Social activists working with people at the grassroots in the country have for sometime, been making noises about how certain government schemes meant to alleviate the difficulties faced by the economically weak sections of the population have only ended up burdening them. At the heart of it, these activists claim and with good reason too, that India is a country where the majority of people is involved in agricultural production and that when policies, schemes and development packages meant for social good are designed in such a way that they bring about changes that disrupt the pattern of this sector, then it may well lead to a slow and steady structural ruin of the economy and threaten livelihood patterns in the short term. The Public Distribution System of essential items for the poor, designed to give food and other essential item support for economically disadvantaged people in the country apart from being riddled by large-scale corruption and inferior quality of food grains being given to the poor is also being held responsible for weeding out nutritional variants of rice and other cereals. Agricultural activists and experts claim that with the Government focusing on producing polished rice, the indigenous rice and other cereals are being left out of the food production output and hence, from the nutritional plate of people.
Another popular social scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme introduced to give a certain number of days of ‘employment’ to unskilled workers without the security of a proper job has various flaws but the one that area that most people do not even begin to think is how this program affects the agricultural sector of the country. The involvement of agricultural workers in MGNREGS leads to the shortage of agricultural workers at various stages: be it sowing, reaping or harvesting. Add this context to the growing urbanization of the country in its towns and villages marked by agricultural lands being converted to concrete infrastructure like buildings, shopping malls, market spaces and the like and what we have at the end of the road is a future scenario where there may not be too many people to take up agricultural activity and a fast decreasing space to do so. The ‘haves’ of society have the option of buying packed food and food grains that are imported but the majority of the country, the ‘have nots’ will have no option but to starve in a long drawn out process.
In Manipur of course, the above two social benefit schemes may not end up leading to the situation described for like many other social schemes in the state, these two do not work much beyond the table except in a few areas. Fortunately or unfortunately, various social benefit schemes benefit party workers and those who root for the area MLA with the Social Welfare Department being a mere shadow agency. Because of this, it is not social schemes that are impacting the agricultural sector as it does in other parts of the country but the very popular Village Defense Force as an avenue of employment that is responsible for taking away able bodies work force from the field to run amok on the streets. The large scale ‘migration’ of a work force who were earlier involved in agricultural production means farmers have to bring in field workers from far off areas which only increases the costs. The other bit of course, is that a lot of agricultural land is being sold off to meet the costs of bagging the job. The specter of development and progress cannot stand by itself unless the backbone of society: which is what it eats to sustain itself, is not taken care of and promoted. The North East region of the country has been considered a storehouse of indigenous rice breeds and if it does not learn from the way in which other nutritious cereals like bajra, jowar and ragi have been displaced by the Rs 5 per kg rice breed have been wiped off in the rest of the country, we will only have ourselves to blame one day.