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Politics and economics of Gujarat drought

By Rajiv Shah
Gujarat Sachivalaya is abuzz with a strange speculation. The speculation is especially significant as it is taking rounds of the top state corridors of power at a time when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has launched his month-long Krishi Mahotsav, an annual event to “teach” farmers what they should sow and how. While all agree in Sachivalaya that in the year 2012-13, Gujarat’s agricultural growth rate slipped in the negative, officials are unable to quantify the percentage.
Discussions have taken place on the matter, including at the highest level. While one bureaucrat said, in 2012-13, thanks to what he termed as “near-drought” situation, agricultural growth rate slipped to minus ( --) 3 per cent, another disagreed. “Soon you will hear from authoritative sources: Agriculture has slipped to around minus ( -- ) 13 per cent… In certain places in Gujarat, especially Saurashtra, you will be told, agricultural growth slipped to minus ( -- ) 22 per cent.”
There is reason to wonder. What has happened to all the tall claims made by Modi and his aides about double digit rate of growth in agriculture? So many check dams had come up and watershed projects launched, with such tall claims that even senior experts like Tushaar Shah and Ravindra Dholakia were “convinced” of little possibility of Gujarat’s growth rate slipping so badly. These structures would take care of any serious drought, has been their argument.
Investigations revealed some very interesting realities related with the working of the Gujarat government. An effort is underway in the corridors of power to demonstrate that Gujarat indeed “suffered” from a deep drought. The murmur is, unless you clearly showcase that there was a drought, there is little hope of triggering a loan waiver, which would involve a huge Government of India help.
One senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Currently, preparations are underway to write off agricultural loans worth Rs 5,000 crore, including interest to the tune of Rs 300 crore. While the exact amount of the loan to be waived has not been decided, the argument is, loan waiver is being offered under the pretext of large-scale crop failure across the state. Insurance companies would be asked to pay for crop failure.”
The official further disclosed, “Most of the loan that would be waived was taken from the agricultural cooperative banks, controlled by powerful politicians. Some loan was taken even from the nationalized banks, too. Efforts were initiated a few months back by the state agriculture and cooperatives department to heap up facts to make a point that Gujarat indeed had a very bad drought, which ruined farmers, that they are in deep debt, and that they are in dire need of help.”
What this official said next was even more interesting. According to him, “Most of the loan -- around Rs 3,500 crore -- was disbursed in three months, between mid-July and mid-September 2012, when there was little reason for taking it. This was against the normal practice of most of the agricultural loan being disbursed by mid-June.” The official quoted babus in the know of things as saying that “the loans were disbursed in anticipation of drought, with the promise that it would be waived”!
In fact, the official divulged, there are already file notings in Sachivalaya which suggest that loans were disbursed for crops which were never sown. “In Saurashtra, certain cooperative banks issued loans for groundnut where Bt cotton was sown. This would, it was expected, help show that groundnut had been destroyed in order to claim loan waiver. A cooperative bank in Saurashtra which never issued loans for more Rs 30 lakh disbursed Rs 30 crore”, the official said, adding, “In another instance, area under cultivation was shown several times more than what it actually was.”
And where did all this money go? “We have no clue. But the suspicion is, it went to fund Gujarat state assembly elections, which took place in December 2012. While the BJP had the lion’s share, Congress cooperators were not far behind. One of them who issued such huge loans was a Congress strongman. Recently, he crossed over to the BJP and is fighting a by-poll from Porbandar”, the Mahatma’s birthplace, the official said. Everyone in Gujarat knows who this strongman is.
With the polls over, high-level exercise began to “showcase” drought. Results of anavari, a Gujarat revenue department method to assess crop failure by making spot appraisals, were declared. In Saurashtra, it was made known, more than 50 per cent of crop had “failed”. However, according to this official, “This was much against the government’s assessment arrived at by taking satellite imagery, which suggested that there was some crop failure, but on the whole agriculture did not suffer much.”
So, is the Gujarat government playing politics with drought? Is there an effort to show drought though there was none? The official said, “This is exactly what I want to drive at. Had there been drought, by now, distress migration would have begun on a massive scale. Farmers would have been under deep clutches of moneylenders and there would have been starvation reports. There would been a massive demand for work under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Relief works would have begun at large number of places. Nothing of the sort has happened.”
He further said, “The only problem is with animal fodder, which is in scarce supply. However, arrivals of Bt cotton in Gujarat’s ginning mills has been normal. There was no shortage of major crops which arrived at Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs), that control farm market. There was enough Bt cotton -- which is the main Gujarat crop -- to be exported. Yet, effort is being made to show that Bt cotton production, which was 121 lakh bales in 2011-12, dropped to 81 lakh bales in 2012-13.”
So, is there an effort to “fudge” agricultural growth data to make a case in favour of a negative growth of minus ( -- ) 13 per cent in 2012-13, while in reality the growth rate only stagnated, and at best went into the negative by just minus ( -- ) 3 per cent? “That’s what is happening. There is nothing new here. We have seen such data manipulations in the past”, the official said.
Indeed, if it’s just minus ( -- ) 3 per cent negative, Tushaar Shah and Ravindra Dholakia should rejoice: What they had argued is true. It’s quite another thing that a high-level effort is seeking to undermine what they had said. Be that as it may, there is reason to wonder: Will the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) look into the “great drought scam”?
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https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/true-lies/politics-and-economics-of-gujarat-drought/

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