India, a country with about 70 per cent of its people depending directly or indirectly on agriculture, is going through an agrarian crisis of unprecedented scale. Two back-to-back droughts, fast-depleting ground water, weather events such as heavy rainfall, floods, drought, low productivity of small-scale farming and declining rural wages clearly point to a deepening crisis.
A recent survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a non-governmental organisation, of 5,000 farm households across 18 states reveals that 76 per cent of farmers would prefer alternative employment. About 61 per cent would prefer to be employed in cities because of better employment opportunities, education and health. Nearly 70 per cent of farmers complained of repeated losses as their crops were destroyed because of unseasonal rains, drought, floods and pest attacks. Seventy per cent had never heard about direct cash transfer, 83 per cent were clueless about foreign direct investment, 70 per cent never contacted any farmer call centres. The report says that government schemes are benefiting mostly big farmers having landholdings of 10 acres (4.05 hectares) and above. Only 10 per cent of poor and small farmers with average land holding of 1-4 acres (0.4 to 1.6 hectares) benefit from government schemes and subsidies.
From farm subsidies to farm loan waivers, the government spends billions of rupees on farmers’ welfare, but these efforts will remain inadequate unless they can tackle the increasingly daunting barrier which is the lack of land. In India, due to the inheritance pattern, most of the farms (86 per cent) are less than two hectares in area. The land is divided into economically unviable small and scattered holdings, which have been progressively reduced from 2.28 hectares in 1970-71, to 1.82 hectares in 1980-81 and 1.50 hectares in 1995-96 and further to 0.80 hectares in 2015-16. The size of the holdings will further decrease with the infinite sub-division of land holdings. The main reason for this sad state is the inheritance laws that require equal distribution among sons. The only answer to this ticklish problem is the consolidation of holdings, which means the reallocation of holdings that are fragmented by the creation of farms which comprise only one or a few parcels in place of multitude of patches formerly in the possession of each peasant. Indian soil has been used for growing crops over thousands of years without care for their replenishment. This has led to depletion and exhaustion of soil, resulting in low productivity. The average yields of almost all crops are among the lowest in the world. This is a serious problem that can be solved by using manure and fertiliser.
The 16 most revered and rich temples are Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala; Tirumala Tirupati Venkateswara Temple, Andhra Pradesh; Shirdi Saibaba Shrine, Maharashtra; Maa Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu; Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai; the Golden Temple, Amritsar; Meenakshi Temple, Madurai; Jagannath Temple, Puri; Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi; Somnath Temple, Gujarat; Guruvayurappan Temple, Kerala; Amarnath Temple, Jammu; Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple, Kerala; Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, Delhi; Mahalaxmi Temple in Kolhapur, Maharashtra and Lingaraj Temple, Odisha.
These temples have assets with annual donations running in billions of dollars, which could be gainfully utilised to resolve the agrarian crisis. While estimates of their wealth and annual donations vary, they certainly run into several billions of rupees.
The model can be to take 1,000-2,000 acres of land on lease or outright purchase in the areas around the temples from land owners and assure them of monthly returns (to be settled mutually). All modern technological innovations including mechanised irrigation, cold storage and poultry etc can be planned with use of waste in a cyclic manner to maximise the productivity. Landless labourers, farmers and youth can be employed on acceptable salaries with a proper revenue-sharing model. Temple authorities should come forward for the welfare of the people whose offerings have made them financially strong. They must take up this immensely important task to help society at large.