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Why corporate takeover of agriculture, whose growth rate 'outpaced' industry, services?

By Dr Gian Singh* 

Financial data released by the National Statistical Office on February 26, 2021 have suggested a slight improvement (0.4 per cent) in the economic growth rate. This marks the end of the technical recession that had been going on during the first two quarters in the financial year (FY) 2020-21. 
During the first quarter of fiscal 2020-21 (April-June), the economic growth rate was reported to be (-)23.9 per cent,  now revised to (-)24.4 per cent; during the second quarter (July-September), the economic growth rate was (-)7.5 per cent. In the third quarter, it was 0.4 per cent, which offset the technical recession that emerged in the first two quarters. However, the situation is still remains dire.
Economic growth rate is projected to slow to (-)8 per cent for FY2020-21. During the three quarters of this financial year, the agricultural sector of the economy made a tremendous contribution. It recorded 3, 3.4 and 3.9 per cent growth rate, respectively.
While manufacturing and construction in the industrial sector returned to positive growth during the third quarter, the positive growth in this sector was in the case of large units, while the position of smaller units remained depressing. In the services sector finance, real estate, professional services, electricity, gas, and water supply returned to positive growth, though trade, hotels, transportation, and communications which could provide more employment remained in a state of crisis.
There has been a slight increase in household spending during the festive season, but the Covid-19 pandemic has left households strained in terms of employment and incomes due to ack of government support. At present, the growing number of victims of this pandemic seems to be leading to economic despair and adversely affect economic growth rate.
Economic growth figures are loud enough to make you think seriously. Even at such times, the rulers, without leaving any stone unturned to give false consolations to the common man, deliberately use the services of pro-government and pro-corporate economists to weave a web of statistics in which the common man is confused.
Claims to fill their stomachs were easy to refute. Despite the fact that these economists are well aware of the reality, they have been fabricating data and conducting conclusion oriented studies in the hope of getting some petty meaningless favours for themselves. They are seen openly propagating these conclusion oriented studies beyond their normal capacity.
Sometimes the concepts of economic growth and economic development are used interchangeably by some people, which is not fair. Economic growth rate represents an increase or contraction in GDP, while economic development reflects the living standards of the people. 
The main determinants of economic development are the level of literacy and education of the people, the level and standard of health services including the number of doctors and other paramedical staff per 1,000 persons and the standard of services rendered by them, the availability of housing and their readiness, various aspects of the environment and the average age of the people.
A positive or negative economic growth rate in a country is said to indicate the economic progress of that country. Positive economic growth can be significant, but far more important knows how and for what it is doing. 
If the economic growth rate of a country is higher than the population growth rate of that country, then it can be considered good only if it reduces the economic and other disparities amongst different sections of the people and improves the living standards of the common people. In this regard, it is also important to know that in doing so, the interests of future generations must be taken into account.
The performance of the agricultural, industrial and services sectors of the country's economy during the first three quarters of the financial year (April-June, July-September, and October-December) shows that during this period the economic growth rate of agricultural sector is excellent. The ray of hope of the economy is only agriculture sector.
The pandemic of Covid-19 has made it clear to the world that human beings can survive without cars, bungalows, planes, phones and the like, but the lifeline of humanity is only agriculture. Given this fact and the performance of various sectors of the economy during the first three quarters of the current financial year in the country, it is incumbent upon the rulers of the country to ensure support to the agricultural sector and its hard-working farmers, farm labourers and rural artisans.
Special attention should be paid to protect the interests of the agriculture sector. In fact, in 2020 the country's rulers went in the opposite direction and enacted three agricultural laws. With regard to these laws, the Central Government is claiming and propagating that these laws will double the income of farmers and increase the welfare of consumers.
From the ongoing dialogue in this regard, it is clear that these laws will be against the interests of farmers, farm labourers, rural artisans and consumers and will also pose a threat to the food security of the country. Realizing these facts, the farmers' organizations had urged the Central Government not to enact these laws. 
After the enactment of these laws, the farmers' organizations have been constantly struggling for their repeal. This struggle was started by the farmers 'organizations of Punjab and other farmers' organizations of the country joined the struggle.
After the dialogue on these agricultural laws, other sections of the society joined in this struggle and in the present times it has become a mass struggle struggle. Although at some times there were strained relations between the farmers and the farm labourers on certain issues, the farm labourers have joined the farmer struggle to the best of their ability keeping in view their larger interests.
Corporate agriculture is bound to displace agriculturally dependent farmers, farm labourers, rural artisans, other sections
Given the tremendous contribution made by the agricultural sector to the country's economic growth during the Covid-19 epidemic, it is the duty of the Central government to provide all possible assistance to all sections dependent on the sector for their livelihood.
But the Central government is helping the corporate world to take over the agricultural sector through the three agricultural laws enacted during 2020 and its other policies. With the full implementation of these laws, corporate agriculture will come into being. Corporate agriculture is bound to displace agriculturally dependent farmers, farm labourers, rural artisans and other sections related to the sector.
The serious consideration in this regard is where the workers of these sections will get new employment and social security after this displacement. The potential for new employment in the industrial and services sectors is negligible and will continue to decline in the years to come. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the social security claims of workers in both these sectors. Already about 50 per cent of the country's population, which depends on agriculture for their livelihood, is being given only about 16 per cent of the national income.
Research studies conducted in Punjab and other parts of the country have revealed that almost all marginal and small farmers, farm labourers and rural artisans are born into poverty and debt, live their hard life in poverty and debt, leaving behind the mountain of debt and abject poverty, they either die a death of depravation or when all hopes for their lives are dashed, they are on the verge of suicide.
With the exception of the large farmers, the marginal, small, semi-medium and medium farmers and farm labourers are so indebted that they are not even in a position to pay interest on the loans. These sections also have to take loans to keep the stove burning for only two meals a day. The worst of these categories are the farm labourers and the rural artisans as they have no means of production other than selling their labour.
According to the 66th round of the National Sample Survey, 92.8 per cent of the country's workers were in informal employment during 2009-10. The percentage of informally employed workers has increased further during the last 10 years as the axe is being sharpened on the public sector. Informal workers remain uncertain about whether they will be able to find employment for the coming day.
It is very important to know a very sad fact regarding the general consumers that the Niti Aayog has suggested for reduction of food subsidies to reduce the fiscal deficit. If this is done then the already poor condition of ordinary consumers will get worse. Doing so would be neither in the interest of ordinary workers nor of the country.
To accelerate the country's economic growth, the government needs to formulate and implement policies that ensure a minimum level of income for the agriculturally dependent classes and the informally employed workers so that they can earn a living to meet their basic needs in a respectful manner.
To do so, the corporate world-friendly economic development model must be replaced by the people-friendly and nature-friendly economic development model. In such a model, tax rates on the rich will have to be increased and tax collection will have to be ensured. It is important to establish and develop public sector undertakings and regularly monitor and regulate the private sector entities.
---
*Former Professor, Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala. A version of this article has been published in The Citizen

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