We, at The Sunday Indian, were perhaps the first to do a serious cover story warning the BJP government of the looming agrarian crisis. And we believe it’s necessary to repeat the same given the seriousness of the issue and that despite only 15 percent of GDP coming from agriculture, the fact is that India still resides in villages and agriculture remains the livelihood of about 50 percent of the population. Forgetting about those marginalized masses could be equivalent to inviting catastrophe – not just humanitarian, but also political. Two weeks back, the Kisan Panchayat was held in Delhi and it is more than clear that the farmers’ movement is gaining serious momentum across the country. As many as 187 regional kisan forums gathered on Parliament Street under the umbrella of the Kisan Panchyat. The forum, headed by Raju Shetty MP, VM Singh, Hannan Maulah former MP, CPI General Secretary Atul Kumar Anjan and Yogendra Yadav, yet again reminded the government that farmers across the country are in severe distress and the Centre needs to look at them.
What needs to be done is way beyond the easy and populist route of knee-jerk loan waivers that invariably benefit the rich farmers far more than the poorer 80 percent, simply because the poorer lot aren’t creditworthy and they never take loans from banks – instead, they are exploited severely by local money lenders. The situation is such that various estimates are clearly putting the rise in farmer suicides at about 40 percent since 2014. Obviously, the government seems hardly bothered. This, despite the ever rising farmers’ agitations across MP, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and more. Yes, the movement still lacks a central leader like Anna Hazare; but what the AAP movement was to Congress, this kisan movement could turn out to be to BJP. The crisis mainly consists of the inability of the poorer farmers to get credit from the formal banking system to efficiently get access to better agriculture facilities; their inability to take advantage of the minimum support price (MSP) due to the fact that their land holdings are so small that whatever surplus they have, doesn’t make economic sense to be transported to the nearest mandi, thus forcing them to sell it to traders at less than 25 percent of the final market price; and finally, lack of insurance support against climatic conditions leading to failure of crops. Of course, one must not forget that the lack of a large-scale cooperative farming movement in India also harms the future of the small farmers.
Add to this the fact that government policies can play havoc. In a year with great yield of pulses, if the import is allowed without duties, then we will have domestic production getting destroyed. Similarly, the import duty reduction on wheat from 25 percent to zero led to a huge increase in wheat imports, thus obviously leading to crashing domestic prices. Add to that, the GST regime that has put 12 to 28 percent taxes on key agricultural inputs from tractors to pesticides. What is most surprising perhaps is the fact that no government representative or Minister came to receive the demands of these marginalized farmers, who have in the past been seen protesting even with the skulls of their dead kin.
THE MOVEMENT STILL LACKS A CENTRAL LEADER LIKE ANNA HAZARE BUT; WHAT THE AAP MOVEMENT WAS TO CONGRESS, THIS KISAN MOVEMENT COULD TURN OUT TO BE TO BJP
The matter of the fact is, farmers are ready for political participation and they want to create a pressure group in the legislature and in particular the Parliament. Farmers feel that they are being cheated by all the political parties. They are ready with their slogans, asking their groups to vote jointly for those who care for them and refuse to act as mere vote banks. In fact, Swabhimani Party of Raju Shetty may expand its wings in North Indiam fielding candidates for Lok Sabha polls with its main demands being the minimum support price on agriculture products to be cost plus fifty percent, along with better logistics to farmers for pre- and post-harvesting facilities, like cold storage etc, and better selling avenues. They also want expansion in irrigation facilities as only 45 percent of the cumulative 70 percent marginal farmers have access to proper irrigation facilities. They basically want the Swaminathan Committee Report to be implemented, which recommends the cost plus 50 percent formula for minimum support prices and calls for better infrastructure facilities, logistics, credit system, better quality seeds, and access to formal banking and credit system. Of course it also calls for better health insurance policies and support system to prevent farmer suicides. Shockingly Gujarat is a state where there is no compensation for farmers’ suicides, telling a lot about the mindset of the ruling party.
So, so far, three years have passed and despite the growing crisis, the government has not given an ear to the demands. The question is, will they do it or get ready for new regional farmers parties to (like AAP did in Delhi) take centre-stage in various states and ruin their 2019 poll calculations.
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