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From the PM, for the Drylands

WEEKLYECONOMIC AND POLITICAL From the PM, for the Drylands At its 93rd session the Indian Science Congress returned to the theme of rural development after a gap of 30 years. The timing is significant. For the first time in more than three decades, foodgrain production grew slower than population during the 1990s. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide across the country in the last few years. According to the UNDP

January 14, 2006

WEEKLYECONOMIC AND POLITICAL

From the PM, for the Drylands

A
t its 93rd session the Indian Science Congress the much neglected issue of soil health enhancement that returned to the theme of rural development after a has a critical bearing on farm productivity of the poorest gap of 30 years. The timing is significant. For the farmers; water harvesting, water conservation and sustainfirst time in more than three decades, foodgrain production able and equitable use of water, which has to be at the heart grew slower than population during the 1990s. Thousands of this effort, especially in the drylands; access to affordable of farmers have committed suicide across the country in credit and to crop and life insurance that needs urgent focus the last few years. According to the UNDP’s 2005 Human after the unending spate of suicides; development and Development Report, more than 25 lakh children die in dissemination of appropriate technologies; and improved India every year due to a variety of avoidable reasons. The opportunities, infrastructure and regulations for marketing. 55th round of the National Sample Survey shows a To this the prime minister has thoughtfully added applidramatic decline in the rate of employment generation in cation of science to animal husbandry. This is of greatest the 1990s. A major reason for the low rate of employment relevance to the landless, dalits and pastoral communities. generation was the decline in the employment elasticity of The focus of scientific research and social mobilisation agricultural growth, which slid from 0.70 in 1983-94 to needs to be on the requirements of these sections of society. only 0.01 in 1994-2000. The implementation of such a programme requires urgent

The prime minister’s inaugural address at the Congress action through a National Rainfed Areas Authority that the showed an acute awareness of this crisis. Speaking of prime minister spoke about in his address to the nation last the “agricultural growth plateau”, Manmohan Singh independence day. Such an authority must be professionally acknowledged that the “technologies and strategies run with clear accountability for performance. It needs to unleashed by the first green revolution have run their course”. be provided great operational autonomy. The Parthasarathy He spoke of the need for a second green revolution with a committee set up by the ministry of rural development is special focus on dryland agriculture and small and marginal apparently working out the details of such a proposal. This farmers. The 1990s saw negative rates of growth of output needs urgent attention at the highest levels of decision-making. of all dryland crops – not just coarse cereals and pulses, The prime minister’s emphasis in his speech on equity, but oilseeds as well. The prime minister drew attention to sustainability and decentralisation of development and what some regard as the single most important macro-governance was refreshing. What is required is the locationeconomic statistic of the Indian economy – the share of the specific application of these principles, which have to be working population dependent on agriculture has shown a the building blocks for his “New Deal to Rural India”. Within remarkable stability when compared to the share of agri-this, his mention of interlinking of rivers struck a jarring culture in national income that has declined rapidly since note. There was a call for a more informed debate on the independence. As the prime minister said “the only sensible issue to ensure “ecologically sustainable and economically response to this trend is to create productive employment affordable utilisation of river waters”. Such a debate would opportunities in rural areas”. He called upon the scientists have to begin by recognising that the scheme is estimated to devise appropriate and affordable, labour-using techno-to cost around Rs 5,60,000 crore. Worse, it could be an logies for energy and water, especially designed for farmers ecological disaster. Respected scientists explain that the of drought-prone regions. The emphasis on solar energy and presence of a low-salinity, low-density layer of water helps biomass in the prime minister’s speech was heartening. maintain high sea-surface temperatures in the Bay of Bengal.

Manmohan Singh strongly endorsed the five-point It is the consequent development of a low-pressure system

programme suggested by the M S Swaminathan-headed that intensifies summer monsoon activity in the Bay of

National Commission on Farmers. This includes addressing Bengal. Shutting off the flow of water could threaten this

low-salinity layer with grave long-term consequences for climate and rainfall in the subcontinent, endangering the livelihoods of a vast population. To move ahead on the river-linking programme without sound and credible scientific data on the monsoon system that takes into account all possible air-sea-land-life interactions, would indeed be foolhardy. The prime minister would be welladvised to concentrate on the principles he outlined in his address and avoid rushing into ideas lacking scientific credibility. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly January 14, 2006

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