The shift from the city to a town has been interesting. After two months of living the lockdown in Bengaluru, the remaining weeks ahead will be lived in a small town. The threat of coronavirus has affected the town in a different way. Lower population density has meant that people have managed to keep physical distance and yet managed to go about their lives in as much as a lockdown can enable. In comparison to the town, the villages around our farm have been further away from the threat of the virus. The district headquarters has set up a very competent tertiary care facility to attend to Covid-19 cases in the district. The fever clinics are also well resourced.
The conversation today was about the wide gap between what the politicians say and what actually happens on the ground. A farm needs an electricity connection to install a motor pump and irrigate crops. The owner applies to the electricity department of the state for the connection. The application is processed in several months and the connection is granted. For the actual connection to happen though, there lies an uncertain wait. A senior minister of the state government announces that the electricity department must expedite all the connections and not make the farmers wait. In this pandemic-led slowdown, agriculture and farmers are seen as important for growth. Their needs, it is assumed, must be prioritised. It is surely prioritised in speeches of the politicians. But the state’s treasury is out of money that is required to support the farmers. The electricity department awaits funds for installation of transmission lines and transformers.
Rural India exists in this wide gap. It has made a life for itself living in the empty space that lies between the claims of this country’s leaders and the reality of underfunded departments manned by apathetic bureaucrats.
This morning I cycled the 30 km distance to the farm. The headwinds made the ride a bit of work. Riding through the villages, it felt that the region has existed in a time warp of its own. The sounds and rhythms of the farms were the same. These summer days see an early start at farm work and people look forward to winding up by noon. The sun is punitive beyond that. The usual preparatory work before monsoon and kharif season is on. Weak jets of water coming out of sprinklers are irrigating some farms. I wonder if the villages have bothered much about what’s going on in the world. Here, things seem to go on as they do at other times.
At the electricity department’s sub-division office that oversees farms of our region an option is suggested – that electricity connection can be had at your own cost too. If the government funded connection is awaited, then it can take anywhere from a month to a year.
The economic slowdown has been severe. The planners hope that the rural economy will be able to keep the country afloat if it is supported well and the farming season that lies ahead leads to expected productivity. However, many forget that there lies a very long distance between the intentions announced in New Delhi or the state capitals and the farmer who is taking a decision on what to sow or how to irrigate, in a small village like ours. Ashok Gulati at ICRIER observed that, ‘As a majority of Indian industries and sectors are now feared to plummet into negative territory, agriculture may be the only one to register growth this year.’ RBI Governor, Shaktikanta Das called agriculture a ‘beacon of hope’ as the sector registered an increase in foodgrain production by 3.7 per cent.
Meanwhile, farm work in our cluster of villages has been as usual. The reservoir in the region has much higher levels of water at this time of the year than the previous. It is the hottest and driest few weeks. The monsoon forecast for the season ahead is also good. Backed by good rain, the soil and farmers will no doubt do the best that they can. What the economist sitting in Delhi does not realise is that agriculture in India has been the bedrock of the confidence with which the country has made bold industrialisation plans. It gives with the least support that is offered to it. A delayed electricity connection to a farm may not even be a blip on the large data dashboard that the planners stare at before dispensing their sagely advice on the state of the economy. The lost potential in those dashboards is invisible. Explanations of disappointing growth forecasts are located here, in these small farms.