A voice from rural India by Akhilesh Shukla

In Mahabharat, when Narad asks Yudhishdhir about his well being, the king replies that his fields are no more dependant on rains for irrigation. I quote this to show the importance of basic irrigation system for a state and its economy and care from the apex level of authority. Yes, I am going to connect this to our current situation, I say current plight.

We need not to forget that the evolution of our societal and spiritual development went hand in hand with evolution of agrarian economy. It’s very well evident that when Rig-Veda was being written, new concept and technological developments were also on course in agricultural development. We can see all our customs and rituals are based on our crop systems. Our festivals are based on crop cycles. I found it very interesting to see that all the “pious days” for marriages are between the crop cycles and mostly after the completion of a crop cycles.
In the Ramayan period, king Janak himself went ploughing along with his people. Many a places in our ancient write-up we find that start of a crop season use to be a mega event involving all- kings to lowest level of citizenship. The legacy is continued in our folk songs which can still be heard during the start of major crop cycles- Rabi & Kharif. During start of kharif season, we can experience such correlations from the centuries in the folk songs being sung during paddy planting in the fields. There is a diminishing (yes, this folk singing practice is slowly diminishing,..) practice still can be felt during various occasions in a crop cycles which are mainly a group activities.
While discussing the importance of an agrarian economy what we have inherited, I must confess that our Village based agriculture system is losing ground. I see a few major constraints- one is a Deteriorating Irrigation System.
Present View
Now, see the current situation! For a sustained agriculture system the foremost thing needed is an effective canal system. The system connects a reservoir to the fields through a system of head works, distributaries etc.
The current irrigation system is worsening. We have not seen any new launch of irrigation system recently. All we see is mega irrigation projects launched during Nehru era and during first green revolution. I am growing seeing the reduced reach of canal water to the tail near my village. I remember some 20 years back there use to be almost perennial water availability in the canal and in all its minor distributaries. Today I see it dry and encroached. The agony is, Major River water systems were developed during British period. Alike major infrastructure of railways and roadways’ etc, a systemized irrigation system was formulated by British India. I failed to answer, instead improving; we have deteriorated the canal system, why?
I guess some reasons –
1) Severe corruption – a canal system need to be de-silted on yearly basis, but I heard there are tenders awarded and work is done on papers which makes major distributaries to minor and minors to drains and ultimately the existence of a vital system shrinks . While the contractor – engineer nexus becoming rich day by day.
2) Leadership failure – who ever claims to be leaders, they need to take this responsibility of decaying an established canal system along with many other letdowns.
I think after Nehru no one gave serious importance to agriculture’s systematic and comprehensive development. It was Nehru who said, famously, everything can wait but not the agriculture development.
Recently Atalji also tried to a do a major development through river linking project but alas! The present political leadership could not imagine the importance of that project. Today we face drought at one end of India and flood at other. Both situations are ruinous Imagine a system where extra water of Ganga and Brahmaputra is diverted to Krishna and kaveri. It will save a fortune at loss every year by flood in northern India and provide it to our southern states passing through central India. Imagine a day when Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala have no scarcity of water and no dispute over Kavery too.
The grueling resultant to this failure of a canal system is- enhanced use of tube well and pump wells which requires external sources of energy either electricity or diesel and both are precious.
Ground water table is also depleting. The Reports of water table depletion are very very horrible.
The Current Disaster : An Ordinary Farmer’s Plight
Say its global warming or climatic disorder or any other high profile phenomenon but fact is rains are not supporting anymore our irrigation needs. Canal system exist and works a bit , but not for every part of the country. Other means are tube wells. Problem with deep wells is that it’s a costly affair – initial installation cost is substantially high alike running cost. Power supply is either not available or erratically supplied. Diesel is costlier. Fertilizers are getting costlier year by year. There is no authentic and liberal credit system for ordinary farmers. In many a cases farmers end up taking loans from private sources on high rates, which tend to lead to other problems.
Over all input cost of the farming is increasing while the price of agro products is still not as good to match the growing cost of inputs. For example minimum support price for wheat is Rs 750 per quintal while imported wheat cost is Rs1100 per quintal (means we pay more to others than to our own farmers). While the actual price a farmer gets for wheat is around Rs 600-700 per quintal by the trader/ broker. The end user pays around Rs1200 per quintal. So the real beneficiary is the trader while farmers are facing suicide.
How terrible facts at grounds level can be is the matter of serious concern. But is there anyone who thinks so??? It’s happening not only in poor states but also in so called advanced states too. The problem is really grave.
I recall in last 20 years diesel has gone three times up while price of wheat has hardly been twice even. Same is the case with fertilizers. The poor fellow is not able to make its two ends meet. People who are responsible for feeding others are suffering now for their own survival. The person who fails in farming runs to cities as last resort and end up being a meager earning labour or a security guard somewhere. The person who could have added up food production, hence more GDP growth, at his roots, ends up doing unproductive works at some restaurant or someone’s home.
Let’s not forget that inflation affects badly to everyone but it kills a poor farmer.
…and still they say, they have got over 9% GDP growth , they have over $180 Bn in foreign reserves and so on. India ‘for some’ is going boom boom ……………!!
I am not denying the fruits of this growth and agree that even ordinary villages are getting benefited though the pace is sluggish. I see many young men from our villages enjoying the fruits of this booming economy but the benefits are individualistic. We need to rearrange ourselves to become the “food providers’’ of the world.
(Friends! who ever reads this , please don’t be upset as there are still more positives in our Rural india then minuses…..wait for positives…JAI BHARAT!)

8 thoughts on “A voice from rural India by Akhilesh Shukla

  1. Shekhar ,
    Thank you for highlighting Akhilesh’s message from the ‘real’ India , a great beginning. It is very revealing from what Akhilesh writes that Unequal Development has been India’s curse – infact there is no model – Indian model is a reference in itself – of mismanaged Chaos , a reflection of the worship of matter and secular life , devoid of spirit .
    This ‘Indi-bowl-of-mess’ is a painful living truth for the children of the soil but has a silver lining – It also offers the Courageous , Adventurous , Passionate children of Mother India an oppurtunity , infact a very unique one to rise up to this very very difficult and multi-dimentional challenge.
    India is a smouldering source of Great Brains – even Swami Vivekananda said as much in one of his lectures in England – about how ‘our boys and girls can beat anyone when it comes to sheer intellectual prowess ‘ – it is the marshalling of this Human capital that is the most significant challenge – in the words of Dr.APJ Kalam , Indian Scientists at his time , were an extremely brilliant lot – but with a temperemental streak , whih prevented them working for and with eachother – what Dr. Kalam did was to create a Non-Hierarchical management model – an open-doors model where the Performer is the Credit taker and the Presenter of the product – this simple common-sense approach re-created India’s entire Space and Defence programmes.
    There is no dearth of Intellectual Capital in India – and it is a painful study of how such a gifted nation can suffer due to the apathy of its brilliant children to Politics – this hands off approach to Policy Making by India’s Brightest and the Best is costing India very dear.
    I remember reading about a unique ‘Watershed Development’ program in India by Indian Agicultural scientists – but that fantastic initiative encountered the same hurdle Akhilesh pinted out – parasitic buaurocracy and the nexus between middlemen. Sometimes i feel , we just have to wait for Mother India to rise from her slumber – she will find everything waiting upon her , all she has to do is rise and open her eyes !

  2. Thankx Shekhar,
    It makes me to energetic & more responsible.
    bytheway, i am ‘SHUKLA’ not ‘sharma’, though it really doesn’t matter much.

  3. Akhilesh, thank u for your really insightful post. I am sure this will make people that visit our blog think about what u have said and discuss this. Sorry about my getting your name wrong. It is now correct. Shekhar

  4. Hi Akhilesh,
    Thanks a lot for your really detailed and informative post. I have always been taught to discuss the solution more than the problem so here is what I thought. You mentioned 3 problems – Water, not-enough support price(middlemen taking profits) & migration to cities (from your last post).
    I believe the first issue would be to get water to each village – this may have to be a 10yr project. There was a proposal to link all the rivers but I don’t know how much work is being done. Since this is controlled by the PWDs in respective states somehow they have to be motivated to act. The first things I would like to see in nationwide media coverage of village – the big news networks should dedicate an hour to village news everyday. This can be a panel discussion; reports directly from villages and it must highlight the issues. Once in a while coverage doesn’t help – we need persistent coverage. These programs should be made very entertaining and informative so that they draw a huge audience. Responsible corporates who want to make a difference should be the sponsors. Also, the big national newspapers should dedicate 1 pg to village news as well as write op-eds on the condition.
    It has to be a massive media campaign to bring awareness to issues, and forcing the local administrations to act. The issue of food surplus should be highlighted and swift action should be taken to distribute it as far as possible. As far as increasing the support price for grains, I don’t know the constraints of the finance ministry, but that would definitely help.
    The people in the village also have to find their own solutions as the problems are basically theirs, and no one can solve it the way they can themselves – by being more entrepreneurial, looking for other money-making avenues besides agriculture, starting a small business with small loan, having smaller families, educating all kids etc.
    The most important thing is for less advanced villages to look at advanced villages as role models. The rest of the country should see why villages in Punjab and Haryana are so prosperous and understand their growth curve, and the govt. should use these learnings to other villages across the country.
    Also, we have to create the perception (through media, creating jobs, water and electricity) that villages are cool, to the extent that people who are tired of the city life would love to go back and settle in villages. This would be a very big shift and would greatly help the impression/condition of villages.
    You mentioned corruption, which is generally solved by exposing the practices and taking action. National media presence in the villages on a daily basis would be a good start. The general population should encourage honest individuals from the villages to stand in elections and vote for them (this would require some effort but is the best solution). The middle men should be shown on national television and law enforcement should take action.
    These would be some of things I can suggest and I’m sure a big debate triggered at a national level would come up with lots more suggestions. There is no immediate (read fast) solution, but if massive action is taken, then in 10 yrs we’ll see a very advanced rural India.
    Himanshu – New York

  5. I am happy that ive got an opportunity to share my thoughts through this blog.Although i cant write for nuts but will try to share my thoughts in best possible manner. I am a great fan of Mr Shekhar Kappor, and discussing his work among my friend in bhopal made me aware if this blog.Thanks to Champion.
    Famous words from Jawaharlal Nehru.
    “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
    We all know, corruption is one thing that has eroded the system, there are plenty of opportunities, lots of schemes for people’s benefit but real benefit is still elusive at the same time we also know how it can be cramped.
    When Kejriwal can do it,WE ALL CAN DO it…. and be a part of this team of anticorruption IN WHATEVER WAY WE CAN.
    Indian RTI ACT 2005 has already engendered mass movements in the country that is bringing the lethargic, often corrupt bureaucracy to its knees and changing power equations completely. It’s helping you to claim your place as the true rulers of the country and make government officials realise that they are truly Government servants. Although some more proactive steps to popularize the act are needed. At the same time to reduce the scope of corruption and to encourage honest public servants, it is necessary to immediately provide protection to whistleblowers on the lines proposed by the Law Commission.
    “The act should be included in the syllabus at high school or higher secondary level and training of the applicants so that they could seek and get proper and useful information.”
    Like many others I am using the act to keep a check on few departments. It’s helping. The psychology of government servants is quite different from that of private sectors. Traditionally the government servants have derived their sustenance from the fact that they are important repositories of govt. and the data. This has to be changed.
    In this era of accountability and performance measurement, govts is facing increasing pressure to make the services more accessible to their citizens The citizens now a days are not using govt. services in isolation. That is where E-governance has to play an important role. Govt. leaders in India are starting to realize that e-governance is the key to drive today’s economy with an increased participation from citizens. Providing services online is no longer going to remain optional for local and central government as demand for providing services @ internet speed has been coming from the citizens.
    we all need to understand thatE-governance is about more than streamlining processes and improving services. It’s about transforming Governments and renovating the way citizens participate in democracy. Yet if the e-governance started and implemented in haste, the are doomed to fail. According to one of the surveys conducted by a reputed agency , 75% of e-governance may fail because of poor planning
    Unfortunately its not as easy as adding “e” in front of your service delivery mechanism. Successful e-governance initiatives can never be taken in haste. Particularly for the democratic nation of the billion people like India, e-Governance should enable seamless access to information and seamless flow of information across the state and central government in the federal.Every small step thus taken should be used to learn about hurdles and improve upon the next steps, both in terms of direction and magnitude. E is likely to be met with a lot of inertia which can not be overcome by lower and middle level officials with half hearted attempts to diffuse the technology.
    The change in the mindset to develop and accept the distributed and flat structured e-governance system is required at the top level system to beat the inertia. And we have to remember no country has so far implemented an e-governance system for one billion people.
    It is now our responsibility to return as watchdog and we will. We have the power to spark off a movement that changes the lives of thousands and ours.
    Lets all be the whistleblowers for anticorruption.

  6. Akhilesh, I admire your spirit and the balance with which you voice your frustration and concerns of rural india. Many of us share your concerns about governance, systemic inefficiencies, inequities between the provider and the provided, in various contexts and with varying degrees of cognizance, empathy and/or enrage. Addressing the issues you raise and seeing tangible results filter down from the “apex level of authority” to the grass roots is partly a function of alignment, honest and dedicated focus of multiple stakeholders at various levels of governance. While tackling a macro issue as this is akin to steering a ship in another direction in the middle of a storm at sea, there are ways to make a difference in smaller and ‘seemingly’ insignificant ways through mobilized efforts of unsung heroes, untitled leaders and/or non-governmental organizations that have potential for much impact.
    Would love your input re: the following:
    1)Consider just the village you are associated with for right now, rather than the macro level of other rural areas – could you identify organized or unorganized groups/bodies that have the vision and passion for positive developmental changes that can be implemented, IF they had access to resources (intellectual and financial) to make it happen?
    2)Would you be in a position to identify leaders in office (whose jurisdiction includes your village) who have a vision for growth and development but are constrained by factors not directly under their influence?
    3) Are there are indigenous skills or natural resources unique to your village that can be developed for sustained economic development of the area? (eg, spice development in Kerala, textile weaving in Orissa). Are there any heritage sites (developed or requiring and worthy of development) close to or around this village?
    Thanks again for your insights. kavitha

  7. Hello Shekhar,
    Some more inputs….Thanks!
    Why Rural India is Indispensable
    We all want to see our nation among the developed lots. Some of us want a step further, to see it as ‘world guru’. We assume that the present growth trajectory is just right. I have a point being from the pedestal level.
    Let’s talk some data first –
    In 2001, 71% population lived in rural India. While in 2026 it will become 68%.
    – Only 24% rural houses are having roof of concrete, brick or stone.
    – Only 26 rural houses have stone. Concrete or pucca floors, rest mud floors
    – Only 7% rural houses have WC latrine, 15% pit or other latrine and rest 78% no latrine
    – Only 5.7% rural houses have LPG as fuel.
    – Only 43% rural houses have electricity as lighting means.
    – Only 24% rural houses have tap water supply, 43% hand pump sourced, 22% from well
    Our villages have always been a “self sustained” unit of society. If we see a little back, our villages use to have everything what was needed for a sustained society. There were producers of grains, producers of services and producers of other daily needs. There were trades within villages or group of them. From Darzi to Mochi to Kumhar to Priest, all were there in a village as a composite unit. Over the years, this self sustainability has been destroyed. Now we need chemical manure while earlier self produced green/organic manure use to be sufficient. We need diesel, we need electricity, we need pesticides. We are now fully dependent to others. They all cost a fortune. In return what we produce is of lowest importance in current stream of business.
    The centre of focus for the business has shifted some where else but not the villages and agrarian economy.
    If we see our ancient system, it was the farmer who uses to be at the centre of importance. Cow has been worshipped not because it’s God but because it use to be pivotal factor in our economy. It provides not only milk products but the backbone of agrarian economy, The Bullock. Farmer was the producer and was given due importance. Now, India talks about BSE ups and down. India talks about GDP, India talkes about Foreign Reserve and so on.
    Talking about cow is dangerous today in India. I can even be labeled a “name”.
    ……….We can feel the pulse with this example —
    The system makes it an issue, Major hue and cry by the system, in murder of a bar girl (no offence please) .It sounded like all system- media based though, is highly hurt and it finally worked. …Thanks!
    Now see the plight of farmer’s suicide in Vidarbha & Punjab. Except few political voices who went to INDIA GATE with candles??????? Who talked hours together in Main TV channels ???? Who came voluntarily to fight their case…?????? Did we mourn and ever realize the plight of those suffering families whose main working head could not repay mere Rs 20,000 ($500 only).
    The pain of hunger is the worst thing to happen in someone’s life. They suffered the pain of dark today and darker tomorrow. No, we can never feel how it feels when there is nothing to eat. Impossible for those who take pills to increase their appetite. Do I sound a little crazy or I exaggerate too much? No, I reverberate the pain which comes from the deep beneath because I am living in a society where one person is dieing of over eating and the other without food. I feel ashamed to visit doctor for my over weight problems which I gained ONLY due to excessive /rich diets. Some of my friends feel happy to call our nation Mother India, I do salute them, and I feel ashamed to see one of my brother or sister of the same mother nation dies because of deprived poverty.
    My pain doubles when I read the hymns from Rig-Veda which mentions the affluences in our ancient society where same people, same land produces enough grains and milk to keep everyone happy. We, so called modern people created this eccentric world of over opulence at one end and hunger at other end.
    I am too little to talk about those greats but I need to ask these question to History. Why did Nehru not follow Gandhi’s social structure??? Gandhi perhaps knew India better then anyone else. He could succeed because he knew the real India. He always portrayed to continue the age old system of self sustained village development.
    While saluting Nehru’s efforts, I want to criticize his approach. Perhaps he was much influenced with Soviet Model. Was influenced with Marxist or trying to make his place in history in some other way. His model did not work and as I mentioned above sabotaged our basic structure which even Muslim invaders and British colonials could not do. Many of us may not know the tragedies faced by nation in mid 60. I am told we had to suffer sever food shortages and sorted to even fasting in a day. 20 years, from 1947, is a big period and if we failed to produce enough food for us, Our Chacha Nehru is under question. While in next 20 years, we changed the scenario in food grain production through Green revolution. Perhaps Nehru was quite a busy in International politics!!!
    We instantly need, as fire fighting, education, medical, transportation, drinking water, irrigation infrastructure and market access.
    But to make comprehensive and sustained impact we need to address bigger issue. I opine for a paradigm shift in our policy making. It evidently sounds that lack of education, corruptions etc are big issues but I feel the biggest issue is prioritization. Unless there is a genuine shift in mindset of the people in general and policy makers in particulars, nothing great is expected in longer run. Anything can be achieved if there is a will power. There may be many ways to do it and they are. There is no dearth of good executors in India. If we can eradicate Polio we can eradicate Poverty too.
    First and foremost is improvement in EDUCATION infrastructure – If we really want to be knowledge leader of the world, we need to strengthen our basic education at rural areas. With 64% literacy rates, we can not dream to be so. The problem is not the only education but the quality education.
    Can we really afford to ignore anymore ? No !!! not more.
    India lives in our villages so does our culture. Our roots lie in those rural places, our ancestral seats. These are the places that preserved our culture over the generations. We need to understand the plight of our forefathers who remain what we are today, and claim it happily, amidst the barbarisms of centuries. I don’t think Khilzees, Tugalaqs or Aurangzebs would have been any different then today’s Taliban’s. How would have they survived them !!!! They paid Zaziya but kept the civilization intact.
    We may laugh on a poor villager but we can not afford to let this cultural sanctity die.
    Poverty is a major cause for exploitation. Naxalites are not breeding in Punjab or Haryana but in places where poverty is higher. If we did not awake in time, be ready to face naxalites in near future in its worst transformations. School drop outs and education percentage data at villages are horrifying. We are producing the armies of uneducated, least privileged people year by year. We all feel happy to see our kids doing well but what if these armies of deprived people start snatching? This is what is happening in east central India as on date.
    I imagine the plight of our brothers & sisters in Manhattan. It obviously gives them pride to see highest Billionaires in Asia are from India. India is roaring but I bet they need to save face to know that India houses highest numbers of BPL (below poverty line) people in world. Our malnutrition data are worst. We all want not to face such situations.
    The migration data of 2001 Census indicates that 20.5 million people enumerated in urban areas are migrants from rural areas who moved in within the last 10 years. There are 6.2 million migrants who have similarly migrated from urban areas to rural areas. Thus the net addition to urban population on account of migration is 14.3 million. This works out to be 6.6 per cent of the urban Population in 1991.
    In other words, out of the urban growth of 30.3 per cent, 6.6 per cent is accounted for by migration to urban areas. Thus, natural growth of urban population and growth due to formation of new urban settlements and extension of areas of towns during 1991-2001 adds up to 23.7 percent.
    It’s like atom bomb but exploding slowly. These migrants are creating havoc at both the ends. They become part of slums at cities and also source of many unsocial activities. At the other end, our villages are left with lesser working hands which affects directly to Agri-production and other societal issues.
    Amidst all sorts of obstacles, our people are full of energy. Our villages are full of cultural perseverance. The real taste of our festivals is felt in these remote places.
    It’s easy to see a gloomy face at Dalal Street but not at Chaupals in a village.
    I must admit that there are efforts from state side and from corporates too. What a wonderful idea from Satyam of “Gram IT”. ITC’s e-chaupal things are also working well. But corporates have their limitations in this regards, I think. They are neither expected nor bound to. They work for the profit to their stakeholders. They are not mandated to welfare of society. It is the Government who is mandated to work as welfare state. If government can auger the Education infrastructure only, many problems can be solved.
    There are big projects being funded by Delhi and some even by International agencies. It does improve the situation but more to the middlemen, less to needy. As Rajiv Gandhi once said only 15% goes to real beneficiary. Where are those leaders who admit the truth?
    We have demography in our side which can be well utilized for sustained growth. In 2001 median age of India is 26.5 years while in 2026 it will be 31.4 years. The dragger states (UP, Bihar etc) will rather have more young age at 2026. What a perfect workforce!!
    Problems are enormous but zeal is always more than problems!!!
    High business opportunities are existing in our remote villages; I wonder why big minds are not seeing them. (anyway I’ll try to detail them but later.)
    Thankx for the patience !!!

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