Rural India is our true wealth
Enough of announcements... Now it’s time to do something..! Irrigation, healthcare and education are the basic problems of the villages
Vijay Darda : The BJP government has made several important announcements in its last full Budget, especially for the villages and the farmers. It’s a good development. A majority of India’s population lives in the villages and most of them are dependent on agriculture and hence it is quite natural that sufficient attention should be paid for their betterment. The announcements have been made by the government and we must also trust our government, but the biggest question in my mind at this point of time is: ‘how will these promises be fulfilled?’ The question has cropped up because the announcements were made in the past too, but what was the result?
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has announced in the Budget that the government will spend Rs. 2,600 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana in the next financial year. Is this amount sufficient? You will be surprised to know that a minimum of Rs. 4 lakh crore is needed to complete the incomplete irrigation projects across the country. It goes without saying that the target of irrigation will not be achieved. From the statistical point of view, India’s geographical area is 32.8 crore hectares. Out of this, 16.2 crore hectares of land is under cultivation. Of this, only 4.5 crore hectares of land has adequate irrigation facilities. Even if the cultivable land with minimum irrigation facilities are added to it, the total irrigated land does not exceed 8 crore hectares. Clearly, most of the farmers are dependent on rain for agriculture. The lakes are drying up. The water level in the well is depleting. This has hit farming hard and the farmer is sinking in debt, which is the biggest cause for farmers’ suicides. How will the farmer grow foodgrain if there are no irrigation facilities?
If any government, irrespective of the party, wants to change the rural landscape of India, it will have to take care of the irrigation first. Unfortunately, the irrigation projects became a means of loot. Leaders and bureaucrats became richer. Who will check this loot? Hundreds of irrigation projects are lying incomplete today. Their cost has increased manifold. Who will punish the offenders? The government will have to take drastic steps in this direction and complete the incomplete projects. There is no clear provision for this in the Budget.
So far, there is no account of the amount of food consumption in the country and the amount of foodgrains we need to store for the future? Which foodgrain we have to export and which foodgrain we have to import? If this data is available, the government can tell the farmers to sow a particular crop in their farms. But who cares! There is no one to guide the farmers on anything. In such a situation, how can you expect to improve the farm yield? I saw during my recent visit to Israel how that small country has revolutionised the agriculture. Can we not revolutionise our agriculture? We can, but we need to adopt right attitude and perseverance. Our system clearly lacks this.
The Budget announcement to raise the minimum support price (MSP) to a minimum of 1.5 times of the production cost is a welcome move. The M S Swaminathan-headed National Commission on Farmers had made this recommendation in 2006. After the Budget presentation, Prof Swaminathan has urged the government to make it clear whether the announcement has been made under the same formula. The question has been raised as Arun Jaitley made this announcement only in case of those crops whose MSP was not declared earlier. He has sought to know whether this hiked MSP would be applicable to crops like paddy and bajra? I feel the air should be cleared in the interest of the farmers.
Now just look at the condition of healthcare in the villages! Apparently, the government has opened health centres in some villages but do they have doctors? Compounders and nurses run most of these health centres. Actually the doctors do not want to go to the villages because there are no amenities. Even if they go to the villages, they return to the city in the evening. The doctors have little to do as there are no equipment at these centres nor are there any arrangements. Since there is no arrangement for potable water in the villages, and water in the tube wells and wells have been contaminated, the stomach, liver, kidney and skin diseases have started taking toll on the health of people in rural areas. People rush to the city for treatment.
Even in the cities, the condition of government hospitals is pathetic and therefore, private hospitals are exploiting the patients. Almost 83 per cent of the total expenditure on health in India is going to private sector. I have repeatedly demanded that it should be made compulsory for the government officials, politicians and their families to seek medical treatment in government hospitals. If this happens, the condition of government hospitals will improve. The central government has announced the world’s largest health insurance scheme in this Budget. It was announced that this insurance scheme will benefit 10 crore families, or about 50 crore people, but there was no word in the Budget where the money will come from?
If the condition of rural India is to be improved, the government has to pay attention to education. There are many schools where there are no sufficient number of teachers. School buildings are shabby. The atmosphere is not conducive to study and teach. There are 300 students in a class of standard X in some villages in Arunachal. Even if the class is divided into three separate ones, each one is still left with 100 students. And if there is no teacher and a good school building, one can imagine the quality of education being imparted there. There are many teachers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who can not teach anything. In fact, unless we improve the state of affairs vis-a-vis education in the villages, neither will we get skilled youth nor will the condition of our villages improve!
Before I conclude
Our young cricketers have once again enhanced the honour of Indian tricolour by winning the ICC U-19 World Cup. India is the only country to have won this World Cup the fourth time. I congratulate the entire U-19 team and hope that the players of this team will continue to win accolades for the country in future.