Poll season is about the strangest of radio ads. While driving to work this morning, I was surprised to hear a BJP ad for the Haryana Assembly elections that directly addressed the issue of State-sponsored land grab by developers. In the ad, a Haryanvi farmer talks about how the government has used the ruse of wrongly declaring fertile lands to be infertile to hand land over to developers, thus disenfranchising farmers and leaving them out of the development process. Another ad in the same campaign talks about the challenges farmers face to access water for irrigation. Clearly, BJP is aggressively wooing the rural voter in Haryana. Which is all well and good.
What intrigues me is the implication that the BJP, if elected, will NOT develop agricultural land if it is fertile! Is that even possible for a State that seems to have put most of its eggs into the urbanization basket over the past few years? Leveraging its border with Delhi seems to be an important objective for the State from its recent planning documents.
Of course, Haryana has had a Congress government and these policies could, in theory, change if a new government were to come to power. But, as a colleague cynically quipped, if the BJP were to rule then the land taken from the farmer might go to a Reliance instead of DLF, with nothing really changing for the farmer!
We see a general disillusionment with agriculture across India and a decline of the farm sector, but in Haryana, farming is culturally ingrained. Land and farming are a very strong part of the identity of the Haryanvi people. I’m no expert, but perhaps the State has the opportunity to re-focus on the agri sector, for which it needs to think about compact, transit-oriented, well-planned cities instead of the sprawling, poorly conceived urban stretches we see when we drive around the State.
The first ever UN Human Development report for Africa released today. And the big discussion was about food security. Amid emotional statements ["History is not destiny, Africans are not fated to starve," - Tegegnework Gettu, UNDP Africa Director], the report present positive case studies as well [Malawi went from food deficit to a 1.3 million tonne surplus in two years, thanks to a massive seed and fertilizer subsidy programme].
However, food security is something we in India need to get very worried about. India has a malnutrition problem that surpasses that of Sub Saharan Africa! One in every three malnutritioned children in the world lives in India, as per UNICEF!
It seems to me we need another Green Revolution in India. Born in the ’70s, I remember the euphoria the nation felt when it was finally able to stop its dependence on imports to feed its citizens and was even able export food grains way back in 1978-79. The main feature of the Green Revolution was to change the practice of agriculture from a one-crop to a two-crop system, thereby stepping up productivity hugely on the same amount of cultivated land. That euphoria still has most Indians thinking we shouldn’t really be worrying about food production, instead focusing on better storage and distribution. And while improvements across the food chain are imperative, production is still a huge issue that has considerable socio-economic consequences, considering the majority of Indians are still dependent on the land for a living!
We get the impression that persistent droughts in India in the winter months and the deluge of rain that follows, thus ruining crops, is some fallout of climate change that we have little short term control over. However, Sunita Narain, in a Business Standard editorial yesterday, attributes the problem largely to poor management of resources like water and land. Water management is ever more urgent, she argues, because climate change has made rainfall unpredictable. Besides the convoluted logic (or lack of it) of the various government schemes that address irrigation, basic actions to recharge groundwater and to increase the efficiency of water usage are not taken. To add to our woes, India’s agricultural land is shrinking owing to the pressure of other uses, not in the least the persistent onslaught of urbanization and industrial growth.
So when I scream at my children to not leave the tap running when they brush their teeth or for leaving food uneaten on their plate (because there are zillion starving kids who really need that morsel of food; however jaded the line, it is the absolute truth!), I’m not entirely unjustified in doing so!