For an Atmanirbhar Arunachal

Monday Musing

[ Junroi Mamai ]

The nation is currently celebrating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 71st birthday starting 17 September with various activities, like river clean-up drives, blood-donation campaigns, besides distribution of 5 kg ration bags to 14 crore people nationwide. In Arunachal Pradesh too, the campaign is being carried out in full swing with many questioning the relevance of the entire initiative.

Ironically enough, under the present PDS system, the rate of subsidies for providing ration against both above and below poverty line categories of people through APL and BPL cards is also fixed up to 5 kgs. Needless to say, a family in our state cannot sustain on this rate of subsidy for a month. For instance, a family of four under the BPL category will get 20 kgs of rice per head per month at a subsidized rate and usually procure additional quantities from the open market at an expensive rate.

People in some fertile areas of our state, who are engaged in wetland cultivation with ample agriculture and horticulture production, do not depend on the PDS items. On the other hand, a majority of our state’s population engaged in shifting or jhum cultivation is largely dependent on PDS support because the crash and burn system of farming does not incur adequate production for the farmers.

Arunachal’s economy is agriculture-based and 80 percent of its rural population depends on agriculture and allied activities. The state government is also pushing for agriculture and horticulture activities through the launching of various schemes, especially horticulture-based activities like the production of large cardamom, oranges, ginger, tea, areca nut, rubber etc.

Youths across the state are also trying to avail such schemes provided by the government but the problem here is mainly the government’s support in the form of loans, which is often unattainable. Rural youths are unable to meet the bank’s tightened lending criteria. Take, for example, a recent instance wherein an unemployed youth who was the sole applicant for the Prime Minister Employment Generation Programme from an entire district in a financial year, was denied a loan by the bank despite fulfilling every criteria. The disheartened young man later gave up after struggling for a whole year.

In absence of functional agro-based industries, strong market structure and government assistance, the farmers could not get a suitable price for their produce as they are entirely dependent on brokers from neighboring Assam. For example, in Changlang district, large cardamom farmers are selling their produce at a rate of Rs 400-600 per kg, whereas the current national rate is Rs 1,200 per kg. The huge difference in the rates can be attributed to lobbying by unscrupulous brokers.

Similarly, in the case of tea production in Changlang district, there was no fixed rate and it solely depended on the brokers from Assam. Only recently, the district administration has fixed a standard rate for tea at the rate Rs 22 per kg.

Sidelining of these key issues by the government and not bringing any structural changes in the current agriculture and horticulture sectors is the main reason behind the low success rate of various agriculture and horticulture based schemes in the state. The state government should have a concrete agriculture and horticulture-based policy like the states of Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra in order to make Arunachal truly self-reliant.

For an Atmanirbhar Arunachal, the priorities of the government should be focused on these issues and not on schemes involving only 5 kgs of rice.