Niti Aayog member Bibek Debroy stirred up a hornet’s nest by proposing tax on agriculture income. Though finance minister Arun Jaitley quickly ruled out taxing farmers, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian later waded into the raging debate by advocating tax on rich farmers. The controversy comes just days after Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced Rs 36,350-crore farm loan waiver and Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh set up an expert group to assess the agriculture debt and suggest ways for its waiver to help farmers. HT asked Prof MS Swaminathan, known as the ‘Father of Green Revolution’, his views on the twin issues:
What are your views on tax on agriculture income, especially rich farmers?
I do not agree with tax on agriculture income, since agriculture is the major source of livelihood for over 50% of our population. It is a livelihood industry with multiple impacts on human life. There could be other methods of taxing rich farmers with multiple sources of the income.
Will such a move help in giving subsidies to small and marginal farmers in a more targeted manner?
Targeting, as always, had problems in our country. Small and marginal farmers are fairly well defined now. They could be given inputs at a lower rate so that they are able to enhance productivity and marketable surplus.
After UP waived farm loans, Punjab and other states are planning or are under pressure to follow suit. What is your take?
Loan waiver is an easy method of solving the debt problems of farmers. In the long run, it will come in the way of establishing a viable agriculture credit system. I have always recommended that procurement and pricing should be the pathway for supporting small farmers. The price recommended by the National Commission on Farmers namely C2 (total cost of production) plus 50% should be implemented.
Do such loan waivers help farmers?
Loan waivers help in the short term, but do not solve the chronic problems affecting small farmers due to the cost-risk and return structure of farming.
Punjab farmers were at the forefront of the Green Revolution, but are struggling hard now. There have been farmer suicides. What is the way-out?
We need diversification of farming and particularly crop livestock integration such as animal husbandry and horticulture. Punjab can also grow several crops a year and farmers should be enabled to earn more income from cubic volumes of soil and air. Punjab farmers are very enterprising and the Punjab Agriculture University should do more work to help them to take to new technologies.
What should the new Punjab government do to tackle farm crisis and make agriculture viable?
The NCF has given detailed recommendations on how to promote an evergreen revolution movement in Punjab and other green revolution areas. The evergreen revolution based on the integration of ecology and technology will provide increased yield in perpetuity without ecological harm. It is unfortunate that even after 10 years, the major recommendations of NCF have not been implemented. We had given suggestions on how to make farmers suicides a problem of the past.