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Time to stop looking at the skies

| Updated on: Nov 26, 2015
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With the onset of Ashvin in the Hindu calendar, India’s date with the Southwest monsoon has come to an end this year. These rains that irrigate over half of the country’s farms recorded a deficit of 14 per cent of the average this year, against last year’s 12 per cent.

The less-than-normal rainfall has put the rural economy under further strain. It is already reeling under the cumulative effects of the NDA government moderating the minimum support price for wheat, paddy and pulses; low coverage and delays in disbursal of wages under MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act); and falling international prices of farm produce.

Of course, the fact that much of our cultivated land depends on the monsoons and is not covered under irrigation network does not help either. Last, but not least, our rural economy was also hit by unseasonal rainfall which destroyed crops in many regions.

‘Monsoon management’ Looking at this mess, one cannot help but wonder for how long we shall continue to look up at the skies and keep praying to the gods of rain, for farm welfare. Ancient religious texts show our historical dependency on the monsoon.

There are ample references to the rain god throughout the 1,000 hymns in the Rigveda, a document that predates the New Testament by at least a millennium. The Arthshastra, a 350 BC treatise on statecraft, advises kings that monsoon management is crucial to staying in power.

But that was then. Now, in a 21st century modern economy, we ought to reduce our excessive relying on the monsoon for agriculture and push the rural economy. One may argue that this part of India is already diversified with more than 50 per cent of rural income being derived from non-farm related activities. However, the question remains as to how much of the non-farm income is truly ‘independent’ of agriculture related activities.

So, how can we insulate ourselves from the vagaries of the weather gods? The obvious choice would be manufacturing and the focus of the Government on ‘Make in India’ is an apt initiative. The low contribution from manufacturing to GDP (around 16 per cent compared to 40 per cent for Thailand, 34 per cent for China, 28 per cent for Malaysia and 26 per cent for South Korea) reinforces the point.

Skill building However, this is easier said than done. Improving manufacturing activity requires all-round effort from various stakeholders such as policymakers, corporates and the youth. Areas that need immediate action include simplifying the process of land acquisition, increasing investment in rural infrastructure and skilling of rural youth to make them employable in a manufacturing setup.

Skill development is important not only from technical aspects but also to embrace transition from agricultural to industrial environment. Employment in manufacturing/service industry entails a very different work environment, lifestyle and requires a change in mindsets.

India Inc and the Government need to invest in developing such skills for rural households. A beginning has been made through the National Skill Development Corporation and leading corporates have invested in skilling young people.

The Mahindra group is investing in ‘Namaste’, an initiative that focuses on training young men and women in specialised technical and professional skills so they are readily employed in high demand industries.

Likewise, at Mahindra Pride Schools across Pune, Chennai, Patna, Chandigarh and Srinagar, youth from socially and economically disadvantaged communities receive livelihood training in hospitality, craft, ITeS for BPOs and KPOs, and CRM. To reduce the dependence on monsoon, there is also a dire need to increase the area under irrigation.

The Government must be commended for launching Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, an irrigation scheme to ensure that all farmlands get water for cultivation, and for allocating about ₹50,000 crore towards this project. This single move has the potential to boost agricultural productivity and shield output from unpredictable weather.

While several industries have benefited in the past from increasing rural prosperity, they are also impacted by its slowdown. This has a domino effect on corporate profitability, employment and emoluments of individuals. This is why we, as a nation, need to stop looking at the skies and reduce our dependence on rains.

The writer is Chief Financial Officer, Group CIO and Member of the Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra

Published on January 22, 2018

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