Lack of foresight
The share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in agriculture is 15 percent and 60 percent of India’s population shares that measly amount. In the financial year 1994, agriculture generated 28 percent of the country’s GDP, and 62 percent of total employment; by 2010, these figures had drastically fallen to 15 percent and 53 percent respectively. It’s accurate to conclude that the decrease in agriculture’s share of total GDP was far greater than the decrease in the number of people the sector supports.
This in a nutshell, is the sad reality of Indian agriculture. While the Indian government tries to go hammer and tongs to promote its ‘Make in India’ campaign, it resolutely shies away from addressing the underlying issues plaguing Indian agriculture as a whole. The Government’s ill thought out push to promote manufacturing is perhaps best illustrated in its step-motherly treatment towards Indian agriculture.
Between the 2014 and 2015 financial years, spending on irrigation has come down from Rs 1,900 crore to a paltry Rs 600 crore; and funding for rural development has dropped from Rs 80,043 crore to Rs 71,642 crore. This fall in investment is ironic considering that due to reduced rural-urban mobility, it is critical that the rural sector be able to absorb a greater number of those who want jobs. While there has been no large scale migration of workforce from agriculture, whatever migration has taken place has been to the construction sector. This is because a large segment of the populace, which abandons agriculture in search for greener pastures, simply does not have the skill sets to be employed in the manufacturing sector.
The transition from farm to factory is not as easy as the present government is making it out to be. One way the government can ease the transition from farm to factory is to try and improve the skills of rural migrants, who frequently travel to cities in search of stable paying jobs. Concurrently, the government needs to address the healthcare needs of this segment of the population. An ill and sickly workforce is not much productive or useful in the long run.
The logical conclusion which follows from this is that, if the ‘Make in India’ initiative were to indeed lead to a boom in jobs in the manufacturing sector, then the only way the government can ensure that there are capable hands ready to take on said jobs is by investing in rural healthcare and education. It is interesting to note that the present government has actually cut its expenditure on health by a significant percentage.
Meanwhile, rural education is a joke, with class five students being unable to do basic subtraction problems and class eight students being unable to do basic division problems(according to the latest ASER report). It is only by investing considerably in the human resource base in rural areas that the government can even dream of shifting the rural workforce to manufacturing jobs. Hopefully, this investment won’t be a flawed policy correction which arrives too little, too late.