By our LRS correspondent
There is growing anger and discontent of farmers in all parts of the country, which is manifesting in numerous struggles over the past several months. In April hundreds of farmers from Tamil Nadu organised protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, using various ways to highlight their demands. In June farmers in two of the largest states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, resorted to agitation over a wide-range of issues concerning their livelihood after five farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur, the epicentre of the agitation in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan farmers organised a 13-day long struggle led by the All India Kisan Sabha in September. Similar struggles of farmers have been reported from various other states reflecting their anger and frustrations. All these struggles amalgamated into a massive united show of strength on the streets of New Delhi in November 2017. At the call of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, peasants from all parts of the country gathered in Delhi. Their demands included a one-time waiver of bank loans to farmers and guaranteed public procurement of all crops at minimum support prices, of at least one and a half times the average cost of production, as recommended by the Swaminathan Committee.
Growing insecurity of livelihood
The insecurity of livelihood of those who till the land has reached unbearable levels. Every year while one section of farmers become poorer because of crop failure caused by drought, floods or pest attacks, another section becomes poorer in spite of enjoying a bumper crop because their selling price has fallen below their cost of production. While their incomes decline, the debt they owe to banks and money lenders keep rising.
The condition of poor and middle peasants is so precarious that their children want to get out of farming. Net incomes of even relatively prosperous farmers have declined in recent years. So-called support prices have fallen below the cost of production.
The present Prime Minister once claimed that through the policies their government is pursuing farmer’s income will be doubled by 2022. This was again repeated by the Finance Minister recently. However, it is not incomes but losses which have doubled, while debt has increased. Many farmers have dumped their produce on the roads in frustration.
The combination of falling incomes and rising indebtedness drives thousands of farmers to suicide every year. According to National Crime Reports Bureau, farmer suicides account for 11.2% of all suicides in India. Since 2008 thousands of farmers have been forced to commit suicide across various regions of the country due to indebtedness.
In 2015 the country faced one of the worst droughts of the last 50 years, affecting one fourth of the country. The peasants were driven into deeper debt and ruin. Crores of people struggled even to get drinking water, leave alone water for sowing crops and irrigating their fields. Since then farmers are facing an unprecedented crisis. While the situation is going from bad to worse, the State has been steadily withdrawing from its responsibility to ensure supply of seeds, power, irrigation, and fertilizers at subsidized rates. It is also dismantling whatever public procurement system it had set up for guaranteeing remunerative prices for peasants produce, by opening up food trade for Indian and foreign monopolies.
While various governments both at the Centre and the States claim to work for welfare of the rural population, they are refusing to fulfil the just demands of peasants. Instead of strengthening and expanding the role of state agencies in providing agricultural inputs at reasonable prices and ensuring procurement of farm produce at remunerative prices, they are expanding the space for the companies owned by big business houses like Tatas, Birlas, Reliance and others to reap maximum profits from trading in agricultural inputs and outputs. While the peasants are being left to “fend for themselves” in a market that is dominated by monopolies, the government is actively working towards fulfilling the greed of Indian and foreign agri-business companies.
What is the solution?
It is a universally accepted principle in our society that it is the duty of the State to look after the needs of those who till the land. It is the duty of the State to secure livelihood for the cultivators of the soil as a matter of right. The contribution of the farmers is extremely crucial for society to survive, and it is the duty of the State to provide irrigation and other vital inputs and ensure that peasants are looked after. However, this principle is being trampled in the mud by the governments in service of the monopoly business houses in power.
One of the claims made by those who benefit from the loot of the peasants is that if peasants are paid remunerative prices for their crops then that will lead to higher food prices in the retail shops. This is an utter lie, and a ploy to turn the rest of the people against the peasants. The truth is that the average price received by peasants for their produce is less than one quarter of the final selling price in the retail stores. The huge gap between the procurement price given to the peasant producer and the retail price charged to the consumer is where massive profits are made by private traders and monopoly trading companies.
Thus it is perfectly possible for peasants to receive remunerative prices for their produce, without any increase in the final retail prices. But this is possible only if the stranglehold of private traders is eliminated from the sphere of agricultural input supply and procurement.
Similarly the demand for waiver of agriculture loan is fully justified. The central government has allocated thousands of crores of rupees in the central budget to bail out big business houses and loan defaulters. Further large agri-business houses have looted lakhs of crores of rupees year after year through agricultural trade. One-time loan waiver amounts to only to a small part of this loot, which will be returned to the peasants.
The demands made by the farmers are fully justified. They are not only in the interest of the farmers, but in the general interest of the society. While the interest of the big business houses are inimical and aimed towards fulfilling their insatiable greed, which is against the interest of society.
Hence to resolve the crisis that Indian agriculture is facing it is extremely important that central and state governments fulfil their duty of creating a public procurement system covering all food and non-food crops. It is equally important that peasants are provided with agricultural inputs at affordable rates and all farm output is bought by public agencies at stable and remunerative prices. It is also necessary that the central and state governments set up a modern and efficient public distribution system. Further the public procurement system and the public distribution system must be integrated to ensure the availability of all essential consumption goods at affordable prices for all. These public systems should be brought under the control of people’s committees in the villages and towns, who should monitor them and ensure that there are no leakages caused by private profiteering interests and corrupt officials.