raise their productivity. Nor does it lend credibility to the government’s price policy.

What are the immediate agri-reforms would you like to see taking place in agriculture?
Market reforms in agriculture need to be put on a much higher priority than is the case currently. This is required not only in the case of commodities like rice and wheat, but also perishable commodities like fruits and vegetables. We need to make the value chains much more efficient so that a larger part of the consumer’s rupee can pass on to the producers. This requires changes in laws (such as Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) and Essential Commodities Act (ECA) and also investments in value chains, like logistics and storage.

How has the government responded to your demand for de-linking of procurement price with the MSP? What are the challenges in standardising rule of this kind?
MSP is supposed to be the “minimum” support price, but unfortunately in many commodities, most notably rice and wheat, this has also become the procurement price. I would urge the government to liberalise markets of these commodities so that farmers can get the market price and the procurement agencies should buy at the market price in full competition with private trade. That was the original idea of the Agricultural Prices Commission when it was founded in 1965. We need to revive that spirit.

How do you suggest to address the problem of excessive hoarding and middlemen, which distort the food prices in the country?
The rules of the game in the market economy are different. You do not go about beating the traders (hoarders) with a stick! What you need is a good market intelligence agency which continuously monitors the situation for sensitive commodities, say 10 to 15 commodities, and alerts the government well in time of any impending crisis. This agency collates information on production, stocks, prices, trade, etc. and can suggests the government when to unload stocks and when to build stocks; when to lower or raise import duties, all with a view to keep relative stability in food system. Absolute stability is neither possible nor perhaps desirable. Currently, we lack such an agency in the country, and many a time, even when the government knows reasonably well of the coming deficit or deluge of surplus, the policy action is very slow. There is a need to expedite the decision making process to align it with the emerging market situations.

Are you in favour of complete abolishment of the APMC Act and prefer to have a completely new Act which would actually address the market hassles for farmers and other stakeholders?
To start with, at least fruits and vegetables need to be de-listed from the APMC. In due course, we have to encourage direct buying by processors and organised retailers from the producer companies.

How do you propose to involve private players in agr-reforms?
Already there are various PPP ( Public-private partnership) models in building storage capacity, in extension work, and so on. The space for the private sector needs to be enlarged within the agriculture system, from provision of inputs (seeds, irrigation, fertilisers, pesticides, etc.) to buying and storing of outputs from farmers, grading, packing, and moving it to urban areas. All along the supply lines, private sector can play an important role, and I feel the government should tap the potential of our private sector by making it a strong ally. It will need some regulation, but excessive controls breed corruption and slow down the process of investments and growth. We need to give some fresh air and breathing space to the private sector in agri-systems.

Do you have a tentative plan in mind to bringing about transparency in prices and establishing a market forecast on which exports could be based?
As I said above, we need a market intelligence agency, which is currently missing. It will be a dream come true, if CACP can fill that vacuum!

India wants removal of non-tariff barrier in agriculture



GENEVA: India has joined the chorus in criticising the EU’s non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and SPS issues, and market access in agriculture at the WTO Trade Policy Review of the EC.
According to the WTO Secretariat report the EC’s agriculture policies were a matter of concern with its protection by a complex tariff structure, high tariffs, tariff quotas of which some were not filled, and high levels of domestic support and export subsidies.
In its intervention India informed the WTO of its steady, significant intensification of strategic partners dialogue and of a proposed agreement on trade and investment between India and the EU. The negotiations of which could commence shortly and “open vast opportunities for businesses on both sides.”
The EC is one of the largest sources of FDI from India. It is not only India’s largest trading partner, it accounts for almost a quarter of India’s exports and imports. In 2005 India-Europe trade was around 40 billion euros, EU’s exports to India grew by 23.8%, and EU imports from India by 16.2% as compared to 2004.
India stated that it has submitted written questions to the EC for clarification on some of its trade policies, however mentioned that Indian agriculture exporters continue to suffer on account of NTBs and SPS issues.
It pointed out that in market access several instances had been brought to the Indian government’s notice by Indian exporters of meat and meat products, marine products, milk products, egg products, Basmati, mushrooms, refrigerators, lack of intra EU harmonisation of standards, which impede exports from India to the EC.
India stated that it seeks dismantling of these non-tariff barriers to enable it increase access to the European markets for Indian exporters. India also focused on the EC restrictive policy on Services which it urged to take urgent stops to address.
India stated that despite its advantage of young population, complemented by a vast network of academic infrastructure and educated, English-speaking talent, India’s opportunities with the EC in trade services sector are hindered by issues relating to Mode 4, the imposition of unclear ENTs, domestic regulations, territorial requirement to set up business, residence requirements, and discriminatory tax treatment.

National farm strategy to be presented to NDC soon

Special Correspondent
The document would cover all aspects of agriculture and give a road map

Corporate sector could provide technology, extension advice, marketing, logistics’ Sector urged to institute scholarships for rural students

CHENNAI: A national agricultural strategy is likely to be presented before the National Development Council, which is to meet in two months, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, said here on Tuesday.
Pointing out that a committee headed by the Union Agriculture Minister had been set up, Mr. Ahluwalia told a seminar organised by the Madras Management Association (MMA) that sub-groups comprising Chief Ministers were holding discussions. The proposed strategy document would cover all aspects of agriculture and give a road map for the farm sector.
Speaking on the corporate sector’s role in rural development, the Deputy Chairman said while the Central and State Governments had a critical role to play in the areas of irrigation and roads in rural areas, the corporate sector could take care of technology, extension advice, marketing and logistics.
On the possible impact of global warming in the country’s agriculture in future, he called for the development of varieties in crops resistant to climate change. The public sector should engage itself in the basic research while the corporate sector could devote itself to making different varieties commercially attractive and building on the basic research.
Water management
Arguing that issues concerning water management were more important than the energy crisis, he said some parts of the country were already in water stress conditions. Though water was the most scarce commodity, people expected to get water free unlike in the case of energy.
Calling for efficient water use among the people generally and among farmers particularly, Mr. Ahluwalia said that even within the existing seeds and water availability, it was possible to achieve 40 per cent to 80 per cent increase in the agricultural yield through improved cultivation practices.
On the free electricity scheme for farmers and the consequent adverse impact on groundwater and water resources, he acknowledged that it introduced distortions into the system but there were political constraints (in lifting the scheme). Pointing out that electricity was massively subsidised in general, he said “there are better ways of subsidising farmers than what we have been doing.”
As for the entry of big players in retail trade and the likely impact on small traders, he said that it would be a good idea to introduce modern retail trade if farmers were to be given a fair deal. “Nowhere in the world has small retailing disappeared. But, nowhere in the world has modern retailing not come in.”
Inaugurating the seminar, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, State Rural Development Secretary said the corporate sector could play a vital role in the areas of training, marketing and communication strategies, targeting the rural sector.
He urged the corporate sector to institute a large number of scholarships and endowments for rural students.
Jayshree Venkataraman, MMA vice-president, said a concerted effort towards establishing cottage industries appropriate to natural resources and raw materials available locally might help to retain migration to cities.
© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Replace input subsidy for farmer with direct payments

M Rajivlochan

Finance minister P Chidambaram expressed some doubts in his Budget speech about the large subsidy the government sets aside each year in the name of the farmer. Yet, he went on to offer Rs 22,452 crore to the fertiliser industry in the hope that those good souls would pass on this money to needy farmers. The Fertiliser Association of India, the pressure group of fertiliser producers of India, how ever, threw a fit, demanding that it be given Rs 48,000 crore this year. 
   Total subsidy in the name of the farmer is considerable. It is given out to a wide variety of organisations concerned with chemicals, fertilisers, irrigation and power. A quick look at the Budget does not provide an idea of the magnitude of the subsidy. The subsidy bill has increased from about Rs 500 crore 25 years ago to over Rs 40,000 crore now.
   There has been repeated criticism of the subsidies on offer in the name of farmers. It is said they are wasteful and go mostly to the rich farmer. The question often asked has been: Does the benefit reach the farmer at all? But a more pertinent question could be: Are the subsidies even designed to reach the cultivator, assuming leakages are zero? The answer is no.
   In the name of subsidising the poor farmer, the government offers free lunches to industry. There are three assumptions implicit in the present policy: organisations which receive government subsidy pass on the benefits they receive to the farmer; that the government rather than farmer knows best on what items the agriculturist should spend and therefore will subsidise only such items; and it is an impossible task, given our present administrative structure, to provide direct cash subsidies to nearly 12 crore cultivators. None of these assumptions is borne out by ground reality.
   Electricity boards argue that the subsidy given to them is to ensure that the farmer pays only a fraction, if at all, of what other consumers pay. However, this grant assumes that the service is actually reaching the farmer. A brief visit to almost any rural area will show that pumps get energised only for a fraction of the time. In some farmer suicide cases reported from Maharashtra, families of the victims said that the farmer was in despair because of the failure of the electricity board to supply him with power. So much is made of the muchreviled promise by various governments to provide farmers with free or cheap electricity that we seldom bother to see whether the farmer
is getting any electricity at all. Is it possible that the farmers, like all of us, would be willing to pay for their power if the government were to supply it reliably?
   The government in its Big Brother role is assumed to know what to subsidise. Most Indian farmers practise dryland farming. Some 60 per cent of our cultivated area does not have irrigation facilities; subsidies on irrigation and power are meaningless here. Should they continue?
   If subsidies are to lower cost of cultivation, then the NSSO survey of 2003, which shows that the cost of cultivation exceeds agricultural income in much of the country, amply demonstrates that the present complicated method of indirect subsidy is a conspicuous failure. Would it not be better to allow the Indian farmer to decide what he wishes to spend on by simply giving him the money directly? The idea that the farmer might spend his money on drink and drugs is baseless. Providing direct subsidy is a difficult but not impossible task, in terms of funds and implementation machinery. 
   If all farmers in India who own land up to four hectares or 10 acres (and this figure comes to 91 per cent of all farmers in India in the light of data provided by the Indian agriculture census of 1995-96) were to be given a flat subsidy of Rs 5,000 per hectare, it would still come to about Rs 49,000 crore, which is not much more than the present level of subsidy.
   The sum would be less than 10 per cent of Indian agricultural GDP and far less than what many other countries do for their farmers. Compare this with the subsidy of $58,885 million that Japan provided to its agriculture in 1999. This amounted to 2.82 per cent of its GDP and 65 per cent of its AGDP. During the same period the US provided $54,009 million, which was 1.32 per cent of its GDP and 24 per cent of its AGDP.
   It is assumed that the Indian government is incapable of distributing this money to the farmer. If the government were to ask one to repose faith in a babu, one would hesitate. But actually in this day and age, the task of distributing money is easily done by routing the money directly to the farmers’ bank account, which the government already does for most transactions with farmers.
   The government already has an extensive system of land records at the village level, so that it is possible to know who sowed what crop in which field and in how much area. So, it should not be difficult to implement direct subsidies.
The writer teaches history at Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Resoulutions passed in 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj…
The 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj was held at Erode (Tamilnadu) from 17th to 18th February, 2007. The following resolutions have been passed:
Minimum Support Price

The minimum support prices (MSPs) of different crops estimated by the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) and subsequently endorsed by the government are low and not remunerative. There is a need for up-gradation of the methods for estimation of real cost of production and arriving at the real remunerative prices. The process should be transparent and open to farmers.
Scrap SEZs, promote AEZs

Government should scrap all Special Economic Zones set-up on farmlands acquired from farmers against a mere compensation. SEZs should not be promoted; as such policy tends to usurp fertile farmlands leading to food security problems. Rather Government should promote and encourage Agri Export Zones (AEZs), which is aimed at integrated rural development.
Seed Bill-2004

If the government wants to re-introduce the “Seed Bill-2004”, it should incorporate the all recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, because seed is the basic need for food security which should not be surrendered to corporates & MNCs at any cost. Further there is no need for any new act for regulating the seed sector. The Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers Rights (PVP&FR) Act is sufficient to regulate the seed sector and should be the only law in the country. The PVP&FR Act should be further amended to provide greater protection to farmers’ rights. The PVP&FR Act is already TRIPS consistent and there is no need for a patent regime on micro-organisms, genes and other life forms.
Agricultural Credit

Rate of interest on all agricultural credit should be brought down to 4% and made uniformally applicable in every State. The loans to farmers should be waved off subsequent on crop failure.
Impact of WTO

Unfortunately Indian agriculture has been dragged into the ambit of the WTO and we have given market access for some agro produces at a time when the developed counties have distorted global prices by their huge support to their farm sector. In this situation Indian farmers cannot compete with the farmers in the developed world. Both EU and US have protected their markets through high tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers. The US through its recent Farm Bill 2007 has increased direct payments to farmers by 10% over the previous years. It has increased direct payments by $ 5.5 billion.
Unethical manipulations and distortions by developed countries in Agreement on Agriculture (A.O.A) and unequal globalisation have negatively impacted Indian agriculture. Government should work out strategy to rectify the inequalities and try to restore the legitimate demands of India pertaining to phasing out of all types of subsidies and support by developed countries, reduction of import tariff, rationalisation of trade imbalances, enhanced market access for India.
Special Product & Special Safeguard Mechanism

As the developed countries have not fulfilled their commitments in the agreement on agriculture for reducing their subsidies and support to the farm sector, India should not open up its markets. For Indian farmers every crop is a Special Product and not a matter for negotiation. If the government wants to save agriculture from any consequent disaster, it should fight for recognition of every crop as Special Product at the WTO and seek for effective application of special safeguard mechanism. If this is not possible then India should ask for restoration of the right to impose quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports.

Technology Mission on Oil Seeds & Pulses

The Technology Mission on Oil Seeds & Pulses should be revived and reactivated on war-footing because Oil Seeds & Pulses are the vital pillars of National Economy.

Immediate Ban on all GM Crops

Worldwide there are reports of farmers being put to heavy losses on account of cultivation of GM crops. There is a conspiracy being hatched against farmers in the name of increasing production for food security by forcibly introducing genetically modified (GM) crops. India should learn lessons from the failure of GM crops across the world. Recently the US court has called for a review of the approvals of GM crops in that country.
The failure of Bt Cotton, financially crippling thousands of Cotton growers, impelling a large number of them unable to repay the debt to commit suicides by the farming community is a National shame. The Government should put immediate ban on commercial cultivation and trials of all GM crops in the country, because GM crops will cause health & environmental hazards and destruction of bio-diversity.
Marketing of Agro-produce

The free entry of corporates and multinationals in agriculture marketing has raised new problems. They purchase produce from farmers slightly higher than the MSP to capture the market and dismantle the government’s procurement system. Subsequently they hoard the stock, manipulate the market prices and sell at high prices. This is the major cause for the present rise in prices of essential commodities. The manipulations in the futures market is another cause for price rise. Thus the present rise in prices benefits only traders and corporates. Government should immediately ban futures trading on agriculture commodities and restrict direct entry of corporates and multinationals in agricultural marketing.
Imports of Agro-produce

With a view to contain rising prices, the government is encouraging import of agro produces. This measure will be detrimental to farmers’ interest in the long run and destroy country’s food security. Imports of agro commodities should not be encouraged when they are available in plenty in the country.
Food Standard & Safety Act

With a view to destroy the traditional food habits and culture and to encourage the processed junk food of the MNCs and discourage consumption of fresh food, the Food Standard & Safety Act has been brought in. This Act should be immediately repealed.

The government does not give any direct subsidy to farmers. Whatever minimum subsidy the government intends to give for agriculture should be given directly to farmers.

Irrigation facilities

The Government should plan the policies to recharge the level of ground water. The irrigation projects and schemes to be made on priorities and the funds allotted to state Govt’s should not be diverted to other heads. Irrigation projects and linking of rivers should not be done at a cost to the ecology. The projects displaced persons should be compensated in full.
Because the water is the lifeline of agriculture, therefore, it should be saved. The farmers should use the sprinkler and drip irrigation system for irrigation to save the water. The Government should give 50% subsidy on it directly to farmers. The Government should also ensure availability of electricity for agricultural purposes at concessional rates. Exempt Agro Machines, Tools, Equipments etc., from Excise & Vat.
Utility items like tractor, agricultural equipments & machinaries, drip and sprinkler irrigation installations, fertilizers, seeds and agro-chemicals should be kept out from the ambit of excise and vat. Also, the subsidy on them should be enhanced and given directly to the farmers.

Export of Organic Foods

There is an increasing demand and unlimited scope for t
he export of organic food across the world and Indian farmers are missing this opportunity. The Government should bear the cost of certification of organic produces, which is presently high, and beyond the reach of farmers. The National Horticultural Board & APEDA should bear this responsibility immediately. The Government should also give adequate level of subsidies for cultivation of organic produce and for encouraging their exports.

Testing Laboratories

Well equipped soil, fertilizer, agro-chemicals and seeds Testing Laboratories should be established in every District Headquarter of the Country for the benefit of the farmers.
Promotion of Agro based Industrial Units
Sustenance is just not possible from ever increasing fragmentation of family farms. The Government therefore, should come-up with need based and area specific comprehensive blue print on agro based small and cottage industrial units in the villages and provide adequate incentive and financial assistance to the enterprising public of the rural belt.

Agricultural Insurance

Agri-insurance schemes must be made very responsive and its scope should be enlarged and widened to cover all sorts of calamities and the losses inflicted on the farmers should be adequately compensated. The assessment of losses should be done at village level as a unit in consultation with local farmers. Crop insurance programme should cover all crops in all areas of the country.

Employment Generation in Rural Belt

To generate employment opportunities in the rural belt, the Government should provide ready financial and infrastructural assistance to the farmers for dairy farming, animal husbandry, fisheries, poultry and bee keeping etc.

Agricultural Research

The cost of production has increased phenomenally due to the introduction of capital-intensive unsustainable agriculture. The use of costly chemicals has not only degraded the soil health and factor productivity.
Requisites of Indian agriculture and needs of the peasantry must be given top priority in the formulation of R/D policies. The Government should refrain from thrusting alien technologies on the farming community. Agri scientists should study traditional farming system and upgrade them, if necessary for implementation in farmers field. All farm policies and researches should be done in consultation with local farmers of the area.
Farmers’ representation

We demand that the Central and the State Governments should co-opt farmer leaders in all decision making bodies related to agriculture so as to make the policies more realistic, effective and action-oriented.
US-India Knowledge Initiative Agreement on Agriculture

Indo-US Knowledge Initiative Agreement on Agriculture should be immediately scraped as this treaty is designed to surrender country’s food security and research to US Government and US based multinationals.

Budget 2007 is an exit budget for farmers, says Devinder Sharma

Express News Service

Ludhiana, March 7: Well-known activist, and Director, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, New Delhi says the Budget is an exit-budget for farmers. “This budget does not want the farmers who earn their livelihood. This budget wants them to give up agriculture,” said Dr Sharma, who was in PAU today to deliver a lecture. “The intention of the government help the farmer can be gauged from the fact that farmer suicides continue despite the so called futuristic budgets,” he said.

Ridiculing Dr Manmohan Singh announcement of a grant for Vidharbha and subsequent claim that the impact of it would be visible in six months at farmer suicide ridden land, Dr Sharma said the impact was visible, as the rate of suicide rate has gone up from one in every eight hours to one in every four hours.

Dr Sharma said, “Farmers need credits and need income, too, and for that we need to work towards making agriculture sustainable. But the mindset of our policy maker has changed from that of sustainable agriculture to commercial agriculture. Our finance minister says that and more clearly does out agriculture minister who candidly says there is no place for small farmers

Neoliberalism and the Ideology of the cancer cell: Growth for the sake of profit


“As Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate, said, “Faster growth rate is essential for faster reduction in poverty. There is no other trick to it.” So said India’s minister of finance, P. Chidambaram in his budget speech. Drawing on his words must have seemed a politically correct thing to do. Mr. Chidambaram might want to add another quote to his cupboard. This one from the late Edward Abbey, environmental activist and writer. “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Few things grow as relentlessly as that cell does, with such fatal results. As the cancer of neo-liberalism claims an ever-higher toll, its greatest theologians now include standard disclaimers in their chant. Growth has to be “inclusive” and “sustainable.” Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have learned these escape clauses. In any case, growth in India this past decade has been neither. The appalling distress in the countryside is just one measure of this. Election after election also rubs it in. Especially that of 2004, which brought the United Progressive Alliance to power.

Even going by the government’s economic survey, by its own other data, agriculture is choking. Per capita growth has been negative. Farm incomes have taken a beating. Thousands of farmers commit suicide each year. The government has long known there is a frightful crisis, one driven by human agency, by state policy. Yet, for all the noise, Central plan outlay on agriculture as a share of GDP sees no increase worth the name. Nor is there anything that touches the acute farm distress on the ground. In that the trend of falling state investment in sector after sector continues, this budget does not break with neo-liberalism. It just dolls it up.

One of the most important steps the UPA took in 2004 was to assign the National Commission on Farmers the grim task of studying this crisis. The work of the NCF caught the imagination of farmers nationwide. In Vidharbha or in Andhra Pradesh, farmers when they speak at all of `relief packages’ do so with scorn. What they do demand is action on the NCF’s findings. It is hard to find to find a single one of its many vital proposals addressed in this budget.

There are no steps towards a Price Stabilization Fund. None at all towards debt relief, let alone a waiver. Nothing has happened that will make input costs cheaper. Racketeering on that front is not only left alone, it can dash on regardless. The ‘huge’ boost for rural credit does not touch the high interest rates, which are such a major source of the trouble. And government knows very well that small and marginal farmers have gained almost nothing from its earlier `expansion’ of credit. No incentives for food crops in crisis regions. No action, to cite just one problem, to prevent the dumping of American cotton subsidized by billions of dollars and devastating prices here and around the world. (In just marketing year 2001-02, as an official report shows us, U.S. raw cotton exports to India had tripled to more than a million bales.)

There is no move to use valid tools like raising duties to halt a process that is literally killing Indian farmers. Import duty on cotton remains at a low 10 per cent. Indeed, the lowering of other duties in many cases will hit other sectors of Indian agriculture too. Not just cotton. If this is a pro-farmer budget, it’s scary to think of what an anti-farmer one would look like. As always, the standards of judging the deal given to poor Indians differ totally from those used to measure what a `sulking India Inc.,’ gets. The big boys shouldn’t be too disheartened, though. Business as usual will resume after a pause for the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Even as the budget is hailed as `pro-farmer,’ there comes the embarrassment to the Centre from a Congress-led State. Responding to a PIL on farm suicides, the Maharashtra government tries telling the Supreme Court that the Center’s dragging its feet over funds for Vidharbha was a big factor in the problem. True, it backs off pleading an error when this is highlighted in the press. But it gives you a picture of how bad things are.

Many have shown that some of the `higher allocations’ of the budget are negative when adjusted for inflation. The Left, for instance, points out that spending on the government’s flagship employment programs is up by 7 per cent. Which amounts to stagnation, given inflation levels. The increase in outlays on food subsidies, at 6.2 per cent, means a cut in real terms.

There is also a rather clumsy dodge on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. To begin with, it was given Rs.11,300 crore [one crore = ten million] when it needed much more. And that was for 200 districts. Now it is to be “expanded” to 330 districts. But the outlay goes up by just Rs.700 crore. So the number of districts covered goes up 40 per cent. The money goes up six per cent.

The `huge’ hike in outlays for health still does not bring us to even the modest 2-3 per cent of GDP level promised in 2004. View education outlays as share of GDP and you see how far behind we still are. In the end, though, it’s not just about sector to sector funding. It’s the whole direction. And in that very little has changed. India is still on a path damaging and dangerous to the poor.

Big media, though, now view the Finance Minister with a `how-could-you’ air of injured innocence. He actually had to face some questions on television. He was questioned. But from a point of view which, at most other times, he would have been happy with. That is, the liberalization and `reforms process’ from a corporate outlook. (India Shining has been back for a while, jostling for space with India Rising and India Poised. But that’s another story.)

Mr. Chidambaram accused one interviewer of being obsessed “with the corporate sector.” That was code for `wait till after the State elections.’ (“Our program continues after a small non-commercial break.”) He even tried to explain that a “thrust” on agriculture in fact favored Indian industry. And he had a real point there. But I doubt it went home. The debate amongst the elite is still in terms of a `let down.’ A `setback in the pace of reforms.’ For the media, this is India with a shining black eye.

And so we have a budget that gives `top priority’ to agriculture. And eight more farmers have taken their own lives in Vidharbha. This is now a region where farmers killing themselves are directly addressing the Prime Minister or Chief Minister in their suicide notes. After the Prime Minister’s Independence Day Speech in 2006, you might have expected something different. That was a rare occasion. Dr. Singh spoke clearly of the state of our farmers. Even more rare for an I-Day speech, he singled out Vidharbha for special mention. And he clearly acknowledged a major crisis was on in agrarian India. Not a trace of that sentiment can be found in the philosophy or the numbers of this budget.

Nor is there even a sense that much has been learned from the polls in Punjab and Uttarakhand. There is even some bravado about how the Congress has fared better in rural Punjab. The price rise, among other things, was and is a major issue. But the government’s response to it is at most levels tokenism. Not a lesson has been learned by this government. Like others before it, it imagines it will make a few `course corrections’ just before the polls. It has forgotten the reasons for its win in 2004. Nor does it want to see just how awful the crisis in the countryside is.

We are now at that mid-way mark where, historically, the Congress revives the Bharatiya Janata Party. A party gasping for breath after 2004 regains its oxygen. The Congress is hard at work on this in Maharashtra, too. The government’s terrible power cuts have a clear regional, urban, and class bias. Talleyrand is said to have remarked of the Bourbon monarchs of France after their restoration that they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
The UPA has gone one better. It has learned nothing and forgotten everything.

P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu (where this piece initially ran) and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be reached at: