Photo Credit: Debt Slayer
This is some interesting populist politics. The Indian government has just announced that it will be cancelling all farmer debt by the beginning of next year, at a cost of $15bn. Predictably, this spike in rural funding comes before an election year, and 70% of Indians live in rural areas. Also, the government has pledged to keep food prices under control because, well, many Indians are having a hard time affording it.
So what to think of this? Well, obviously, it’s a good short term start. For farmers trapped in this kind of usury, the importance of this relief can’t be underestimated, and it should be applauded simply for this fact. I worry that the government is likely to ignore the gender issues here, and that women will get a significantly worse deal than men, and considerably less relief from the kinds of pressure they are under, than men. But this is a good start.
Trouble is, as with all these ‘clean slate’ ideas, it leaves untouched the reasons that the slate got dirty in the first place. Insecurity of land tenure, unsustainable farming practices, the lack of rural employment opportunities, the absence of health and education safety nets, the consolidation of power in the food system, these are all reasons why farmers find their backs up against the wall, and why they’d find themselves borrowing money in the first place.
There seem to be precious few ideas in the government about how to provide adequate medical provision, or to address land tenure, or to invest in sustainable agricultural technology. Yet without these, this debt jubilee, welcome though it is, will be a very short lived party. Perhaps lasting just long enough to reach the election. And then it’ll be back to business as usual.