New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

30 May, 2017

Stage set for more social strife

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Narendra Modi government’s attempt to regulate cattle markets across the country appears to be a thinly disguised project to promote the Hindutva agenda of cow slaughter ban through the back door.

Last week the Environment Ministry, which oversees animal welfare, issued a notification imposing stringent conditions on the sale of cattle. While it does not prohibit cow slaughter, it forbids sale of cows, bulls, steers, heifers, buffaloes and camels at animal markets for slaughter.

India had edged past Brazil two years ago to become the world’s largest meat exporter. Last year meat production exceeded Rs 1,300 billion, and beef exports totalled Rs 263 billion.

Since the meat industry gets 90 per cent of its requirements from animal markets the regulations are bound to hit the farmers as well as the meat sellers.

Orthodox Hindus of the Vedic school profess to vegetarianism but the Vedas and other early texts testify that their ancestors ate different kinds of meat, including beef.

Hindus constitute 79.80 per cent of India’s population. However, according to the findings of a recent official survey, only 28 per cent of Indians are vegetarians.

Since some sections venerate the animal, cow slaughter became an issue of contention in the closing stages of the colonial period. In a concession to them, a provision was included in the Directive Principles of the Constitution permitting the state governments to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of milch and draught cattle.

Most states have already enacted legislation to prohibit slaughter of milch cows. However, Kerala, West Bengal and the north-eastern states have not done so.

Since Modi became the Prime Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party started picking hard-core Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh activists as chief ministers, cow vigilantes have gone on the rampage in several states, attacking and killing Muslims and Dalits.

Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and Pahlu Khan, a dairy farmer of Alwar in Rajasthan were lynched to death. Dalit youths were thrashed at Una in Gujarat while skinning a dead cow. In all these instances, the BJP protected the criminals and pressured the police into instituting false cases against the victims and their families.

Under the newly notified rules, which are to be enforced within three months, only farmland owners can buy or sell cattle at animal markets. Both the seller and the buyer have to prove their identities and establish their status as farm owners. The seller has to obtain an understanding from the buyer that the animals are not for slaughter.

The rules have laid down cumbersome procedures which farmland owners with little education cannot easily cope with.

The government claimed that the rules had been prepared in compliance with a directive the Supreme Court had given in a recent judgement to improve the condition of animals in the markets. Political observers believe it used the opportunity to extend the Hindutva’s cow agenda and fear it may lead to more attacks on Muslims and Dalits.

While most opposition parties and state governments under their control were muted in their response to the Centre’s action, Kerala Chief Minister and Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan roundly condemned it as an attempt to implement the RSS agenda. In a letter to the Prime Minister he said the rules were impractical.

Youth wings of the CPI-M and the Congress conducted beef festivals at many places in the state to demonstrate their resolve to resist interference in the people’s food habits.

The constitutional validity of the new Central rules is bound to be challenged in the courts. Many legal experts are of the view that the courts are liable to strike them down as they go beyond the purview of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act under which they have been issued.

The economic and social consequences of the rules may be more disastrous than the political fallout. Inability to sell cattle which have outlived their utility will upset the fragile economy of farming families which is already driving them to suicide in large numbers.

Some critics feel the government’s real objective is to put an end to the traditional cattle markets and clear the path for big business interests to enter the trade.

The new rules may embolden Hindutva elements to intensify attacks on the minorities and the Dalits, leading to increased social strife. The emergence of the Bhim Army at Saharanpur in UP is a sign of growing Dalit resistance to Hindutva violence. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 30, 2017.

23 May, 2017

Modi’s three-year balance sheet

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes his third year in office on Friday, going by official statistics, the economy is doing well and the stock market is at an all-time high.

Preparations to publicise the government’s achievements began last month with Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu writing to each ministerial colleagues to furnish data about five major achievements of his or her department to be included in a booklet to be published this week.

Earlier Naidu had asked ministers and top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders to communicate to the people the positive changes brought about by the Modi government. Be ready with facts and figures to propagate the government’s achievements in a big way, he told them.

Three party men with experience in mainstream journalism were assigned specific tasks. Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar was asked to prepare a note on the outcome of Modi’s foreign tours. Swapan Dasgupta and Chandan Mitra, both nominated members of the Rajya Sabha, were urged to collect material to counter criticism of the government on such grounds as poor record in employment generation and threats to freedom of expression.

Typical of the claims resulting from the planned publicity drive is Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s assertion that the government took about 7,000 measures – big, small, medium and nano – to promote ease of doing business. She said the measures included fixing timeline for clearance of applications, de-licensing manufacture of many defence products and introducing e-biz project.

The changing global scenario had made India an attractive destination for foreign investors even before Modi came on the scene. He went all out to create an investor-friendly atmosphere and can claim credit for the rise of foreign direct investment to a record level. But India still hovers around the 130th place among 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business report.

The other issues proposed to he highlighted include control of inflation, reduction in corruption and initiatives in areas such as road building, rural electrification and cooking gas distribution which, the government believes, have helped improve the quality of life of people. But critics have raised questions about some of the claims.

In an open letter to Modi, Sadhavi Khosla, a social activist, who identified herself as one among the 31 per cent who had voted for the BJP believing in his promise of achhe din (good days), pointed out that food inflation remains unchecked.

Experts have voiced doubts about the methods employed by the government to project an optimistic picture of the economy. Some of them have accused it of fudging figures and tinkering with the methodology of calculating the gross domestic product and the inflation rate.

Six months after Modi demonetised high-value currency notes, the government and the central bank are unable or unwilling to state clearly the motives behind the step and the actual achievements. Claims that demonetisation put an end to cross-border terrorism and unrest in Kashmir valley stand exposed as hogwash.

Detractors have dug out Modi’s old tweets and video clips of his campaign speeches to prove he has not lived up to his promises. But there is nothing to indicate that his personal popularity has been dented. At the moment no opposition party, including the Congress, has a leader who can be an effective foil to him.

But the Hindutva brigade on whose shoulders Modi rode to victory is turning out to be a liability. With hard-core Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leaders in power in states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the rank and file felt emboldened to take the law into their hands and let loose a reign of terror on minorities and Dalits raising specious issues. At least 15 persons have been lynched in the name of cow protection or meat eating.

There are signs of a backlash, which Modi cannot afford to ignore. Dalits from different states converged on Delhi last week to protest against the atrocities on the members of the community at Saharanpur in UP. There are also threats of mass conversion to Islam.

A section of Modi’s supporters who style themselves as the ‘liberal right’ are peeved that he is unable to get the BJP governments in the states to rein in the fringe elements. If he is not able to retain the loyalty of this section, he may lose his image as a Man of Development and stand exposed as the chief of rustic elements who want to drag the country back to the feudal past. 

16 May, 2017

Waiting for a new president

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s next President will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal choice, unless the Bharatiya Janata Party or, more importantly, its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, bungles badly.

Pranab Mukherjee’s five-year term as President ends on July 24. The Election Commission will soon set in motion the process of choosing his successor shortly.

As constitutional head of state, the President is required to act on the advice of the council of ministers at all times. But at some critical junctures, as, for instance, when a new Prime Minister has to be inducted, the President has to act on his own.

The President is elected by an electoral college comprising elected members of the two houses of Parliament and of the Assemblies of the states and Union Territories.

The 776 MPs and 4,120 MLAs each command half of the electoral college votes. The value of an MP’s vote is 708 but that of MLAs varies from seven in Sikkim to 208 in Uttar Pradesh, as it is pegged to the state’s population.

In the early years of Independence, the Congress could get its nominee elected as President with a comfortable margin as it dominated Parliament and the State Assemblies. As it declined, and a fragmented national polity emerged, the Congress has to choose its candidate after wide consultations to ensure smooth election.

When the Janata Party, which was cobbled together to take on Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime, held sway at the Centre and in the northern states, it was able to get its nominee, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, elected as President. Eight years earlier Mrs Gandhi had blocked his election as the Congress candidate by switching her support to VV Giri who was contesting as an independent.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance which was in power at the Centre at the time of the 2002 election was in a hopeless minority in the electoral college. The BJP and the Congress both backed retired missile scientist APJ Abdul Kalam, and he became the President. 

The Congress and its United Progressive Alliance partners commanded only 33 per cent of the electoral college votes when it picked Pranab Mukherjee as its candidate in 2012. The NDA, which was close behind with a vote share of 28 per cent, fielded former Congressman and Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma. Mukherjee collected almost twice as many electoral college votes as Sangma, thanks to the support of a host of smaller parties.

Having won 282 seats in the 542-member Lok Sabha in the 2014 poll and 312 seats in the 403-member UP Assembly in this year’s elections, the BJP is now way ahead of the Congress. With its NDA partners it commands about 47.5 per cent of the electoral votes valued at about 1.1 million.

But the non-BJP parties are in no mood to give up without a fight. Congress President Sonia Gandhi has been in talks with other opposition parties to pick a consensus candidate. Those under consideration include former Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav and National Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar.

Even if Shiv Sena, an NDA partner which revels in giving Modi occasional pinpricks refuses to back its nominee, as in the last two presidential elections, the BJP is in a position to cover the small shortfall in its electoral college majority with the help of regional parties.

Three southern parties, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (vote share about 5.5 per cent), YSR Congress (vote share about two per cent) and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (vote share 1.5 per cent) and Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal (vote share 3.5 per cent) are believed to be ready to go with Modi.

Some of them may want to know who the BJP’s candidate for the office is before committing themselves. Few expect Modi to favour party veterans Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi whom he has sidelined. Other names doing the rounds include those of three women, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Union Minister Uma Bharti and Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, who is an Adivasi.

In the last three years the RSS has tightened its grip on the BJP and placed its hard core leaders in constitutional positions in several states. It is, therefore, time to ask if the next President will be an organisation man from that outfit.

RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat’s name was proposed by Shiv Sena for the office of President. Oddly enough it was endorsed by a Muslim Congress leader from the south. Bhagwat said he was not interested in the post. That only means he prefers to be king-maker rather than the king.

One hopes Modi and Bhagwat do not lose sight of the fact that the President, who symbolises the majesty of the republic, needs to be a unifying figure. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 16, 2017.

09 May, 2017

A noble legal tradition in jeopardy

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

In an age of liberal thought a few enlightened judges charted out a new course which enabled India’s poor and marginalised people to surmount the obstacles that limited their access to the Judiciary. That age has passed and the noble tradition of public interest litigation which enhanced the quality of justice is in trouble.

The Constitution, proclaimed two and a half years after the country gained Independence, promised justice – social, economic and political – to all. It also guaranteed equality and equal opportunities, regardless of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Of what practical use was all that to the millions who had been denied basic human rights for centuries and lived in squalor?

On the face of it, the transition which took place on August 15, 1947, the day British colonial rule ended, and on January 26, 1950, the day India proclaimed itself a secular, democratic republic, was of a superficial nature. The new dispensation worked with the same bureaucrats, same policemen, same soldiers, the same judges who ran the colonial administration.

The judiciary was the institution farthest removed from the masses. While it enjoyed a reputation for fairness among the educated elite and the rising middle class, it was beyond the reach of the poor. The lower courts treated them with the same disdain as during the colonial-feudal period, and the higher courts were beyond their reach as the legal process was too costly and time-consuming. The juridical practice inherited from the colonial period allowed only persons with a sense of injury or personal hurt to seek remedy from the court.

In the 1970’s, a couple of judges of the apex court broke down the barrier and allowed concerned citizens or groups to raise issues on behalf of suffering citizens. Thus began a phase of access to justice through class action, public interest litigation (PIL) and representative proceedings.

Supreme Court judge VR Krishna Iyer, a pioneer of PIL jurisprudence, outlined the philosophy behind the innovation in these words: “Little Indians in large numbers seeking remedies in courts through collective proceedings, instead of being driven to an expensive plurality of litigation, is an affirmation of participative justice in our democracy.”

When the apex court took up a PIL by Bandhua Mukti Morcha on behalf of bonded labourers, the government objected on the ground that it was an unregistered association. The court dismissed the argument and declared any person with no direct interest in the matter can champion the case of the downtrodden.

The court’s repeated intervention, coupled with legislative measures taken by the government, freed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly belonging to the Dalit and Adivasi communities, from generations of bondage. PIL was the instrument which made this possible.

By the 1980’s, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of PIL beyond the original intent of helping the poor to include broader issues of social concern like protection of the environment. Responding to pleas by environmental groups, it stepped in to prohibit mining operations and check pollution of waters by industries and of air by motor vehicles.

The 1990’s witnessed further expansion of PIL with judges allowing individuals or groups actuated by considerations of social good to raise issues of governance including corruption. Following the apex court’s example, high courts too began to entertain PILs.

Many foreign observers found the Indian judicial innovations praiseworthy. Zachary Holladay of the Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, who studied the working of PIL, said the Indian system could serve as a model for other developing countries in addressing the problems of marginalised and disadvantaged communities.

There were at all times conservative elements in the Indian judiciary who did not look upon PIL with favour, viewing it as judicial activism. From time to time they sounded notes of caution. Public interest litigants who approached courts without adequate preparations played into the hands of those who were looking for opportunities to discredit the system.

In the last few years both the Supreme Court and the high courts have come down heavily on several petitioners for misuse of PIL. In some cases they have fined petitioners and barred them from raising PIL in future.

Last week the apex court fined a trust and its chairman Rs2.5 million and barred them permanently from filing PIL. Over the past few years the trust had filed 64 PILs, all of which had failed.

Such punitive action can have a chilling effect on public interest litigants and throw the system into jeopardy. PIL has contributed most to the high reputation the Judiciary today enjoys as the people’s last resort. The court’s desire to free itself from the burden of frivolous petitions is understandable, but it should guard against throwing the baby with the bathwater.

02 May, 2017

Hindutva’s divisive preoccupations

BRP Bhaskar

As the Narendra Modi government heads for the fourth of its term of five years, its popularity is largely intact. However, the methods it employs to gain and retain electoral support remain problematical in view of the use of highly divisive tactics.

For a quarter century the Bharatiya Janata Party has been contesting parliamentary elections under the banner of National Democratic Alliance. Most of the NDA constituents share its Hindutva agenda but it also includes some which are committed to broader ideals but find it beneficial to be a BJP ally.

In the 2014 elections, the BJP secured an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha on its own, with only 31 per cent of the total votes polled. Thanks to the fragmented polity and the ‘first past the post’ principle that governs the electoral system, political parties have often secured a majority in the house with a minority of votes but never before did a party win enough seats to form the government with so small a vote share.

The credit for the BJP’s unprecedented electoral performance belongs to Modi, who vigorously campaigned all over the country and to the cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the prime mover of the Hindutva ideology, who were deployed extensively at the booth level in several states.

Although the BJP had majority, Modi and the party decided to keep the NDA intact and continue to work under its banner. One partner, Shiv Sena, which was Hindutva’s chief instrument in the western state of Maharashtra for decades, has been needling the BJP from time to time but Modi and party president Amit Shah have ignored the pinpricks.

The RSS has brought the Central and state administrations under its influence since Modi took office. The central universities which enjoyed a reputation as centres of excellence and liberal thought were among the first to come under its radar. The RSS-affiliated student organisation queered the pitch for central intervention by provoking conflicts with the leaders of the elected students unions and progressive elements like Ambedkarite groups.

When the attempt invited strong criticism, Modi gave Smriti Irani, who was presiding over the Ministry of Human Resources, to a less important charge. However, efforts to effect changes have continued in a less obtrusive manner.

In states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP gained power after 2014, breaking with the tradition the party followed in the past, hard core RSS leaders were chosen to head the government. This indicated that the RSS was no longer content to remain in the background.

Emboldened by the emergence of the RSS as a major power centre, shadowy Hindutva outfits resorted to violent activities in many states, including those under non-BJP governments, during the last three years. People were lynched to death in the name of eating beef or killing cows. The police have not been able to restrain the unruly elements or pursue the cases against them vigorously.

In a situation like the one in which the BJP is now placed, a leadership with qualities of statesmanship would have striven to strengthen its credentials as the ruling party in a democracy by reaching out to people outside its fold, especially the minorities and the marginalised sections, and enhance its appeal to them. But the Hindutva mindset is too narrow to permit the party to move in that direction.

Instead, it appears, the RSS-BJP combine is working on a strategy which aims at enhancing its vote share by mobilising more support from the Hindu fold. There is, of course, room for the BJP to raise its share of Hindu votes as the Hindus constitute close to 80 per cent of the population. But this will require intensification of communal polarisation, which can have disastrous consequences.

Reports indicate that the Central government has plans to push the use of Hindi in the south as part of an attempt at promoting national integration. The move will strengthen the BJP’s position in the Hindi-speaking states but it may produce a backlash elsewhere, particularly in the Tamil Nadu state.

The Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu has a history of defeating attempts to impose Hindi. In the 1930s its followers foiled the move by a pre-Independence government to promote Hindi by invoking the spirit of nationalism fostered by the freedom movement. They rose against the imposition of Hindi again in the 1960s and the 1980s and are sure to do so again, if necessary.

Modi needs to recognise that Hindutva’s divisive preoccupations pose a threat to his development agenda.  -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 2, 2017

25 April, 2017

India-China ties in a trough

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A year after President Pranab Mukherjee spoke of India-China relations as the defining partnership of this century and called upon governments of the two countries to jointly impart momentum to bilateral ties, there is no sign of a forward movement. On the contrary, mutual distrust is threatening to destroy the good work done after the 1961 hostilities over the disputed border.

Ahead of a visit to the border state of Arunachal Pradesh by Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1959, this month the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned that it could damage bilateral relations.

Arunachal Pradesh, which was administered by the British under the name of North East Frontier Agency, is now a full-fledged state with an area of about 84,000 square kilometres and a population of 1.38 million. China claims it is South Tibet. After India ignored the warning and the Dalai Lama went ahead with the visit, Beijing announced Chinese names for six Arunachal towns to reinforce its claim.

This was the Dalai Lama’s seventh visit since 1983 to Arunachal Pradesh, where the 17th century Tawang monastery, headquarters of the Kama-Kargyu sect of Tibetan Buddhists, is located. While China routinely objected to his visits, this is the first time it has followed up the protest with any step at all. P. Stobdan, a former diplomat, believes China only wants to discourage India from thinking it can use the Dalai Lama as leverage in the dealings between the two countries.

India-China relations are now in a trough now. Each side feels that the other is not sufficiently sensitive to its interests.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose neighbourhood policy is conditioned by the Hindutva perspective on Pakistan and terrorism, is peeved with China for blocking India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its attempt to get the UN to brand Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist.

China is suspicious of India’s evolving strategic relationship with the United States. Also, it is unhappy about India’s indifference to President Xi Jinping’s pet One Belt One Road project.

OBOR is a global network of roads, railways, pipelines and utility grids that will link China with South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia and through them to Europe. When completed, it will be the world’s largest platform for economic, social and cultural cooperation.

India’s reservations about OBOR stem primarily from its opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will run through Azad Jammu and Kashmir. CPEC is one of several corridors envisaged as part of OBOR. The corridors are expected to be dotted with energy and industrial clusters.

The Indian government initially cited lack of details about the elements of the project as a reason for its holding back. Last month an official spokesman spelt out its objection: “CPEC passes through Indian territory.”

The argument is, no doubt, valid but the objection comes too late. The 1,300-km Karakoram highway, which runs from Kashgar in the Xinjiang region of China to Abbotabad in Pakistan and will become part of CPEC, has been operational for about four decades already. India learnt of that road project only after work on it began in 1959.

India is yet to respond to China’s invitation to attend a meeting on OBOR which it has scheduled for May. The government must take an early decision in the matter, after weighing carefully the advantages that may accrue to the country from the project and the disadvantages that may result if it keeps out of it.

India’s absence will, no doubt, diminish OBOR’s worth as it is now the world’s fastest growing economy and one of the largest markets. But India needs to note that more than 60 countries with a combined GDP of $21 trillion have evinced interest in the project and it thus bids fair to be a success even without India. In fact, the chances are that circumstances may eventually compel India to join it so as to benefit from it.

An early positive decision may confer two advantages. It may lift India-China relations from the trough into which it has fallen. Many details of OBOR are still to be worked out. By joining the group before the details are filled in India may be able to play a role in shaping its course in a way beneficial to it.

India must not lose sight of the fact that it cannot secure its legitimate place in a reformed UN except with the concurrence of China, which is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. --Gulf Today, April 25, 2017.

18 April, 2017

Farmers need more than relief

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s farmers who have lived precariously for ages are paying a heavy price for the rapid growth of the national economy in the era of globalisation. More than 300,000 of them are believed to have taken their lives in distressing circumstances.

Factors that contributed to the worsening of farmers’ condition include credit constraints, cut in agricultural subsidies, rise in input costs and fall in the prices of produce. Many farmers switched from food grains to cash crops expecting higher returns but their hopes did not materialise.

The first steps towards economic liberalisation were taken by Manmohan Singh as finance minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government in 1991. According to a study report, during 1996-2003, on an average 15,000 farmers committed suicide each year. During 2004-2012, the figure rose to 16,000.

Agriculture is a state subject and the markets are regulated by state laws. Many states adopted a model law drafted by the Centre in 2003 to ensure fair prices to farmers. Middlemen who are able to exert influence on the supply chain defeated its purpose.

The Centre is now in talks with the states to draw up a new model Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act which will provide for a single licence and single-point levy of market fee at the state level. It envisages this as the first step towards a single licence and single-point levy of market fee at the national level.

While procedural reform can take its time, steps to provide relief for farmers in distress cannot wait. Appeals to the Centre by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who has toured affected regions in several states, have so far fallen on deaf ears. Betraying total lack of compassion for the suffering farmers, a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party dubbed Rahul Gandhi a ‘distress’ tourist.

The last time the Centre intervened directly in the issue was when Manmohan Singh’s first government announced a loan waiver and debt relief programme. It is believed to have benefited 42.8 million farmers and cost the exchequer Rs 700 billion. It probably helped the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to win a second successive term.

Earlier this month, the new BJP government of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state, announced waiver of crop loans of up to Rs 100,000 of small and marginal farmers in fulfilment of the party’s electoral promise. About 21 million people, constituting 92.5 per cent of the state’s farming community, are expected to benefit. The state government also decided to write off bad loans of about 700,000 farmers totaling Rs 56.30 billion.

While these steps will go a long way in relieving the distress of farmers, there is concern over the way they will impact the state’s finances, which were already facing a deficit of about Rs 500 billion.

The Centre allows the states to float bonds to cover the cost of debt relief programmes. However, lately the experience is that they do not attract investors. It thus becomes necessary for the Centre to bear a good part of the burden.

Loan waiver is only a palliative measure. It does not improve the farm economy. A World Bank study has shown that banks tend to move away from areas with high bailout percentages to those with lower percentages. They fear that waivers increase the tendency to default on loans as the borrowers believe a new government will bail them out.

The UP bailout has prompted farmers in other states to press their governments for similar relief measures.

Maharashtra’s BJP government has said it will study the UP scheme to see if the state can adopt it. Opposition parties in the state have been agitating for debt relief measures for some time.

In Tamil Nadu, which has been in the grip of drought for more than a year, the government decided last August to write off the loans that small and marginal farmers had taken from cooperative banks. It cost the state about Rs 58 billion. The big farmers who were left out moved the high court and won a favourable verdict.

The bailout did not end the misery of the state’s farmers. They are now staging demonstrations in New Delhi demanding water for their parched lands.

A large section of the farming community still depends on private money-lenders for their credit needs and the government’s debt relief measures do not benefit them.

Indian agriculture is plagued by chronic problems which call for more than palliative measures. The Centre needs to draw up a comprehensive programme, in consultation with the states, to make farming remunerative and sustainable. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 18, 2017.