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Transforming rural India

Transforming rural India

Rapid agriculture growth, complemented by a rapid rural employment growth, has always been the focus of India's policymakers. Mahatma Gandhi envisaged India as a Nation of self-sufficient, autonomous village republics. Land—the summum bonum of rural existence, along with agricultural structure, were the most faster-growing determinants of India's development. The highly skewed distribution of land was responsible for prevailing agricultural backwardness. As labour was the critical income generating asset of rural India, changes in agricultural holding structures were necessary to ensure the continued prosperity of the rural population. Accordingly, India's State policy had focused on State Governments formulating and implementing Land Reforms legislations. These included the Land Ceiling Act, the Tenancy Act, the Land Revenue Act and the broadly adopted land to the tiller policy. Surplus arable government lands were distributed to the poor and needy peasants for their livelihoods. These policies were envisaged to promote agricultural growth and alleviate rural poverty.

After the bank nationalisation in July 1969, a push was provided to the expansion of banking activities. It included the rapid expansion of bank branch network into rural areas and expansion of bank credit to agriculture and related activities. Priority sector lending targets and interest rates were introduced as a part of the social banking approach. The rural bank branch expansion significantly lowered the rate of rural poverty and increased non-agricultural growth. However, as time progressed, divergences emerged between the levels of development across different states. The richer and faster-growing states were better at reducing rural poverty while growth was volatile in the poorer states. The faster-growing states had formulated laws for the amalgamation of farm holdings into viable units for investments, productivity and growth. In the poorer states, the alienation of small and marginal farmers from their lands and their subsequent conversion to landless agricultural labour made them entirely dependent on the vagaries of the market. Large-scale labour migration had been witnessed in areas where rain-fed agricultural practices were prevalent. The richer states also attracted higher investments and had better progressed infrastructural development, which resulted in higher per capita incomes compared to the poorer states.
It was in this backdrop that the Indian State implemented a series of welfare programs for the rural population. These included the Desert Development Program, the Drought Prone Area Development Program and the Watershed Development Program. These programs were taken up in a decentralised participatory developmental model. The objective was to treat vast stretches of land areas with watershed treatment practices including the construction of check dams, development of pastures and promotion of improved animal husbandry practices. The second crop in rain-fed areas essentially meant higher farm incomes and lower migration of farm labour.
The Indian State also implemented several major direct beneficiary programs for asset generation, skill development, residential housing and employment generation. The Department of Rural Development implements the major schemes of the National Rurban Mission, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU GKY) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The implementation of the MGNREGA on a pan-India basis with assured employment on individual and community-based programs has resulted in significant employment and asset generation in the rural areas. The National Rurban Mission was launched in February 2016, as a new initiative for the development of a cluster of villages that preserve and nurture the essence of rural community life with a complete focus on equity and inclusiveness without compromising with the facilities which are perceived to be essentially urban in nature. The DDU GKY, which essentially focuses on the impoverished youth aged between 15 years and 35 years, is tasked with the objective of adding diversity to the incomes of the rural poor families while catering to the career aspirations of the rural youth.
Indian farmers have always been concerned about the availability of adequate credit at a reasonable cost and in a timely manner. One major step in this direction was financial inclusion. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana represents the National Mission for Financial Inclusion to ensure access to financial services. The Jan Dhan Yojana provided the bankers with the necessary confidence to promote credit culture across the deprived population which eventually resulted in significant increases in credit flows to the rural sector.
A democracy of India's size requires significant increases in their food production. The year 2016-17 witnessed the highest ever food grain production at 273.38 million tons, which is 6.37 per cent higher than the last five-year average production and 8.6 per cent higher than 2015-16. The government introduced the Soil Health Card Scheme (SHC) in 2015, to be issued on a bi-annual basis to all landholders of the country with the objective to conduct farm-level soil analysis. In July 2015, Government introduced the National Agricultural Market (E-NAM) to link 585 wholesale agriculture production marketing committees across the country, through a common e-platform. The portal has been made available in several Indian languages and has empowered the farmers with vast information dissemination. The State continued to make rapid strides in the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, covering all risks of the crop cycle and providing incentives for improved irrigation practices.
The Government's initiatives for empowering the farmers and improving the infrastructure at the village level have been largely successful in reducing poverty and enhancing education and healthcare indicators. The improvement in farm incomes and the transparency in subsidy transfers would enable the creation of a 21st century India that is dynamic with fresh, forward-looking perspective.
(The author is Chairman, Rajasthan Tax Board with additional charge of Chairman, Board of Revenue for Rajasthan. The views are strictly personal.)

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