India’s Obsession for ‘GDP Growth’ Is Killing Farmers

With an ongoing petition on farmer suicides in the Supreme Court, the debate appears to be heating up again – only to fade away much too soon! And, poor farmers would continue to end their lives.

Citing National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Union agriculture minister recently informed the Parliament that 11,400 farmers committed suicide in 2016, compared with 12,602 such deaths in 2015.

The minster also said that in 2016-17, Rs 3,560 crore was paid towards premium under the crop insurance scheme and Rs 3,548 crore was claimed by the farmers. The figures for 2015-16 were Rs 3,760 crore and 4,710 crore, respectively.  He also talked about various Government initiatives and that Rs 10 lakh crore are allotted for farm credit in the current year.

Needless to say, most of this money will go in the pockets of companies supplying fertilizers, tractor, seeds, pesticides and so on. The farmers would remain where they are – in poverty! And yes, the GDP would get bigger!! All government allocations are basically designed to expand the gross domestic product (GDP). It’s all about economic expansion by helping companies, little about farmers and their wellbeing.

Statisticians playing with the NCRB data come to the obvious conclusion that suicides in the farming sector are largely due to economic distress than those in the non-farming community, except for Maharashtra and Kerala. They conclude that it is a regional problem, not a country-wide phenomenon.  Other experts who study demographic surveys tell us that farmers are not the most suicide-prone group in the country. But those farmers who committed suicide needed counseling more than economic palliatives!!

Really? Would that clear their debt burden or increase their income?

Such analyses are hallucinations of chart master ‘experts’ who have never actually walked on a paddy field. They are designed more for media debates in AC studios of TV channels; if at all a channel finds any commercial value in it.  For these number crunchers, farmer suicide statistics at best provide wonderful topics for MPhil or PhD thesis. But neither the government nor the ‘experts’ talk about the root cause of farmers’ suicide that has been going on for 2 decades. Thus, they have no solution.

GDP Centric’ Development

Since the economic liberalization in the early 1990s and weakening of license Raj, industrial sector became prominent for the government. Today this sector contributes the most to GDP growth. As a result, the share of farming sector in the GDP gets smaller each year. Currently, the farming sector contributes only about 15 percent towards the GDP. Moreover, the farmers who kill themselves due to financial distress are among the poorest.  Their contribution to GDP is only miniscule. They are also voiceless and choice less. Why would any policy maker care about them?

Moving from farming based economy to industrial economy necessarily involves shifting more and more people for the farming community of the villages to the industrial sector to become cheap industrial labor force. It also means displacing the tribal communities from their mineral ridden lands and converting them into industrial labor. In reality, farmers and tribals are the biggest victims of India’s GDP growth story since past two decades.

Some months ago, some half-brained pseudo-economists were debating this topic on a TV channel devoted to capital market. One ‘expert’ said something implying that: in order to have ‘lowest cost’ industrial labor, it is important that farming labors and tribals should be displaced from where they live and be forced to migrate to distant towns where they become rootless.

Such brain-dead intellectuals know nothing about human wellbeing, human dignity and what ‘development’ is really about. Their task becomes much easier as ‘GDP growth’ becomes the only national obsession. Unfortunately, we live in a copy cat country that believes in adopting western concepts without Indianization.

Why GDP Growth is So deceptive

The GDP is a pure economic number – the gross tally of products and services bought and sold. Things which aren’t sold, say household work, do not contribute towards the GDP calculation, though they add value to people’s lives. The reason why GDP is so deceptive is bad things can increase it and good things can decrease it.

Natural disasters like earthquake and flood are bad for people. But they increase the GDP because of the cost associated with repairs, clean up and reconstruction. Fast food is another great GDP booster!! As people develop taste for fast food they begin to develop all types of health trouble. It means more visits to doctors and more expenditure on medicines. It means bigger income for hospitals and pharma companies – GDP gets boosted!

Good things lower the GDP!

Imagine if people start practicing yoga, stop eating fast-food and eat only healthy diet. Then they would remain in good health and rarely fall ill. This would mean less business for doctors, hospitals and pharma companies. It would shrink the economy and lower the GDP – economy is depressed!!

If countries evolve some mechanism to eliminate conflicts and wars, the arms industry would collapse. It would badly hurt the GDP numbers!  Likewise if people become good citizens and stop committing crimes, there will be less expenditure on police, jail staff, lawyers and courts. This will also reduce the GDP, but good for people!

A Question: If the GDP is growing at healthy rate of 6-7 percent per annum, why farmers’ suicide not decreasing?

The answer is: GDP is just an economic number; it is not a measure of people’s wellbeing.

Development is a multidimensional process, of which GDP growth is just a dominant parameter. Deception crops up when GD growth alone is presented as development. This is exactly what has happened in India.

Solution lies in creating a better composite indicator of development. Such a composite development index can be easily created following the ideas behind the construct of multidimensional poverty index (MPI).

I hope someone in the NITI elite group is thinking along this line.


You may like to explore further

Why “Development” should Focus on People, Not Economy
Why Is India So Obsessed with GDP Growth?

About Goodpal

I am a firm believer in healthy people (mind and body both), healthy societies and healthy environment. Please feel free to comment, share and broadcast your views -- I like rational and intellectual discussions. Thanks for stopping by. Have a Good Day!
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