The Pune Metro could cost a whopping `15,000 crore.Touting it as an achievement are economists and policy makers, making one wonder if development economics taught in top academic institutions are totally divorced from the grassroots that, in India’s case, lies in the rural countryside. Where is the rural logic in development planning is what one may legitimately ask. Is there no inclusive growth matrix against which major investments ought to be measured? Should the large populace in the countryside be accused of being churlish if it does not jump to assess the many benefits of the Pune Metro but wonder, instead, what a similar quantum of resources could deliver to the farm sector and India’s prosperity or, for that matter, what is happening to the allocated sums for the farm sector?
Even as crops like maize and moong are being harvested, most crops are selling below MSP and the government is conveniently looking the other way. For crops like paddy, procurement at MSP is only happening in limited regions. When objectives get manipulated, lofty promises of doubling farm income or job creation become impossible to deliver. Subsequent frustration can only force the current Indian leadership to dole out populist promises as done by past UPA regimes.
A primary reason, amongst the many, for farmer debt is individual ownership of farm equipment. Around 80 per cent of the farmers are too small to make optimum use of machinery. The annual interest servicing cost and loan repayment instalment is more than the annual farmer income. If farm machinery hiring services were made available to farmers, the gain would be manifold. The capital cost on equipment would be lower by 80 per cent; productivity would increase by 20 per cent on account of better machinery without any corresponding increase in input; and seed quantity used per acre would be lower. These gains cannot be overestimated and one is not even looking at the political windfall!
Bharat Krishak Samaj has advocated for farm machinery custom hiring centres for over five years — and effectively so — because the central government started the ‘Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization’ programme. Different states have modified it and a subsidy of up to 75 per cent (centre and state component) is available to those who start farm machinery service hiring centres. A `25 lakh subsidy to each centre would help start 60,000 custom hiring centres; one for every 10 villages across India. In this era of jobless growth, apart from enormous savings on the farm, the investment would create 60,000 rural start ups with entrepreneurs offering farm machinery on hire employing over half a million operators and mechanics.
Without stakeholder participation, policy objectives get lost as the fine print is deviously tweaked to benefit private companies. The original policy allowed one centre for one individual but states have removed the clause and tractor/farm machinery manufacturers (including multinational corporations) have signed deals with state governments to open hundreds of centres whereby they get up to 75 per cent subsidy on retail value (unbelievably set by themselves) for their own equipment. This practically translates to the ‘service centre’ being fully funded by public money. It is blasphemy, to say the least; unethically allowing machinery manufacturing companies to set such centres with public money. Meanwhile states are opening government-owned centres, where utilization is less than 10 per cent, which must stop forthwith.
Returning to the Pune Metro, one crucial reason why the Metro is required is that farming is unviable and farmers are migrating to cities in hordes and city infrastructure keeps falling short. Alternative investments in rural areas that generate prosperity and jobs are the best way to keep cities smart. Rather than control the problem of rural poverty, policy makers are wasting money to stem the consequences