Insure farmers to ensure future




I saw this situation first-hand in the Mewat district of Haryana, where farmers told me they had been suffering for the past three cropping seasons. They were broke as each time they planted crops there was some unseasonal devastation that took a crippling toll. In the summer of 2015, for instance, they had planted rice and first rains were delayed. They begged and borrowed to run expensive diesel-fuelled tube wells (electricity for agriculture is supposedly assured but it goes off when farmers need it most). Finally, paddy was ready. But then came a night of apocalyptic rain—it rained over 250 mm in five hours. This, in a district where average annual rainfall is 500-600 mm. When I visited the village, not even two hours’ drive from Delhi, fields were flooded, crops destroyed. There was deep despair in the eyes of every farmer I met.

Let’s leave for the moment the questions—very real and urgent—why these extreme weather events are happening in our world with greater frequency and intensity. Let’s discuss instead what we need to do.

First, we need to know that these events are breaking our world. Today, we read more about Snowzilla—the massive snowstorm that has hit the eastern coast of the US—than the hailstorms and freak rain events that are livelihood spoilers in our country. These events have to make news, even if…CONTINUE READING


The invisible drought



Back in the late-1980s, many states across India were reeling under back-to-back droughts for three consecutive years, not much different from the circumstances of India in 2015-16. I was district collector in districts of MP and Chhattisgarh during those years. At that time, for Central and state governments, as for the media and public opinion, there was little that was weightier than responding, or being seen to…continue reading

Going against the grain

For rural India to be vibrant, the way forward is to address the twin challenges of reviving the dynamism of the farm sector by building its climate resilience and creation of quality employment in non-farm segments.



The World Bank’s World Development Report 2008 shows that agricultural growth is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty compared to growth originating in non-agricultural sectors. In India, too, 80 per cent of the people officially counted as poor lived in rural India in 2011-12. This means that for making a significant dent in poverty, rural incomes have to grow at a faster rate. The gap between urban and rural consumption levels has increased over the years. Recent studies have shown that despite the spurt in rural incomes between 2005 and 2012 caused by a rise in commodity prices and favourable terms of trade for agriculture, the level of non-farm incomes is at least three times that of farm incomes even today.

The rural economy in its current juncture is a lot less “agricultural” than it used to be earlier. With the fall in the average size of landholding, over 90 per cent of farmers are now in the small and marginal category and they cultivate over 50 per cent of the cropped area. Smallholder farmers are increasingly forced to combine non-farm work with work on their own land. Data from the 68th round of the National Sample Survey (2011-12) show that about 36 million workers have shifted from agriculture to non-agricultural sectors between 2004-05 and 2011-12, meaning that a major part of their income comes from work outside agriculture. On account of this inter-sectoral movement, the share of agriculture in the total workforce has fallen below the 50 per cent mark for the first time after Independence. While this number has been contested, the fact remains that sectors like rural construction are now the sites employing substantial numbers of workers. Given the poor working conditions in these sectors and the overall decline in quality of employment…continue reading

MGNREGS: ‘Monument of failure’ or ‘saviour’?

Consecutive crop failures due to droughts and unseasonal rains have led to a rise in demand for jobs under MGNREGS (Photo: Jitendra)

Consecutive crop failures due to droughts and unseasonal rains have led to a rise in demand for jobs under MGNREGS (Photo: Jitendra) / Picture from DOWN TO EARTH


In 2008-09, the scheme enabled the government to provide 48 person days of employment per rural household. In 2009-10, this number increased to 54 person days, especially when the country was reeling from the worst drought of the century. MGNREGS was widely credited with helping the UPA win a second term in office in the 2009 general elections.

The total expenditure incurred on the programme since it started in 2006 is Rs 3,13,844.55 crore. Of this, 71 per cent has been spent on wages for workers. Twenty-three per cent of those employed belonged to Scheduled Castes while around 17 per cent…continue reading

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Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters / Picture from DOWN TO EARTH

Scheme against jobs

Officials say the changes go against the spirit of the programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which was designed for giving jobs to unskilled workers. Going by the changes suggested and pursued by Gadkari, the programme would look like one of those earlier public wage programmes, such as the Employment Assurance Scheme, that did not have the element of entitlement to job. It seems the programme is now opened for the backdoor entry of contractors. In another blow to it instead of village panchayats…continue reading

Digging holes, filling them up

INDIAN EXPRESS | Reetika Khera | FEBRUARY 3 2016

As it completes 10 years, there is enough evidence to show that India needs the MGNREGA

Nearly a year ago, the prime minister made a statement in Parliament about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). He said: “My political understanding tells me, don’t ever stop MNREGA… because MNREGA is a living monument to your [the Congress’s] failures. After 60 years of independence, you had to send people to dig holes.” This widely criticised speech…continue reading

SC raps govt for not implementing food security law: Is Gujarat not a part of India?

GST, land bill, Delhi Supreme court, SC judge, political parties and ego, FICCI, FDI


“What is Parliament doing? Is Gujarat not a part of India? The Act says it extends to whole of India and Gujarat is not implementing it. You want to break away from India. This law was passed by Parliament but the states are not implementing the central law. How can a state say that it won’t implement the law? Tomorrow other state would say that it won’t follow IPC, CrPC,” observed a bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur. Nine states and two Union territories have so far not implemented this social…continue reading


Cure the doctor


 healthcare, doctor, healthcare in india, healthcare service in india, cost of healthcare,doctors in india

According to a report, the cost of healthcare is driving millions of Indians into poverty. / Picture from INDIAN EXPRESS


Earlier this month, The Lancet published a paper calling for a radical transformation of the architecture of India’s healthcare delivery system if it is to achieve the government’s vision of assuring health for all. The paper documented India’s progress on major health indicators in the past decade, but also its many deficiencies. The most disturbing indicator of these deficiencies is the observation that the cost of healthcare is driving millions of Indians into poverty. Let us pause to consider the implication of this statement.

In a country where the primary goal of economic development is to help raise people out of poverty, healthcare is driving millions into poverty. Whereas, in other countries, investment in healthcare is recognised as a route to promote growth by enhancing their citizens’ capabilities to be productive, healthcare in India is now one of the leading causes of poverty. We are, in simple terms, out of step with the rest of the world, not only the developed countries whose ranks we aspire to join, but also with other countries like ours.

It is common to lay the entire blame, or at least the lion’s share, for this on the government. This is certainly true to some extent, but the reality is that many…continue reading


Community Health Programmes: Genesis and Impact on Rural Health


Preventive health programmes are focused on otherwise healthy people. (CDC Global/Flickr)
Enter a caption

Preventive health programmes are focused on otherwise healthy people. (CDC Global/Flickr) / Picture from DOWN TO EARTH


Health practitioners have come to realise that the top-down approach has not yielded desired results in the development paradigm. They are now restructuring social and development practices to create a sense of ownership in the target community to the programme. This has meant significant involvement of the community for design and delivery. Special care has been taken by programme designers to include more vulnerable sections of the society.

In case of healthcare delivery interventions, the focus on involving the community has been even more evident. This is partly because the success of a health programmes depends largely on its acceptance by the people.

New insights in healthcare

Preventive health programmes like immunisations are aimed at the entire population and are focused on otherwise healthy people. Thus, the onus of making these programmes a success shifts from people to provider, as healthy people have no immediate need for seeking out health services. Compulsory measures have often backfired, causing a shift to communication and education to increase reception of the programme. Volunteers drawn...continue reading

India’s double challenge




THE FLOODWATERS devastating large parts of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir caught the people and the government unawares, it is said. But why should this be so? We know every year, like clockwork, India grapples with months of crippling water shortage and drought and then months of devastating floods. This year offers no respite from this annual cycle but something new and strange is afoot. Each year, the floods are growing in intensity. Each year, the rain events get more variable and extreme. Each year, economic damage increases and development gains are lost in one season of flood or severe drought.

Scientists now say conclusively that there is a difference between natural variability of weather and climate change, a pattern brought about by human emissions that is heating up the atmosphere faster than normal. Scientists who study the monsoons tell us that they are beginning to make that distinction between normal monsoon…continue reading

Double whammy for debt-hit U.P. farmers

After two successive crop failures, the rabi crop this year looked promising, but hailstorm spells dashed all hopes.

A farmer on his drought-hit field at Gehra village in Mahoba district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
A farmer on his drought-hit field at Gehra village in Mahoba district in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt / Picture from THE HINDU


Moolchand Kumar Prajapati and Jaidevi broke down as they spoke of their son Sunil, 24, who hanged himself last week.

The past year was exceptionally difficult for the Prajapati family, which owns barely 1.5 bighas (about half an acre) of land at Gehra village of Mahoba district in the heart of Bundelkhand. After two successive crop failures, the rabi crop this year looked promising, but a few spells of hailstorm dashed all hopes. Reeling under a debt of Rs. 2 lakh, the fresh stretch of drought, the third year in a row, proved to be the crippling blow for a dispirited Sunil. He left behind his wife and a month-old infant. “He lost his mental balance under this stress,” Moolchand says.

As thousands of families in Bundelkhand hit by severe drought, Moolchand’s family struggles for survival. They could grow only 25 kg of oilseeds in the season and have to travel 10 km on a broken path to the nearest market to buy basic food items. This is the worst crisis faced by the family,..continue reading