Polders of Kuttanad (kayal land)

Let us examine what could be the probable justifications for Nandigram or defragmentation of lands distributed under land reforms. Fragmentation of land has often made agriculture less productive and hence less sustainable owing to higher input costs, absence of economies of scale and other factors. (In Kerala, the land distributed to agriculture workers is ten cents or less). Globalisation has opened up the markets making several produce uncompetitive, especially in Kerala.

Under such circumstances, the large-scale suicides of farmers were waiting to happen. Reports show that as many as 1.5 lakh farmers had committed suicides across the country as agriculture ran into crisis in several regions.

Now, look at the solutions being offered. The agriculture packages being offered by the Central Government are primary meant to provide relief and would not lead to revival of agriculture in a big way (unless prices improve which is unlikely in the globalised scenario). The Agriculture Commission, set up by the Centre, proposes technology intensive agriculture as a solution. The proposals are beyond the capabilities of ordinary farmers. It would require defragmentation of land and corporatisation of agriculture. No need to say that this would lead to large scale displacement of farmers. If and when that happens, Nandigram and Kuttanad would pale into insignificance.

Distorted ideologiesThis may appear inevitable in future and reversal of land reforms in order to ensure competi- tiveness of agriculture in the country. However, technology itself may suggest alternative approaches, which need to be studied before rushing for action. Moreover, India cannot envisage speedy transition to technology intensive, market-driven agriculture because of the sheer size of its agrarian population.

What compounds the guilt behind Nandigram and Kuttanad is that they were not part of any well-planned land use policy. Nor are the methods adopted acceptable in a democratic country. To top it all, corruption is allegedly behind the developments.

(Part I)