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A Nation indebted to farmers to join Kisan Mukti March

BJP’s Election Manifesto of 2014 and Narendra Modi’s speeches during the campaign seemed literally like a wish-list of the farmers of India.

By Newsd
Updated on :
Agriculture, the Engine of India’s Economic Growth derailed under Modi Raj

The country has been witnessing a spate of struggles by the crisis-ridden peasantry. In 2014, the Narendra Modi led BJP had managed to channelise the anger against the anti-people policies of the Congress-led UPA Government and the rampant corruption under its rule to a certain extent and reaped electoral benefits. Making a high-pitched campaign and lucrative promises they had been able to successfully lure a section of the peasantry and rural poor.

However, four years down the lane, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP which were beneficiaries of the support of the farmers and the rural poor are today at the receiving end of massive protests and farm unrest. For the first time the agrarian crisis and farm unrest is catching the attention of the media and the intelligentsia as well as the middle classes. A never-before-kind of solidarity between organisations of the peasantry, rural poor, oppressed and working classes has also been witnessed in the last four years, meticulously built with great effort. Narendra Modi and the BJP which maintained an insensitive approach to farmers’ woes are today being forced to announce policies that purportedly seek to address farmers’ grievances. What are the reasons for such a turnaround? What is bringing thousands of farmers incessantly into protests?

To understand this, it is necessary to understand what has happened to agriculture and peasant livelihoods under the BJP regime.

Agriculture, the Engine of India’s Economic Growth derailed under Modi Raj

BJP’s Election Manifesto of 2014 and Narendra Modi’s speeches during the campaign seemed literally like a wish-list of the farmers of India. It was claimed that the BJP Government would usher in Achhe Din and put an end to farm suicides. It had emphatically declared that “BJP commits highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmer’s income and rural development”. Specifically, BJP had promised 50% profits over cost of production, increased public investment, crop insurance, cheaper inputs, expansion of irrigation, more rural credit, expanding MGNREGS, poverty alleviation, etc. Four years of BJP rule under Narendra Modi has effectively derailed this “engine of India’s economic growth” as the BJP Manifesto called it.

Each of these promises has been broken. Public investment in agriculture and rural development has been drastically curtailed, agricultural credit is inaccessible and usurious money lenders are looting the farmers unchecked, input costs are skyrocketing, crop prices and Minimum Support Prices do not even cover the costs of production, procurement mechanism is being fast dismantled and private players allowed to exploit distressed farmers. Indiscriminate acquisition of land to promote corporate interests throwing to winds food security concerns and farmer’s interests has become the norm. No welfare measures or pension schemes have been implemented for agricultural labour, small and marginal farmers. Agricultural wages were not in the radar of BJP’s vision and so nothing has been done to increase them.

Agricultural Growth in Doldrums

Agricultural growth has been fairly volatile over the last four years falling to a low of -0.2% in 2014-15 from 5.6% in 2013-14. It rose to 0.7% in 2015-16, 4.9% in 2016-17 and hovered at 2.1% in 2017-18. These are shockingly low levels that adversely impact farm incomes as well as ability of the peasantry to take credit for investing in their land holdings. These data are also being questioned as post truth economics especially since the Government showed high growth rates even after demonetisation. Economists have estimated that a growth rate of more than 14.86% is required for 5 years to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. Niti Aayog economists disputed this and claimed that agriculture would require annual growth rate of 10.4% to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. Even if this claim is accepted one can see how far away we are from any such goal. The hollowness of their claims is all now coming back to haunt them.

Farm Suicides Continue Unabated

Far from ending farm suicides they are still alarmingly high despite efforts by certain States to fudge data and paint a rosy picture. Over 36,000 farm suicides were reported in the first 3 years of the BJP Government. BJP ruled Maharashtra with 11,956 farm suicides accounted for nearly one-third of the total. A glaring difference in the NCRB data on farm suicides in Punjab and the data generated in surveys by universities in Punjab has emerged. While NCRB figures show 459 suicides in Punjab in 3 years from 2014 onwards the door to door survey shows more than a thousand farm suicides every year. Bengal showed zero suicides in 2015 and 2016 while Bihar showed zero suicides in 2016 which is not the ground reality. Despite the gross underreporting, the farm suicide figures remain very high.

Promise of Ensuring 50% Profits Over Production Cost Betrayed

On ensuring minimum of 50% profits over cost of production (as per Swaminathan Commission recommendation), the BJP Government went back on this popular promise and on 20th February, 2015 it filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that it was not possible to increase the minimum support price (MSP) on the basis of input cost plus 50% as it would “distort the market”. Recently, the Government has claimed that it was already giving MSP over 50% more than cost of production. This is a massive hoax because they are using A2+FL+50% formula instead of the promised C2+50%. The difference between the two ranges from 32% for paddy to 34% for jowar and maize and 39% for arhar on an average – farmers are losing that much. In most cases the farmers are not even getting Rs.80 for every Rs.100 spent. MSP is also notional as the procurement is minimal.

As a result of the Government’s refusal to redeem its promise of giving 50% profit over cost price,  farmers are estimated to have lost nearly Rs.3 lakh crore for major crops in kharif and rabi 2017-18 – this being the difference between actual prices farmers got and what they would have got had Modi kept his word.

Stagnating Wages of Agricultural Workers

Modi had nothing to offer to the largest economic segment in India – the agricultural workers who make up nearly 55% of those involved in agriculture. These are the poorest, most downtrodden people, with a large share of Dalits and Adivasis. Their key demand for land is of course never mentioned but even their immediate demand of higher wages has been completely ignored by the Modi regime. The situation of agricultural wages is shocking, although landed lobbies keep lamenting about “high” wages. Recent studies have shown that after some rise between 2007-08 to 2014-15, rural wages have been stagnating under Modi rule. This is causing immense misery and hardship – but the Government has no word of solace, leave aside any relief, to offer.

Growth in Real Agricultural Wages

[2014-15 to 2016-17]

% change
Ploughing M 1.7
Sowing/Transplanting/Weeding M 3.1
F 5.0
Harvesting/Winnowing/Threshing M 0.5
F 0.3
Unskilled labour M 2.0
F 4.7
Source: Review of Agrarian Studies, Jul-Dec 2017

Dismantling National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)

While the BJP manifesto had claimed that it will link MGNREGS to agriculture, nothing has happened to strengthen and expand it. No increase in MGNREGS allocation has been made even in the latest Budget. Rs.55,000 crore allotted is exactly the same as the revised estimate for 2017-18. Even by conservative estimates, more than Rs.80,000 crores will be required for the proper implementation of the programme. This callous attitude is despite the fact that over 56% of wages were pending and more than 15% of wage seekers did not find any work in 2016-17. As of 25th January, 2018 eight states had a net negative balance of Rs.1,555 crore in MGNREGS funds, i.e., they spent more than they received from Centre. In 2016-17 of the 89 million job seekers only 76 million found work. States have been witnessing a drastic cut in allocations and the average number of workdays under MGNREGS has been well below what is stipulated in the Act. Without addressing these issues their last Budget talks of creating employment of 321 crore person days without any concrete proposals. Over 1.62 crore job card-holders under MGNREGA were struck off from the register in 2017-18. The average days of work provided per household was 29 in Assam, 36 in Bihar, 41 in Jharkhand and 40 in Odisha. In 2017-18, the scheme provided 45 days of work on an average to a rural household, compared to 49 days in 2015-16, when several States were under severe drought. Wages under MGNREGS continue to be lower than minimum wages for agriculture labourers in as many as 27 states and Union Territories.

No Respite to Farmers in Budget, Bank Credit & Insurance

Despite faltering growth and a dire prediction in the Economic Survey that climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes in the range of 15-18% on an average and in unirrigated areas up to 20-25%, the allocation for agriculture in the Budget is only 2.36% of the total. Allocation to the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana saw a drastic cut from Rs.4,500 crore in the Revised Estimates to just Rs.3,600 crores in the latest Budget registering a decline to the lowest since its implementation. It is notable that the outlay for Price Stabilisation Fund which was a much-hyped programme aiming to address problems arising out of volatility in prices has come down from Rs.6,900 crores in 2016-17 to merely Rs.1,500 crores in 2018-19. This will affect farmers growing commercial crops like rubber, tea, coffee, spices etc. The BJP Government is also making fast-paced moves to enter into a mega Free Trade Agreement namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which will hit Indian farmers.

The BJP government claimed that it has expanded agricultural credit and given Rs 8.5 lakh crores in agricultural loans in 2014-15, which has over time increased to Rs 11 lakh crores in 2018-19. Bulk of this is not a budgetary expenditure. The government pays a small proportion of interest subvention on crop loan component of this agricultural credit. Banks have failed to meet the target of 13.5% priority lending to non-corporate agriculture and 8% to small and marginal farmers.  A major chunk of this is made up of massive loans and is going to agri-business companies and the industrial sector. According to a reply by the Reserve Bank of India to an RTI, the Government banks handed out Rs 58,561 crore to 615 accounts in agricultural loans in the year 2016. On average, each account has been given over Rs 95 crores in agricultural loans. Data from the RBI reveals that massive amounts have been given to people in the name of agricultural loans even before 2016. In 2015, 604 accounts received Rs 52,143 crores, which comes to Rs 86.33 crores per account, whereas Rs 60,156 crore (at an average of Rs 91.28 crore per account) was given in agricultural loans in 2014. Even under the earlier Congress-led UPA government, 2013 saw 665 accounts receive Rs 56,000 crores at an average of Rs 84.30 crores per account in agricultural loans, 698 accounts received Rs 55,504 crores at an average of Rs 79.51 crores per account in 2012. This trend has been accelerated under the BJP Government. A Maharashtra businessman allegedly secured loans worth over Rs.5,400 crores on the basis of fake documents made in the name of farmers.

Only about 41% of the agricultural credit is given to small and marginal farmers (represented by loans of up to Rs. 2 lakh), while about 14% carrying a loan size of more than Rs. 1 crore goes to institutions and corporates engaged in agricultural production. Indebtedness is growing and is the major reason for farm suicides.

The much hyped Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana which was touted as the panacea for all farmers has proved to be a milking cow for corporate companies, while farmers are not benefiting. According to a recent reply to an RTI filed by an activist P.P.Kapoor, more than 84 lakh farmers, which is about 15 percent of the total farmers insured in the first year of the PMFBY, i.e. 2016-17, withdrew themselves from the scheme in 2017-18 due to the sorry state of affairs.  A massive 68.31 lakh farmers who withdrew are from the four BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Corporate companies, including Reliance, ICICI, HDFC and IFFCO, among others, have registered a total profit of around ₹15,795 crore since the launch of the scheme, though the final profit margins could change since the insurance claims for 2017-18 Rabi crops are yet to be estimated. The profits for 2016-17 are approximately ₹6,459 crore, said the RTI reply. The All India Kisan Sabha had at the very beginning pointed out that the PMFBY was a scam and renowned journalist P.Sainath recently termed it a bigger scam than the Rafale scam. In Maharashtra a glaring case of 2.80 lakh farmers who sowed soyabean in a District was exposed by him. They had paid a premium of Rs.19.2 crores and the State as well as the Central Government share of Rs.77 vrores each as premium, altogether totalling Rs.173 crores was paid to Reliance Insurance. The entire crop failed and Reliance paid Rs.30 crores in the District giving it a net profit of Rs.143 crores in that District alone. Such profits are accruing to these corporate insurance companies without having to invest any pie.

Failed Promise of Irrigation to All Fields

All talk of Har Khet Ko Pani (Water to All Fields) under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) also have come a cropper with several States reeling under recurring droughts. A recent analysis shows that this programme has mostly been confined to just five states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu which accounted for 78% of the irrigated area expansion during 2017-18. Bihar was able to add just 86 hectares. Failure of the poor States to finance 40% of the cost which is to borne by them is a major reason.

The PMKSY with planned allocation of Rs. 50,000 crores until 2019-20 has been way below target and budget allocations far less than the requirement. Of its four components, the largest is Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) that seeks to complete 149 unfinished major and medium irrigation projects. Of these, 99 projects were placed in three priority categories, to be completed by March 2017, March 2018 and March 2019. In December 2017, the completion rate for these three categories was 66%, 29% and 12% respectively of the additional capacity that was to be created during this three-year period. A major scheme of PMSKY, Watershed Development Component, meant for recharging of ground water in rain-fed areas, has so far been allotted less than half the funds required for it. Naturally, only about 10% of the target has been met: only 849 of the 8214 projects have been completed. Similarly, of the target of 1.5 lakh hectares for RRR (Repair, Renovation and Restoration) of water bodies, less than 10%, or 0.147 lakh hectares was completed in 2015-16. No funds were released under this sub-head in 2016-17. In days of climate change and recurring droughts this failure has hit farmers very badly.

Each one of the promises made has been broken. Modi led BJP Government has only followed a policy of pauperising and dispossessing the peasantry by deliberately pushing them into distress by withdrawing State support, aggressively pursuing trade liberalisation and the gamut of Neo-Liberal Economic Policies.  The interests of farmers and agricultural workers have been betrayed to usher in achhe din for Adani, Ambani and their ilk. The demonetisation hit farmers badly and prices of all crops crashed after this disastrous decision. A full two years after the decision the agriculture ministry has now admitted that it had a disastrous impact on farmers. The Prime Minister is solely responsible for destroying the livelihoods of millions of farmers and toiling masses. Prices of agricultural inputs, essential goods, petrol and diesel have also risen incessantly. The GST has also hit the peasantry and rural poor badly. All measures of the Narendra Modi-led BJP are aimed at aiding corporate profiteering at the expense of the peasantry. The high hopes generated by their promises have been belied and there is a strong imprint in the minds of the peasantry BJP-Modi Kisan Virodhi which the BJP are unable to wipe away

India Marches With the Annadaata

Naturally, the angry farmers are on the streets in protest and the AIKS is playing a leading role in these protests. Massive struggles are taking place against the betrayal by the Prime Minister and the BJP Government. An unprecedented issue-based unity has been built to launch intensified struggles. The United Trade Union Movement of all Central Trade Unions has launched massive struggles and successful General Strikes and this year witnessed a massive Mahapadav on 9th-11th November at Delhi in which lakhs of workers took part. The peasantry built issue-based unity within a year of the formation of the Government for protection of land rights and against unjust land acquisition and formed the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan involving over three hundred organisations of the peasantry, agricultural workers, Adivasis, Dalits, forest workers, fishing community and people’s movements. This was followed up with the formation of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee involving more than 200 farmers’ organisations demanding remunerative prices and liberation from indebtedness. While Left Unity has been strengthened we also formed the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan involving Left Mass and Class Organisations as well as People’s Movements mobilising people against Neo-Liberal Economic Policies and Communal forces. Massive protests under these different banners have taken place in addition to the unprecedented protests by peasantry in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and elsewhere which have emerged victorious overcoming extreme repression. The 9th August Jail Bharo on the anniversary of the Quit India Movement saw over 5 lakh peasants and workers taking part. The 5th September Mazdoor-Kisan Sangharsh Rally had lakhs of peasants, agricultural workers and workers marching on the streets of Delhi. In the series of the consistent organised protests is the Kisan Mukti March inspired by the Kisan Long March that had taken place from Nashik to Mumbai. On 29th and 30th November thousands will march in the streets of Delhi. On 29th November from four points in Delhi, the peasants from across the country will march to the Ramlila Maidan. A cultural programme “Ek Shaam Kisanon Ke Naam” (One Evening In The Name of The Farmer) where eminent artists will perform has been planned for the evening of 29th November. On 30th November, over a lakh farmers from across the country under the banner of the AIKSCC will march to the Parliament with the slogan Dilli Chalo demanding a 21-day special session of the Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis. It also calls for passing the two Bills prepared by a Kisan Parliament earlier to ensure liberation from debt and assured remunerative prices in this special session. They have now been introduced as private bills in the Parliament by K.K.Raghesh, MP and Joint Secretary of AIKS in Rajya Sabha and by Raju Shetti, MP from Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha. Interestingly, Raju Shetti had contested as an ally of the BJP in 2014, has come out of the NDA and is now part of the AIKSCC. Parliament Street will witness speeches by leaders of different Kisan organisations. It will be followed by a session where leaders of different political parties will state their position on the Special Session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis as well on the two Kisan Mukti Bills. Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal and others are expected to attend the programme.

For the first time ever, taking a cue from the Kisan Long March with the renowned journalist P.Sainath taking initiative different sections of the society have come out in solidarity with the farmers. A solidarity group called Nation for Farmers has been formed with chapters in different States. Meetings in different Universities under banners like JNU for Farmers, Jamia for Farmers, AUD for Farmers, Delhi University for Farmers etc with students, teachers and staff coming together are taking place across the country. Scientists for Farmers, Journalists for Farmers, Students for Farmers, Techies for Farmers, Lawyers for Farmers, Youth for Farmers, Artists for Farmers, Photographers for Farmers, Doctors for Farmers, Engineers for Farmers are some of the solidarity groups. The working class will actively join the Kisan Mukti March. Many people cutting across all walks of life are signing in as volunteers. To top it all the soldiers have also come out in support of the Kisans with the slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan and Kisans are expressing solidarity with their demands. Literally, it is going to be a cross-section of India walking hand in hand with the Annadata. This unprecedented show of solidarity is undoubtedly a prelude to a magnificent struggle which will play a big role in deciding the future course of politics in our country. The sharpness and intensity of the protests will only increase in coming days and these struggles will make a significant contribution in defeating the Narendra Modi led BJP Government at the Centre and anti-people BJP Governments in the States. No political party will be able to ignore the genuine demands of the farmers and hope to still win elections. The farmers refuse to get cheated any more. Farmers will claim their due share. They are marching to create new history.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.