Part-1 can be read here
Punjab is an agricultural state, but surprisingly, we do not have any agriculture policy yet. Punjab State Farmers and Farm Workers Commission tried to formulate two agricultural policies. The fact that even after years these agricultural policies are still lying in the form of a draft. Similarly, Punjab does not have any industrial policy either. There is no policy of how our natural resources can be utilized; how jobs can be provided to our youths. All the political parties are silent on these pressing issues.
The biggest problem in Punjab today is unemployment. Neither agriculture, nor industrial nor service sector is providing employment. Work opportunities in agriculture are declining due to mono-culture of two-crop (wheat-paddy) cycle and mechanization. In Punjab, an average farm worker gets work for only two and a half months in a year. Industrial and services sector is also not creating sufficient jobs. Surprisingly, six industrial units are shutting down per day in the state. The public sector is being privatized. Vacant posts are not being filled up in the public sector. The present government had in 2017 promised to give a job to one person per family for fifty five lakh families. Before that, in 2012, the SAD-BJP alliance government had promised employment to ten lakh youths. Current chief minister Charanjeet Singh Channi has promised to give one lakh jobs every year. Shiromani Akali Dal has promised that they will create a 75% quota for local Punjabis in the private sector. Despite all these promises, the unemployment rate in Punjab is 7.8%, above the national average of 6.1%. In reality, our economy has been following a jobless growth model in which employment elasticity is nearly zero. This is the reason that there is a huge increase in immigration to foreign countries and drug addictions among the youths of Punjab. People won’t get employment until we are free from the claws of the corporate sector and the public sector is not developed. The promises of providing jobs by the political parties cannot be addressed unless the economy is freed from corporate control. It will need massive investment in the public sector.
Our agricultural sector is being handed to Ambani-Adani by bringing new laws in the name of farm reforms. Today, American, Chinese and European companies are buying fertile agricultural land at large scale in different parts of the world. Adani Agri Logistics Limited has already made huge investments in building massive storage (Silo) infrastructure in various states of the country. The government will definitely try to bring back the repealed laws in some form or other to protect the investments of the crony-capitalists. Many BJP leaders have already made statements to this effect.
There is a debt of Rs. 3 lakh crores on Punjab government which means a debt of Rs. 1 lakh per head. On one hand the government is in debt and on the other hand the people are also stuck in huge debt. There is an average debt of Rs. 10 lakh on each farmer family and a debt of Rs. 80 thousand on each farm workers’ family. So it is a matter to ponder upon as to where all the income of Punjab is going. This can be explained with the fact that the gap of income inequality is rapidly growing wider in the state as well as in the whole country. Most of the income and wealth generated is being concentrated in the hands of only a few rich families. With rising inequality, the chances of these rich families influencing government policies by funding the political parties during elections become high.
We are well aware that agriculture in India is heavily affected by the policies of the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The WTO agreement on agriculture forces the government to reduce subsidies on agriculture. The farmers’ movement has demanded repeal of the three new agriculture laws and also legal guarantee for getting minimum support price (MSP) for the crops. The Union government has repealed the laws but has till now maintained silence on the MSP demand. The policies of the WTO and pressure of the corporates are preventing the legal guarantee of MSP for the crops. This is why none of the political parties have made the legal guarantee of MSP for all crops an election issue.
It is also clear from the latest Union Budget that the government has withdrawn itself from investing in agriculture. The percentage of total expenditure in the budget for the agricultural sector has been reduced; as well the amount earmarked for crop procurement also has been reduced. Similarly the allocation for MNREGA scheme for the rural poor has also been reduced. But the political parties have not made these an issue in their election campaign.
The total government investment in Punjab’s economy is half of the national average. That is why there is no growth in the public sector and few new jobs are being created. In fact, the development of the economy requires a model in which the forward and backward linkages of agriculture and industry are developed under the cooperative sector. This model should be developed according to our own resources, our own skills and our own requirements. But this can be done only by a pro-people government, not by parties financed by the corporates. With the left farmer organisations opting out of electoral battle, there is little hope of things changing in Punjab, whoever among the contesting parties forms the next government after March 10 in the state.
The author is Principal Economist, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. Views are personal.