Agriculture, India’s largest private sector activity, remains unremunerative and extremely risky. A person working on the farm earns, on an average, Rs 3,000 a month. Farmers constantly coping with the vagaries of weather and price fluctuations never retire till they are bedridden or dead.
Farmers continue to farm because of a lack of alternate opportunities. Consequently, neither do farmers want their children to farm, nor do youngsters. People no longer want to marry their daughters to farmers. It’s not difficult to figure out why the most coveted occupation for India’s rural masses today is a secure government job.
A few months ago, 23 lakh people applied for 368 peon posts in Uttar Pradesh. The abject distress in agriculture is evident in the numbers. And all this even before the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations were announced last week.
Going by the recommendations, one lakh salaried employees and pensioners will reportedly receive additional annual benefits of Rs 1 lakh crore, over and above what they are already receiving. This amounts to an additional Rs 1 lakh per person per year.
Farmers have been bewildered by the largesse the plutocrats have appropriated for themselves. If all state governments were to implement the recommendations, the total additional expenditure to the exchequer would reach a staggering Rs 3 lakh crore and India would be heading the Greece way.
If the pay commission recommendations are accepted, a teacher who joined at a salary of Rs 850 a month in 1980 will draw Rs 96,700 in 2016 — a 113-fold rise in 35 years. Also, on retirement, his monthly pension will be Rs 46,000.
Arural cooperative bank employee who joined in 1976 at a salary of Rs 720 a month will soon be retiring. His lastdrawn salary will be Rs 1,30,000 a month —a 180-fold rise in 40 years. Nowhere on Earth will one get such a bounty.
Aretiring lieutenant general commissioned on a salary of Rs 450 in the early 1970s would draw a salary of aboutRs 1,75,000 today, and will retire with a monthly pension of Rs 85,000. No wonder it is all too common to see tens of thousands of rural teens lining up in the recruitment centres across the country and, at times, being lathi-charged to disperse the swell.
The central government minimum wages are being increased by 260 per cent from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000 a month. For an average marginal farmer, this kind of amount is improbable to even dream about. The same average marginal farmer would have to earn Rs 1,40,000 per acre to earn an equivalent amount to the basic minimum wage, without having the perks that go with the central government jobs.
Parents of applicants to government jobs bribe politicians to get them. A bribe is an investment the employees supposedly recoup through corruption in their long fruitful careers. Rather than blame the system for being corrupt, these parents of applicants feel fortunate to have access to a politician who will accept money in return for a guaranteed appointment letter.
Politicians find more ways to benefit from the opportunity. The financially tottering Punjab government, reeling under a terminal backlash induced by large-scale farm distress, has sought to deflect mass frustration by announcing the sop of 1,13,000 new jobs.
To even suggest the pay commission recommendations as a stimulus to fuel consumption by doling out cash to the top 1% of India is foolish. And,Rs 1 lakh crore can achieve a lot. TheRs 65,000 crore worth of fertiliser subsidies are criticised on a regular basis, but that figure pales in comparison with the Rs 1 lakh crore recommended by the pay commission.
Farmers are constantly reminded of the one-time Rs 55,000 crore in farm loan waiver. The amount could generate Rs 375 crore person-days of work annually under the MGNREGA. This is presumed difficult for any government to allocate resources to the farm sector because of competing demands.
But if people in power could quantify future expenses to grapple with the consequences of the exodus of migrating farmers to urban centres, they would realise keeping farmers happy on farms is a far more economical way forward. A moratorium on wage hikes for 10 years is a better strategy. Expenditure must deliver equity in society.
Being at the bottom of the socioeconomic order is a horrifying feeling. Equitable growth is not a pipe dream. But increasing inequity is a nightmare that the salaried classes have conjured up and the whirlwind is about to hit home.