Uma Seth, agricultural economist and member of the All India Council of the Lok Raj Sangathan, was invited to address a seminar on this issue of greatest concern for the people of our country at this time. Aptly, this meeting was organised in Hissar, the center of the first green revolution. Even more significantly, it was organised by concerned students of the prestigious Hissar Agricultural University whose aspirations to contribute to the agricultural rejuvenation of India are being sought to be crushed to dust by the economic course pursued by successive governments. In an extremely fruitful seminar, what came through was the striving of the student youth and teachers to seek a path for the country wherein they will have a say.
The Students Forum organised this seminar on March 22 together with the SFI. There were presentations by four students of the University, followed by presentations on Rural Finance by Prof. Rawal of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and on Rural Distress and its basis by Uma Seth. The Chief Guest, the Commissioner of Hissar addressed the students on various issues of concern.
The presentations by the students were on the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG), Genetically Modified Organisms, Mechanisation in Agriculture, and Food Security. They were informative and thought -provoking. They raised substantial questions about the benefits of policies, their scope and coverage, and their weaknesses.
Speaking on Rural Finance, Prof Rawal traced the policy of the various governments between 1969 and 2005, and the impact of liberalisation on rural credit, which he pointed out, was clearly to force peasants into the arms of the money lenders and others in the rural areas.
Uma Seth addressed the issue of rural distress and highlighted its severity and pointed out that the government’s policy has not addressed the basis of this. This was that increasing commercialisation and capitalisation of Indian agriculture had exposed the millions of small peasants on very small holdings to very high risks and insecurities; there was no insurance for such risks. In the context of no guarantee of output prices in the face of increasing input costs, the small and middle peasants have been forced into perpetual indebtedness.
Uma Seth pointed out that nothing will change substantially without changing the relations of production. She pointed to the monopolisation of trade and pocketing of the surplus by the middlemen and big corporations; while the farmer received a pittance for his produce, a mere 40 percent of its value on the average. At such a time, government policy is clearly stated to promote agri-business and enabling big corporations to further monopolise trade.
She concluded with appreciation of the important role of the students, teachers and public servants of Hissar, who were striving for an alternative to the present economic and political course which was leading to the devastation of the peasantry, the workers, the youth and students, women and all sections of the Indian people.