Thousands of farmers assembled outside the Parliament on 20th July 2018 to declare in no uncertain terms that they had no confidence in the government. Farmers are in struggle across the country for their right to livelihood. Their rights are being trampled upon to serve the interests of the biggest monopoly houses.
Lakhs of farmers in our country have been ruined by the orientation of Indian economy. This is reflected not only in the very low level of average income of farmers but also in the tragic and alarming number of farmers’ suicides. Farmers all over the country have responded to the agricultural distress by launching repeated agitations for their right to livelihood. Their struggles have become stronger over the years. Last year their agitation reached new heights when farmers organisations and unions started to co-operate on a broader level to hold joint all India level protests.
Five to seven lakh farmers of Maharashtra from Ahmednagar, Nashik, Kolhapur, Sangli, Solapur, Nanded and Jalgaon launched an agitation on 1st June 2017. Simultaneously, farmers of Madhya Pradesh and other states have been holding protest actions. A demonstration of farmers in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh was fired on 6 June 2017 by the police and six farmers were killed in the firing. Since then there has been a further escalation in farmers’ protest actions.
Under the banner of Karza Mukti Andolan Sangharsh Samiti, in which 39 farmers’ associations of Rajasthan are involved, farmers from across Rajasthan took out demonstrations in July 2017 and started a traffic jam campaign. Farmers in Uttar Pradesh held protest actions in September 2017 against the farce of loan waivers. A massive all India rally was organised under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) on 20th November in New Delhi, in which over 200 farmers organsations from Punjab, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, UP, MP, Rajasthan, Odisha, Bihar and Bengal as well as from far away states like Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Assam participated. In Maharashtra, Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha brought a 1.5-km long stream of farmers along the highway in March this year as more than 30,000 farmers, young and old, men and women, walked nearly 200 kms in scorching heat, to reached Azad Maidan in Mumbai. The farmers in Sirsa district of Haryana have been holding protests outside the office of the Superintending Engineer demanding that water should be released into canals for irrigation. Farmers in Tuticorin district of Tamilnadu have been agitating for implementation of the crop insurance scheme and procurement at remunerative prices.
More recently, 172 farmers’ organisations planned a 10-day long protest action, from 1st to 10th June 2018 to continue to press for their demands in the face of the callous apathy of governments. In many places, farmers dumped their vegetables and milk on the roads to highlight the fact that it was cheaper to throw their produce then to transport them to a mandi and sell at the extremely low prices prevailing there. Later in June, farmers organised coordinated highway blockade actions in which 62 farmer unions have been reported to have participated. In Rajasthan, farmers have been holding dharnas at the State Bank of India branch in the Ramgarh because the bank officials and a private insurance company are trying to deprive them of crop insurance benefits. The list of farmers actions in different parts of the country is indeed very long.
Although farmers have many demands, presently they are concentrating on two basic demands at the all India level – i) for procurement of all agricultural produce at remunerative prices with prompt payment and ii) for freedom from debt. Remunerative prices are considered to be 50% above the comprehensive cost of production as recommended by Swaminathan committee and as promised in the election manifesto of the BJP which is heading the present government. Government recently announced minimum support prices (MSP) for some crops claiming that it has fulfilled its election promise. However, farmers groups were quick to point out that the government is lying since the announced prices are only 7 to 19% above the comprehensive cost. Regarding waiver for their loans, various state governments made grand announcements of loan waivers but these were proven to be a farce when farmers started receiving cheques of just a few rupees to a few hundred rupees as waiver against their loans of lakhs of rupees. The Central government has refuted this demand outright and even filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court to this effect.
The question that arises is – Why are the Central and state governments refusing to fulfill these demands?
Farmers who toil hard and produce food for the whole of society have a right to a secure livelihood. From time immemorial, it was considered the duty of any ruler in India to ensure well-being of all who tilled the land and fed the people. The rulers were expected to maintain and enhance irrigation tanks and perform other necessary works. They were expected to reduce tax on farmers in drought years. However, with the coming of the colonial rule, this situation changed. Lakhs of farmers got ruined and suffered due to high rates of taxation even in drought years and faced many famines. The economy was oriented to fulfil the needs of British industry and maximise the tax collections from the farmers. The colonial rulers did not care for the well-being of the ordinary Indian farmer. However, even after the end of colonial rule, the orientation of the economy has not changed in favour of toilers and tillers of India. The farmers of India are continuously being robbed with monopoly prices of inputs and seeds and abysmally low prices for their produce at the mandis.
We must demand that the interests of those who toil to produce the necessities for society are protected. On the contrary, one government after another, is refusing to accept its responsibility towards the toilers and tillers of the country. They have consistently opened up the agricultural trade to monopoly traders, who have no concern for the well-being of the farmers and are only driven by the pursuit of their profits. The agricultural crisis is an inevitable result of this orientation of economy. This orientation is also responsible for the high prices that the working population of cities has to pay for food. Thus it is not in the interest of the majority of people. The present orientation of the economy is anti-farmer, anti-worker and anti-social.
The demands of farmers are entirely just and in the general interest of society. The securing of livelihood of the producers, and ensuring their sukh and suraksha is in the general interests of society. Government argues that if farmers’ demands are met, then it will lead to inflation and will adversely affect the workers and other city dwellers. However, what the government is trying to hide is the enormous profits that are being made by the monopoly trading companies who buy cheap from the farmers and sell dear to the consumers. Government is deliberately driving a wedge between different sections of people to split their unity. On the one hand, the rulers claim that they stand for the well-being of our people, on the other, they are increasing the space for the monopolies, instead of restricting their space. The government must take all necessary measures to ensure that procument prices are declared well before the sowing season, agricultural produce is procured without delays and farmers receive remunerative prices promptly. It must also put in place systems and processes to curb profiteering to ensure that consumers can buy them at affordable prices.
By Dr. Bharat Seth