By Ardhendu Shekhar Sarangi*
Five years back I had written a piece for this e-paper’s print cousin Sambad in Odia in which I had used the gloomy expression that the fact that a farmer had not committed suicide did not mean that everything with his life was fine. Given his grossly disproportionate income as compared to his non-farmer brother he had enough reasons to be highly depressed in a world in which purchasing power determined so much in life.
2004-05 was the latest year for which statistics relating to sectoral breakup of employment in Odisha was available then worked out based on the 65th round NSS data. According to this data, 59.8% of the working persons in the state were engaged in the agriculture sector in 2004-05. By that year, the share of agriculture in the GSDP had reached as low as 25.5%. Thus, while three fifth of the people earned their living from the agriculture sector, only a fourth of the GSDP was generated in that sector. This simply meant that the earning of an average Odia farmer was only 40% or two-fifth of the earning of an average Odia and only 21% or roughly one fifth of the earning of an average Odia non-farmer.
Employment data were not available for the period after 2004-05. I had ventured to suggest that the percentage of workers engaged in the agriculture sector in the rural areas who would have been able to move to the non-agriculture sectors over the five years till 2009-10 was bound to be negligible in the absence of growth of a labour-intensive industries sector. Since agricultural output and incomes had not risen and the share of agriculture in the GSDP had kept falling to reach 18.3% in 2009-10, I had suggested on the basis of the above assumption that the scenario was bound to be bleaker by 2010 than before. An average Odia farmer’s income in 2010 was about one third of an average Odia and about 15% of an average Odia non-farmer. If we take these facts into consideration, the relative deprivation suffered by the farming families of Odisha by the end of the first decade of this century can be easily appreciated.
Now, more recent NSS data is available. As established by the 71st round survey, the percentage of people earning their livelihood from the agriculture sector still remained at 60% in 2010-11 as guessed by us, there having been virtually no net shift of peasants or agricultural workers to other sectors which could have brought down the percentage of people in our state depending on agriculture [2011 Census figures give it as 61.8%]. Given the capital intensive nature of our growing industries and services sectors, there is no basis for believing that there would have been any significant reduction in the percentage of people depending on agriculture since then and it can be safely taken to be hovering around the same 60% even now. What has happened of the composition of the GSDP, on the other hand? The share of of the agriculture sector in Odisha’s GSDP has declined to a mere 15.4% in 2014-15 [State Govt.’s Economic Survey].
The implication of all this is horrendous. This means that today the earnings of an average household engaged in the farm sector has fallen to 25% or one fourth of that of an average Odia and stands at 11.75% or less than one eighth of an average non-farmer of Odisha. May I repeat what I had stated five years ago: given this grossly disproportionate income as compared to his non-farmer brother an Odia farmer has enough reasons to be highly depressed in a world in which purchasing power determined so much in life. Can any one honestly say that he does not have any apparent reason to commit suicide?
If suicides were not taking place with alarming frequency it was not because everything was alright; but because the social and psychological impact of these relative deprivations had not been fully felt by the victims of these gross disparities. These are being felt now and with disastrous effect.
Household incomes being lower in the agriculture sector is common knowledge; but the government and policy makers are perhaps not wholly aware of the extent to which these are lower and the size of the disparities in our state. The ostrich like attitude of the state government to the whole issue, not for a day but for decades, can perhaps be attributed to this. This apathy has resulted in the failure in developing a proper strategy for the reenrgisation of the farm sector of the state and finding other solutions to the problem of the poverty of our farmers.
The time to act is now.
The writer is a former Indian Administrative Service officer.
The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of www.odishasuntimes.com