விவசாயிகள் பிரச்சினை இந்தியத் துணைக்கண்டம் எதிர்கொண்டுள்ள முக்கியமான நெருக்கடி. இது குறித்த ஒரு கோபாட்டுத் தெளிவு விசாயிகள் அமைப்புகளுக்கு உடனடித் தேவையாகிறது. இந்தத் திசையில் ஒரு முயற்சியை மேற்கொண்டுள்ள தோழர் சிவராமன் இப்பிரச்சினையை ஒரு தேசிய அளவிலான நெருக்கடி நிலையாக அறிவிக்க வேண்டும் என்கிறார் – அ.மார்க்ஸ்
BREAKING OUT OF THE PRESENT NATIONAL IMPASSE
Any observer of the present state of farm politics would be struck by some apparent paradoxes.
NO NATIONAL LOAN WAIVER
· Not just farmers’ suicides but the larger agrarian crisis itself and even the farmers’ resistance snowballed into national issues and occupied centre-stage in the national agenda. But despite this turning into an explosive national political issue the government’s response has been startlingly callous and tokenistic. Despite the Maharashtra farmers successfully pushing Fadanvis back to the wall and forcing him accept their demand for loan waiver at the pressure of their “strike”, the blockage of farm products movement to Mumbai, and despite farmers taking to streets in virtually almost all major States in a scattered manner and despite more than 125 farmers’ organisations coming together on a single platform to coordinate their struggles they were not able to repeat their Maharashtra success at the national level and make Modi and Jaitley buckle down yet for a national level loan waiver from the Centre as UPA did in 2007. This is impasse number one.
NO CLUE ON THE WAY OUT
· The drought-suicides wave of 2015 and 2016, especially in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana and the acute crisis of Tamil Nadu farmers resulting in a new suicide wave unseen in that State earlier and the protest-gimmicks by some farmers’ groups from that State in the national capital designed to attract media indeed captured the media attention and the farmers’ distress became the central theme in the nation’s mood. Sensing this, the political parties—including the BJP in some States like UP and Punjab—promised loan waivers in State elections. And then when the farmers of Madhya Pradesh joined their brothers and sisters in Maharashtra and fought pitched battles with police day after day for a fortnight and in the process sacrificed 28 of their own lives in police firing, the farmers’ anger started sinking into the nation’s consciousness. This is the backdrop in which the nation witnessed an unprecedented surge in the discussion on the agrarian crisis and the farmers’ distress. These themes dominated all the media, be they national or regional media or print or television media. Every columnist felt compelled to say something on the farmers’ plight and key public figures appeared before TV cameras giving their opinions and expressing solidarity with the farmers. But neither the government could think of some timely adequate response by articulating a package of effective policies to durably mitigate the crisis nor could the fighting farmers’ organisations articulate a wider set of demands beyond the demands for loan waiver and higher MSP, and force them upon the government. So much discussion but so little by way of concrete practical solution! This is yet another impasse.
BIG BANG BEGINNING BUT…
· There have been several attempts in the past to convene national level meets of farmers’ organisations, especially by late Sharad Joshi, BKU-Punjab and late Nanjundaswamy, Karnataka. And there have been some coordinated actions by them covering more than one State on a few occasions. But the coming together this time is quite comprehensive and almost all-encompassing save two or three exceptional and inexplicable cases. Such an enormously broad-based convergence naturally generated very high expectations among all sympathetic observers that they would enhance the level of farmers’ resistance to a new higher plane, confront Modi head on, reflect the real mood of the farmers and not hesitate to go for a showdown and would turn themselves as the centre of coordinated all-India mass actions of farmers culminating in a Bharat Bandh. But surprisingly they only decided to undertake small-scale padayatras as the immediate action agenda. Even the otherwise sympathetic media was stunned and disappointed.
True, rallying the scattered and localist farmers into a national socio-political force, and that too trough some organisational efforts, is not an easy task. The spatially highly segmented and scattered farmers movements and organisations have naturally not succeeded yet in throwing up a farmers’ leader of national stature yet. The need for a pan-Indian Gandhi-like figure for the farmers’ movement was badly felt. Like Gandhi’s calls for non-cooperation movement and no-tax campaigns, if a towering personality enjoying the confidence of farmers had called upon the farmers not to repay the loans and launch a mass satyagraha until the Centre announced a national loan waiver and hiked the MSP by 50% for all agricultural products as promised by Modi during his 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, a de facto self-enforced “loan wavier” of sorts could have become a fait accompli and Modi-Jaitley combine could have been brought to their knees. The intensity of the farmers’ crisis and the scale of agitations and protests have long transcended the preliminary stage of creating mass awareness and grassroots mobilization through mini padayatras. Big bang convergence but extremely small-scale amateurish action!—this is yet another paradoxical impasse in the farm politics situation.
OPPOSITION TOO NOT RISING TO THE OCCASION
· May be, for some reasons known only to themselves the organizers thought this would be a cold start which could slowly build up to a crescendo coinciding with the Monsoon Session of the parliament. True, synchronized action with political parties is crucial but are the opposition parties responsive enough? The major opposition parties led by the Congress were busy in working out a common candidate for Presidential election as the preparatory move for their doubtful Grand Alliance / Mahagatbandhan experiment but not concerned about the farmers’ issues. True, for the record they have made all the right noises and the leaders have even made customary photo-opportunity visits to struggle spots like Mandsaur or Tanjore but an effective all-India joint action programme leave alone a Bharat Bandh doesn’t seem to figure in their imagination. May be, for its own reasons the Congress doesn’t seem to be ready for an all-out confrontation with Modi and for an immediate showdown on farmers’ issue. Sections of the media keep blaming the Congress HighCommand for lack of imaginative initiatives and keep speculating whether the Congress is dying or already dead, whether it has a future or not. Any revival can come only through the worth of the present actions on major national issues. The nation, especially the peasantry and the working classes witnessed Congress’ treachery and callousness towards the masses while in power what with their unabashed pro-corporate politics. Now the toiling masses are witnessing the Congress’ treachery and indifference while in opposition. No wonder the existential crisis of the Congress would cease to exist soon. Good riddance!
· Not only Congress, opportunism and treachery have become the hallmarks of many other parties in the opposition who were vying for prominent role for themselves in the mirage of Mahaghatbandan not so long ago. Nitish Kumar, who was billed as the opposition’s alternative for Modi at one time, has now been politically neutralised by Modi and among Modi’s new-found friends are Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav, supposedly at loggerheads with father, was only too eager give attendance at Modi’s midnight GST launch drama unmindful of breaking the opposition ranks in the process. If they all care for two hoots for their own credibility and future and how they can be expected to care for farmers? The marginal Left has too little leverage over their “natural allies” to be able to galvanize them all into some fitting response to Modi on farmers’ crisis but, sadly enough, they are preoccupied and partly paralyzed from within by fighting among themselves as to whether to rally with this Congress and such other centrist allies into a notional Mahagatbandhan or a Federal Front of the future or not! In other words, when the farmers’ crisis has exploded massively onto the political scene, they have very few committed friends among the opposition ranks and get very little political back-up and solidarity from them. This impasse is yet another paradox.
· The BJP leaders meanwhile are patting themselves in the back for stonewalling the demand for an all-India loan waiver. They hope that the petty concession of interest subvention to bring down the interest on farm loans to 4%, the selective loan waivers in UP and Maharashtra and the marginal increase in MSP this year would somehow pout cold water over farmers’ agitations and they can limit the loan waiver demand to the two mentioned States only. In fact, one BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh was even asserting on TV that farmers agitations would be a thing of the past as monsoon rains had started and farmers’ would soon be busy in agricultural operations and have no time for agitations. He was even hopeful that a good monsoon, a bumper crop, and a good income would stand the party in good stead for 2019 too. But the agrarian crisis is too complicated and deep-rooted to be mitigated by a single good monsoon or by some partial and limited waivers or some marginal increase in MSP.
The farmers’ organisations need not lose hope, and fear that the present impasse would be permanent and there would a further throwback. Lamenting over the negatives in the situation is not our job. At any point of time we should have a keen eye on all the positives in the situation and combine them all to move forward. In fact, the farmers’ organisations can convert the ‘cold start’ into an all-out high-intensity war if they systematically work on several enabling positive factors in the situation listed below.
DECLARE FARMERS’ CRISIS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY
FARMERS ARE GUARANTORS OF NATION’S FOOD SECURITY. GUARANTEEING THEIR LIFE SECURITY AND LIVELIHOOD SECURITY IS THE DUTY OF THE STATE. THE RECORD OF THE STATE ON THIS SCORE WILL SHOW WHETHER IT REMAINS A REPUBLICAN STATE OR HEADING TOWARDS A FASCIST STATE.
· Does the call for invoking national economic emergency provision sounds too alarmistic? Not at all.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees right to life. When farmers are dying in thousands every year, it is the duty of the state to prevent it.
Not only that. By implication, the citizen’s right to be free from hunger is also enshrined in Article 21. And in real terms who are the guarantors of this Constitutional right—the farmers who provide food to the nation. When farmers’ lives are in danger, the right to life of the citizens and thereby the security of the nation, are also under threat. This is sufficient enough ground to declare it a state of emergency. The idea is not to enable the executive to assume draconian emergency powers but to shake itself out of its own lethargy and callousness.
Article 39-A of the Constitution, one of the Directive Principles, enjoins the state to move in the direction of guaranteeing its citizens not only the right to livelihood but also to create necessary conditions for it.
Article 47 of the Constitution makes it incumbent upon the state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of the people.
Read together, these two Articles of the Constitution on food and nutrition security empower the citizens with the Right to Food.
Who else can guarantee this other than farmers? They are the providers of food to the nation. If their own survival is under threat, Constitutional governance is also under theat. Hence the question of declaring it an economic emergency arises.
By admitting a PIL on Right to Food by PUCL and issuing a series of directives to the governments under it the judiciary and by passing a Right to Food Act the legislative wing of the state have recognised Right to Food almost as a fundamental right. The apex court has clarified that from being an inviolable fundamental right, the Right to Food is also a human rights issue derived from it in an operational sense to be enforced by the state in day-to-day terms. Naturally, by extension, farmers’ suicides issue is also a human rights issue and not just an economic policy issue falling solely in the domain of the executive. That is why the issue is now under the domain of the courts as well as NHRC.
Why an economic emergency? By declaring it as an economic emergency, for instance, the RBI can be prevented from vetoing loan waivers and other major fiscal measures in favour farmers as it did in the case of loan waivers of AP and Telangana, refusing them large overdrafts for one-time waivers and forcing them to go for a waiver in installments. The government can hefty a hefty cess on goods under the Seventh Schedule of the GST like luxury automobiles, air-conditioners, services in posh hotels and air travel etc, and meet the fiscal challenge posed by the loan waiver. It can also deprive them the chance of invoking the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act to argue against the feasibility of a central loan waiver. It can help declare a moratorium on all private loans taken b farmers. It can open up many more such opportunities to tackle the agrarian distress, including arresting all the fraudulent pesticides, seeds and fertilizer dealers and discipline all bank branch managers who refuse loans to the tenants and bureaucrats why deny MGNREGA work to labourers.
We elaborate on all these details here only to make a political point, that Modi Government’s indifference is not just a matter of callousness or just a lopsided priority favoring big corporate and finance capital to the neglect of farmers’ interests. Rather, over and above that, the central issue involved in Modi Government’s attitude towards farmers’ suicides is whether the Indian state would continue to remain a constitutional republican state or heading towards a fascist state, trampling upon the rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
A SUMMARY OF LATEST SUICIDE DATA (STATEWISE); ESPECIALLY AFTER ANNOUNCEMENT OF MAHARASHTRA LOAN WAIVER; HIGHLIGHTING GLARING CASES, DROUGHT SUICIDES
INCIDENCE OF SUICIDE IN NEW AREAS—UTTARAKHAND, RAJASTHAN, CHHATTISGARH & ASSAM DATA TO BE SUMMARISED.
WAIVE ALL LOANS OF ALL FARMERS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY FROM THE CENTRE UNCONDITIONALLY
NATIONAL CRISIS NEEDS NATIONAL SOLUTION
· Modi and Jaitley are too clever by half when they invoke the potential fiscal crisis argument to deny an all-India loan waiver and when they try to pass the buck onto the States in the name of agriculture being a State subject. Agrarian crisis is not a mere administrative issue for hair splitting over Central vs. State lists or concurrent lists in the Constitution. It is a matter of life vs. death for millions of Indian as borne out by continuing daily count of farm suicides. Farmers’ crisis should be declared a national calamity so that the executive can resort to extra-ordinary measures and declare not only loan waiver but a series of other effective actions. In fact, it must be declared a national economic emergency so that even RBI and banks can be arms-twisted to agree to an immediate waiver of existing farm loans and immediately follow it up with disbursal of fresh loans. There can also be a moratorium on all private loans. Any bureaucrat showing sluggishness in this regard should be hauled up under Emergency provisions. All traders playing price games with farmers and consumers can be put behind the bars as these acts of commercial price manipulation can be declared cognizable crimes.
It is perverse on the part of Modi-Jaitley to pass the buck to Shivraj Singh Chauhan or Jagdish Shetter, Vasundara Raje or Raman Singh.
Farmers’ crisis is a national crisis and hence there can only be a national solution.
CURRENT LOAN WAIVER SCANARIO
CAVEATS GALORE IN LOAN WAIVERS & LOAN WAIVERS AS HALF-MEASURES
· The loan waiver was declared in 2017 but the farmers who had taken the loan in 2017 were not entitled for the waiver and it was limited to loans taken till 2016 only. 36 lakh farmers were supposed to benefit from the waiver.
One lakh is the limit,
Two lakhs is the limit.
Only cooperative loans and that too only for small and marginal farmers
· In both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, KCR and Chandrababu Naidu promised loan waivers during elections and, after winning, the governments did not have the money to waive all loans at one go. The RBI put its foot down and refused to give a huge overdraft and asked the two governments to manage money for this from their own budgetary resources. So the Telangana Government is waiving the loan in installments. After more than 2 years they are about to sanction the third installment of waiver and at least two more installments are due. This has crippled the lending cycle and availability of fresh loans to the farmers.
· As in Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana is also to announce the third installment of loan waiver soon and reports from the ground indicate that banks are refusing to sanction any fresh agricultural loan even if the farmer had no dues or comes forward to clear all the pending dues.
· But the Telangana Government has made some other noteworthy moves on farmers’ distress. Besides free power and loan waiver though in installments, K. Chandrasekhar Rao Government has recently declared that each farmer would be given Rs. 8000 per acre as livelihood assistance to farmers and this is beside a fertiliser subsidy of Rs. 4000 per acre. KCR is also giving Rs. 75,000 as marriage assistance for two daughters in a farmer’s household. These schemes have been welcomed by farmers and this has put tremendous pressure on the governments of AP, Karnataka and TN also for similar assistance. Though the pink press/business papers denounce KCR’s “farmers populism”, this can be turned into a generalized demand, at least in suicide prone areas and high-distress areas and/or seasons.
POLITICALLY GOVERNED MANIPULATORY WAIVERS
· Modi-Jaitley combine wants to pit the Centre against the States, pit some States where farmers’ crisis is not severe against States where farmers’ agitations are very intense, and even within the States where farmers are agitating they are trying to divide farmers by size-class and by the type of farm loans, and also favouring only those who have taken loans from cooperative banks and neglecting others who have taken loans from public sector banks.
· Modi’s half-hearted response to farmers’ crisis has amply demonstrated that the BJP is at best treating farmers as a vote-bank. It approaches the issue from narrow electoral considerations only. Jaitley repeatedly asserts that an all-India loan waiver would cost around Rs. 3 lakh crore to the exchequer now unlike it worked out to Rs. 1.7 lakh crore when Chidambaram declared an all-India waiver of farm loans in 2007. But BJP is not in principle against loan waiver. They declared it in UP and, after some rap on the Fadnavis’ knuckles by farmers, in Maharashtra too. They even promised it in Punjab though they got a drubbing in polls in spite of that.
o Is the crisis severe only for UP farmers and Maharashtra farmers not for farmers in other States?
o Does the farmers’ crisis become severe only on the eve of elections and not at other times?
o Would the BJP acknowledge the need for loan waiver only when elections are around the corner and not at other times and only in States where elections are due and not in other States?
o Do only the farmers who have taken cooperative loans suffer pain and not their neighbours who have taken loans from PSBs or private loans?
· Farmers are not to be treated just as vote-banks. Addressing their life-and-death problems cannot be guided by electoral considerations alone. Nor can they be evaded by short-sighted politicians invoking dubious ‘fiscal crisis’ pretexts. It is a test to the nation’s very moral foundations.
‘LOAN WAIVER-PLUS’ AND NOT PALTRY RELIEF ‘INSTEAD OF LOAN WAIVER’—FARMERS NEED A COMPLETE PACKAGE
LOAN WAIVER + MSP + INPUT SUBSIDIES + PROTECTION FROM FOREIGN TRADE + SAFEGUARDS FROM MERCHANTS + MOREE EFFECTIVE AND HASSLE-FREE INSURANCE + SEPARTION OF CROP LOANS FROM MECHAISATION LOANS, IRRIGATION LOANS (INCLUDING DRIP IRRIGATION) AND LAND DEVELOPMENT LOANS
A SUMMARY OF MULTI-DIMENSIONAL FARMERS’ CRISIS/CRISES
MAKE MINIMUM SUPPORT PRICE THE MAXIMUM
MINIMUM SUPPORT PRICE IS ACTUALLY MAXIMUM SUPPORT PRICE AND OFTEN ACTS AS A PRICE DEPRESSANT IN THE OPEN MARKETS
MSP HIKES SINCE MODI TOOK OVER AND HOW IT CONTRASTS WITH HIS PROMSIE OF DOUBLING FARMERS’ INCOME
MSP SANS PROCUREMENT IS MOCKERY OF THE IDEA OF “SUPPORT”!
PROCUREMENT CRISIS IN NORTH INDIA
LACK OF PROCUREMENT OF HORTICULTURAL PRODUCTS AND PERISHABLES
THE DUBIOUS FISCAL CRISIS PRETEXT TO DENY FARMERS THEIR DUE
FEW WORDS ON THE FISCAL BOGEY—PERVERSE NEO-MONETARISM
END ALL TAX WAIVERS TO CORPORATES
Revenue foregone (tax waivers and other fiscal concessions in favour of corporates) in successive Jaitley’s Union Budgets since Modi Government took power in 2014
TOTAL REVENUE FOREGONE DUE TO WAIVER OF DIRECT & INDIRECT TAXES TO CORPORATES
|2014–15||Rs. 554,349.04 crore|
|2015–16||Rs. 287,100.00 crore|
|2016–17||Rs. 318,348 crore|
Source: Different budget documents.
· Going by these figures, did Jaitley actually bring down the level of tax concessions to corporates? No. He brought down these numbers by budget documentary fraud. Befitting a cheap trickster, he discontinued the presentation of the detailed and separate revenue foregone statement from 2016–17 Union Budget onwards. Then he merged it with the Receipts Budget in such a manner that it is very difficult to calculate revenue foregone under different heads separately as it used to be given in the separate revenue foregone statement earlier. More than that, he adopted a fraudulent methodology to make the actual revenue foregone numbers by making an artificial distinction between ‘conditional’ and ‘unconditional’ waivers and discontinued inclusion of ‘unconditional’ waivers in the total revenue foregone figure. This was how thus fraud Finance Minister “brought down” the revenue foregone! In other words, he brought done only the figures and not the actual benefits to corporates. Moreover, the he had brought down the effective tax rate also. So the revenue foregone share in total potential revenue would have gone up. If the old method had been adopted, the total revenue foregone would have worked out to Rs. 611,128 crore in 2015–16 instead of Rs. 287,100 croee as claimed under the new method. (See ‘Why revenue foregone has fallen a massive 70%’ by Tina Edwin, Business Line, 8 February 2017, available at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/why-revenue-foregone-has-fallen-a-massive-70/article9530269.ece)
No matter what budgetary jugglery Jaitley does, the farmers’ movements should demand that all tax waivers and concessions to corporates should end. The argument that tax waivers are growth incentives is a specious logic. Can leaving the money with the corporate super rich promote growth better than collecting the tax and using it for new public investment? Today if growth is sluggish and public investment in job-creating industries is minimal leading to jobless growth, one important reason is the revenue foregone in favour of corporates.
In contrast the government sources exaggerated the estimated figure of an all-India loan waiver for farmers to be Rs. 3 lakh crore to benefit tens of millions of farmers. Even if we assume that this is not a gross exaggeration, it still works out to only around 50% of what a few thousand corporates enjoy. It is clear with whom Modi-Jaitley stand!
CUT DOWN HUGE MILITARY SPENDING AND ON NUCLEAR REACTORS
· Peace in South Asia has a direct bearing upon our farmers’ well being. More reckless Modi’s adventurism with our neighbours becomes, more vulnerable our farmers’ lives, who are denied even a life-saving loan waiver. Let us see what massive plans Modi-RSS have for boosting the military-industrial complex in India in league with Israel and America even while denying minimum life-guarantee to farmers:
LIBERATE CROP INSURANCE FROM ALL BUREAUCRATIC TRAPPINGS AND CONDITIONALITIES
· Modi’s single-point panacea for farmers’ crisis was the new crop insurance scheme. His new and restructured Fasal Bima Yojana, far from becoming popular, only bring in more complaints from them. Now the Modi Government with all its lies about this crop insurance scheme is squarely caught on the wrong foot and that too in the apex court. Earlier answering an angry query from the judges, the Modi Government’s affidavit suggested that the crop insurance scheme was the key government measure to mitigate farmers’ distress and when challenged by the court to prove the efficiency of the scheme based on data the government was unable to do so and shamelessly asked for six months to come up with data to support their claim! Since crop insurance scheme is projected as the sole savior of farmers by Modi, let us examine its experience in India in some detail.
What can one make out of an insurance scheme where the scheme itself doesn’t last long and gets overhauled or replaced by a new one every three years or so?!
Many forms of hedging notwithstanding, there cannot, in principle, be a foolproof insurance against market risks under capitalism. So, in agriculture, crop insurance usually covers only the risks due to natural disasters and some pest attacks.
The bureaucratic over-lordship of the officialdom over the farmers in India is clearly evident in the case of crop insurance. In theory, though crop insurance is an agreement between the insurer and the insured, in practice it is not an “agreement” between equals but a one-sided affair whose terms are always dictated by the corporates. For instance, instead of dovetailing a package of insurance options to suit diverse choices of farmers regarding what crops they would grow, the bureaucrats notify certain crops only for certain blocks which alone can be insured. So the cropping pattern itself is not decided by the farmers but by the insurance bureaucrats.
There is yet another bureaucratic caveat. For all farmers who take loans from banks and other financial institution, crop insurance is mandatory. So, if a farmer has to take a loan, he/she can only grow the crops notified in that block. Anyway, this is only a minor point. The major point is whether the insurance scheme is actually a crop insurance scheme to serve the farmers or crop loan insurance scheme to serve the banks and other lending institutions. Whenever the insured farmers face crop failures due to natural disasters, the indemnity is directly paid by the insurance company to the lending bank and not to the farmer. So it is the banks which get bailed out and not the farmer.
The bureaucrats in India have perfected a classic method of stonewalling. If they are not keen on doing something but come under popular pressure, they promptly issue circulars and then forget about it. They don’t feel morally responsible to enforce it though they can very well do it with force when required. Despite repeated circulars and Finance Ministry circulars, banks are not forthcoming to issue loans to tenants and sharecroppers and as a consequence they are usually not covered under crop insurance. No wonder crop insurance coverage in India remains stuck at 44% of the cultivators only.
The crop insurance in India has gone through a very troubled history. The then Congress government first introduced the Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme (CCIS) on the very auspicious day of 1 April 1985. It was suspended in 1988 after an increase in claims after a series of natural disasters! But the increase was not much—it went up from Rs. 84 crore in kharif 1985 to Rs. 277 crore in kharif 1987. But it was suspended in 1988 and resumed arbitrarily after one season despite the claims coming down to Rs. 34 crore in kharif 1989.
It was restructured and the sum insured was reduced from 150% of the crop loan taken to 100% of the loan amount (so that the banks will get the full amount and the farmer will get nil!) with the maximum insurable amount getting reduced to Rs. 10,000 only. Hitherto, only those who took loans from banks were covered and for the first time an experiment was made in 1997–98 to include farmers who had not taken institutional loans. It was called Experimental Crop Insurance Scheme but it was tried out only in 24 districts of the country. The entire premium amount to be paid by the small and marginal farmers was to be borne by the governments but the scheme was promptly discontinued in the very next year!
National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NIAS) was introduced in 1999–2000 and CCIS vanished after 5 years. Besides the food crops, it covered nine horticultural crops also, viz., namely, sugarcane, potato, cotton, ginger, onion, turmeric, chilies, jute, tapioca, annual banana and pineapple. It was re-christened as or Rashtra Krishi Bima Yojana (RKBY).
For farmers raising seed crops the Seed Crop Insurance Scheme (SCIS) was tried on a pilot basis and a Farm Income Insurance Scheme (FIIS), which assured minimum income for a given crop—which was a good idea—was tried out but discontinued soon.
An Agricultural Insurance Corporation of India Limited (AICIL) was launched in 2002 as the apex body to carry out agricultural insurance and it tried out Rainfall Insurance Scheme (RIS) or Varsha Bima in 2005. But it was soon dropped and in 2007 a Weather-based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) were launched while the opening crop insurance to private players like ICICI-Lombard. But it was limited only to those farmers who had not taken institutional loans. By 2009–10, farmers had paid a premium of Rs. 444 crore and their claims to the tune of Rs. 388 were settled resulting in net profit for ICICI-Lombard!
In India, where two-thirds of the cultivated area is still not irrigated, the importance of crop insurance goes without saying. But still it is a puzzle why successive schemes failed to click. The dishonest government is not coming up with data on the total aggregate claims made by farmers and the percentage of it which was honoured. While many genuine cases did not get money, there were numerous bogus claims which were promptly settled and corrupt local bankers and politicians formed a mafia everywhere and farmers started shunning the scheme. Some schemes for individual crops like coconut and potato were also introduced. But none of them clicked and became very attractive to farmers and more than that could offer some real cushion to farmers from drought impact as seen by the extraordinary spurt in drought-suicides in 2015 & 2016.
One reason why they became flops was the bureaucratic area-based approach. First, the insuring company decided district as the basic unit and only what crops for the district would be insured were proclaimed an only when floods or drought parameters at the district level reach a certain predetermined threshold then the company would agree that there had been a damage and only then the farmers who had taken the crop insurance and paid the premium for specified crops would get the indemnity. So if only one taluk or one block or a few panchayats are affected but if the district level disaster parameters do not reach the prescribed level, the farmers in the affected taluk or block would not get any relief. Given the wide variations of conditions even within a single block, the absurdity of this initial district-level criterion faced lots of protest and then it was brought down to sub-division/taluk level and then to block level and then tried out at panchayat level to in some areas. Even then the situation was still absurd in the sense that only if majority of the farmers in panchayat gets affected an individual affected farmer would also be entitled for compensation. Insurance is done individually but whether to pay compensation or not is decided collectively!
While yield benchmarks were decided on the basis of State-level productivity, which was absurd, in the case of weather-based crop insurance schemes, the weather benchmarks substituted yields but they were also set at State level, which was ridiculous!
The small and marginal farmers are the most vulnerable to disasters and their livelihoods are most threatened as they have no savings or means for alternative income. Do they get any preferential treatment in the crop insurance scheme? The concession was paltry. Only 10% of their premium amount used to be paid as grant by the government though the total premium was 2% of the sum insured for major crops like wheat and rice. Later it went upto 50% with the Centre and the States sharing the rest 50% in the ratio of 2:1. Even if the entire premium amount of all the small and marginal farmers in the country had to be borne by the government, that would work out to a fraction of what Modi spends on publicity but still the government is not doing it.
The farmers would have to wait for the inspectors from the insuring company to come and inspect that the actual yield in the field is less than the specified threshold yield usually decided at the State level and would then be compensated only to the extent the actual yield is less. This used to be a big hassle. There is no autonomous third party agency to decide the extent of damage or compensation. The insurance company is also a contracting party and it is also the judge!
Let us see briefly why Modi’s new crop insurance scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, the latest successor of the crop insurance introduced in 2016 after its many earlier avatars, has not made any impact in mitigating the sudden spurt of drought-suicides in 2016 and give a summary of numerous complaints that farmers have regarding the implementation of this scheme.
- While all crop insurance schemes covered only around 44% of the cultivators despite subscribing to some insurance being made mandatory for those who are availing institutional loans, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana was introduced only in 45 districts.
- It also doesn’t cover all crops.
- Only notified crops in notified areas are covered.
- Only drought, floods, hailstorm, certain types of pest attacks and crop diseases for the notified crops are covered.
- There is no independent authority to decide the extent of crop loss.
- If water doesn’t flow from Punjab to Haryana or from Chhattisgarh to Orissa or from Maharashtra to Karnataka or Telangana, then the affected farmers in the command areas cannot claim crop insurance.
- Not all types of pest attacks are covered.
- While the insurance is paid only after prior declaration of shortfall in rainfall or floods by State agriculture department officials taking the whole State or district as a unit and not a panchayat or block as a unit, the onus of proving the extent of damage is still on individual farmers and not all farmers in the area declared as affected would automatically get the insurance.
· No wonder Modi’s attorney general was not able to answer grilling questions by the judges in the Supreme Court. After submitting an affidavit saying that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana was the countermeasure introduced by the government to curb suicides, the government was not able to substantiate its claim!
DIFFERENT CROPS, DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS
HORTICULTURE CROPS—TOMATO & ONION & OTHER VEGETABLE FARMERS + POTATO FARMERS IN WEST BENGAL, CHILLI FARMERS IN AP & TELANGANA
PADDY & WHEAT
DISTRESS SALE OF CASH CROPS
WATER DISTRESS IS AT THE HEART OF AGRARIAN DISTRESS—LET THERE BE “MORE DROPS FOR ALL CROPS!”
· “More crops from each drop” is Modi’s fashionable but empty slogan, which is not followed up by any practical proposals. More so, it is offered as an excuse to skirt the demand for more water availability for irrigation and more funds for irrigation expansion.
After loan waiver and higher MSP, irrigation expansion is emerging as a more serious demand of the farmers, especially in drought-prone Maharashtra and Saurashtra region of Gujaart, in Telangana and in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu which witnessed worst drought last years in decades.
Actually, thanks to the perennial structural crisis of farming, things have come to such a pass that a single monsoon failure and drought can trigger massive waves of drought-suicides, be it in Marathwada of Maharashtra, or Telangana or agriculturally rich regions like Mandya or Hassan or Karnataka or even the delta areas of Tamil Nadu, where the crisis is aggravated and complicated by the Cauvery dispute.
Tackling the irrigation crisis is the key to prevent such suicide waves. In the 1990s, in TN, World Bank financed a huge programme for strengthening lakes and ponds and minor irrigation in rain-fed areas and that to some extent mitigated the crisis.
Telangana is declaring very ambitious plans of irrigating 25 lakh acres which they have hiked to 1 crore acres recently. These are just hyperboles. Money to meet such huge irrigation targets is simply not there. Some 69 irrigation projects from the earlier united AP which should have been completed by 2004 are still pending and with cost escalation they require at least Rs. 1.79 lakh crore! They are irrigating only 45,000 acres this year.
BOGUS CLAIMS ON IRRIGATION EXPANSION / ACCELERATED IRRIGATION BENEFIT PROJECT (AIBP)—NON-COPERATIVE UNITARISM ON IRRIGATION FUNDING!
· The Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) of the Centre gets only paltry funds and Modi’s fashionable slogan, ‘More Crop per Drop’ is a humbug. Modi is organically immune to alleviating farmers’ miseries just he has absolutely no idea of comprehensive social development, save a urban housing programme. But the Modi Government has announced that they would irrigate 76 lakh hectares by 2019 and it remains a mystery for me how they would do it as budgetary allocations this year does not match this huge figure. Though there is some increase this year that is meant for politically-driven projects like Polavaram, whose command area is just 3 lakh hectares when completed.
State governments are showing criminal neglect. Maharashtra government (under former irrigation minister, Ajit Pawar of NCP) siphoned off Rs. 80,000 crore irrigation funds in five years and the new BJP government even filed a case but he is not in jail and recently it has given a clean chit to him! Likewise, Jayalalithaa Government would have looted upto Rs. 40,000 crore perhaps, meant for irrigation over the years.
TAKEBACK THE GOUNDWATER BILL
A summary of the Groundwater Bill
SHEDDING THE WATERSHEDS
· Watershed experiments were also helpful but not as successful in other States as in some parts of Maharashtra or Rayalaseema. Corruption and mismanagement are plagueing these and they have lost the steam. To transform dryland farming, watershed are crucial and they still retain the potential for irrigation expansion in the most needy areas. The government, on the one hand, raises an alarm on declining groundwater tables. Watersheds can go a long way in recharging groundwater and bringing up the level. But instead of doing that, the shortsighted Modi has come up with the Groundwater Bill to tax farmers using groundwater through borewells to discourage borewell irrigation which comprises a major part of irrigation in States like Tamil Nadu. Strangely, Tamil Nadu which was a pioneer in the fight for federal rights in the past is meekly subdued in recent times after the demise of Jayalalithaa, who, whatever were her other problems, used to be bold in defending the State’s rights. In contrast, the DMK known for its high-decibel rhetoric has toned down even that noise.
THE DRIPS GO SCARCE
· Karnataka however is subsidising drip irrigation and even borewell irrigation and that is showing some good results. The subsidy in Karnataka is upto 75% for drip and sprinkler irrigation in rain-fed areas but it is 80% in Punjab. Earlier, when he was Congress Chief Minister, SM Krishna was toying with the idea of 100% subsidy for sugarcane fields at the behest of the powerful sugarcane lobby but, after him, it has been brought down to 25%. The Central government is subsidising micro-irrigation to the tune of 35% though NABARD and in Tamil Nadu the state government is not adding their own subsidy though it ranges between 50% to 80% in many states like Punjab (80%), Karnataka (75%), Maharashtra (50% to medium and big farmers & 60% to marginal and small farmers) and Telangana (50%). Perhaps, we should demand 100% subsidy in all suicide-prone districts.
LINING OF CANALS, DESILTING AND DESALINATION
· Some studies have shown that mere lining of canals can improve irrigation efficiency and command area by even upto 30%.
Likewise, constructing drainage canals and periodically desilting them before every monsoon would greatly minimize the impact of floods and water logging.
Desalination in Gangetic belt can improve productivity upto 20% there, according to some studies.
There is policy vacuum on these important issues at both Cental as well as State levels.
When TN and AP took up desilting of drainage channels, it showed good results in the delta areas of the States. But use of poclain earthmovers instead of human labour, thanks to the contractor mafia, was a major problem to be addressed. This desilting is not being done on a regular basis.
EXPEDITE SETTING UP OF THE JUDICIAL MECHANISM FOR SOLVING INTER-STATE WATER DISPUTES AND WATER SHARING DURING DISTRESS YEARS
National Green Tribunal model of quick decisions.
GENERALISE TELANGANA MODEL OF FERTILISER SUBSIDIES AND UTTAR PRADESH MODEL OF DIRECT CASH TRANSFER FOR SEEDS SUBSIDY
· Telangana has started offering Rs. 4000 per acre to all farmers as fertiliser subsidy besides Rs. 8000 livelihood allowance. It is being offered from this year only and hence there is no impact analysis yet on increase in fertilizer consumption. But this move has been generally welcomed by farmers. Combined with a sharp increase in irrigation, these moves are expected to bring down the incidence of suicides in the State, especially in the suicide-prone districts like Anantapur, especially among peanut farmers. When chilli farmers faced a severe fall in price, the State government acted with alacrity and offered a high price for chilli procurement which offered some relief to the farmers.
· Utar Pradesh has been directly crediting money for seeds subsidy in the bank accounts of farmers and this is also a popular move among farmers started by the previous Akhilesh Yadav Government.
MAKE THE PRESENTLY PERIODICAL DIESEL SUBSIDY IN SOME HINDI STATES ALSO PERMANENT AND GENERALISED
· Though electricity pumpsets are both economically efficient and environmentally friendly, due to severe power shortage in the Hindi-speaking States, farmers depend on diesel pumpsets. At the current rate of Rs. 56 per litre this turns out to be a very costly proposition compared to use of electricity. Diesel pumpsets are also costlier and involve more maintenance hassles. As usual only on the eve of elections, the Bihar government announces a diesel subsidy. When the petroleum prices were high in the international markets, to bring down its own oil subsidy burden, the Centre deliberately choked the distribution lines to rural areas and diesel smugglers had a field day by charging 50% more per litre. The Centre should come up with a permanent scheme to subsidise diesel used in agriculture. Alternately, there should be a scheme to extend power lines to cover all rural areas with assured power supply and make a minimum of 9 hour power supply to rural areas to enable farmers to operate the electricity pumpsets a precondition for supplying NTPC power to the States. Some exclusive supply line arrangements separated from domestic and industrial use should be made to avoid diversion of power meant for agricultural use. The government should also come up with a green subsidy to incentivize farmers to switch over from diesel pumpsets to electricity pumpsets. The new Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath made a pompous announcement that there would be no powercut in district headquarters and all rural areas would get assured power supply for 9 hours. But this is observed more in breach. Since successive governments in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have not been able to ensure power supply to rural areas and end powercuts in urban areas for the last three decades and more despite repeated poll promises and false assurances, and since BJP too has joined this culture of deception by making a fraudulent announcement of 24X7 assured power for all by 2019 for the entire country, and since the judiciary also doesn’t dare to address this issue as it has no hope that this could be solved through a judicial fiat, it is high time for the farmers’ movement to intervene and end this continuing farce and discipline the parties and governments by instilling some accountability.
OPPOSE EXCLUSION OF TENANTS FROM LOAN-WAIVER PACKAGES AND OTHER ASSISTANCE TO FARMERS
PRO-CORPORATE/CORPORATE FARMING CHARACTER OF NITI AAYOG’S MODEL TENANCY ACT WHICH PROVIDES FOR EASY EVICTION OF TENANTS AND OFFERS NO SECURITY TO THEM
· Of late, there has been an 1800 turn in the official discourse on land reforms. Protecting tenancy rights of small tenants and informal tenants-at-will is passé. The current dominant discourse is more about promoting commercial tenancy by big capitalist farmers and corporates in the name of improving efficiency in farming. Hence, rollback of whatever protection is being enjoyed by tenants in some States against eviction and restrictions on the extent of land leasing are on the agenda. On the other hand, the NSSO agricultural statistics show a steady increase in the incidence of tenancy, even doubling of it in many major States, including in States where tenancy is legally restricted.
· The Niti Aayog constituted an expert committee under Azizul Haque to go into the issue of tenancy reforms and it submitted its report to the government last year. Based on the recommendations of that report, Niti Aayog had prepared a model bill and is expected to submit it to the government shortly and then once approved by the Union Cabined and adopted as the model law by the Centre, States would be asked to pass their own tenancy legislations in line with this model Central law. The Model Act draft prepared by the Niti Aayog has not yet been put on the public domain but its highlight shave been shared widely with the media. From the media reports, it seems the highlights of the model bill are:
- doesn’t recognise / offer protection to tenants-at-will (informal tenants who have not signed official tenancy contract) or share-croppers.
- doesn’t offer protection from eviction as the Operation Barga Act and is undoing whatever little protection the TN Act offered.
- doesn’t guarantee loans without collateral and relief for suicide etc., and other subsidies at par with landowning farmers.
- allows corporate farming with unlimited hiring in of land from peasants.
- allows leasing in for perpetuity and for non-agricultural purposes (including mining!, plantation or jatropa cultivation).
- doesn’t regulate capitalist tenancy and doesn’t protect small peasant leasing out land.
· Not many people know the Narendra Modi was the main pioneering architect of rollback of tenancy protection laws which he started in Gujarat under his direct guidance. First in 2010, he ensured a government order to enable tenants to become landowners but only within the Ahmedabad urban municipal limits and many industries that had take land for lease benefited. Particularly, there were media reports which alleged that Modi favoured the Marriot 5-star hotel which had leased in 7000 square meters of prime land at the heart of Ahmedabad.
In sharp contrast, under his direct guidance to his successor Anandiben Patel, the Gujarat Assembly in August 2015, passed some controversial amendments to 4 existing legislations, viz.
- The Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960
- The Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act, 1948
- The Saurashtra Gharkhed, Tenancy Settlement and Agricultural Lands Ordinance, 1949
- The Gujarat Tenancy and Agricultural Lands (Vidarbha Region and Kutch Area) Act, 1958
· The thrust of all amendments in these 4 legislations was to make transfer of land to industry and industrialists as easy as possible and at minimum cost to the purchasing industrialists/corporates.
Now his lapdog Arvind Panagarya he appointed to head Niti Aayog loyally echoes His Master’s Voice by extending the Gujarat model to the whole of India by coming up with the above model law in favour of corporates.
· After Modi, the BJP was at it in Jharkhand reversing historical landownership rights of tribals and protecting them from land alienation by corporates renting in their land through restrictions on sale of tribal land to non-tribals. The BJP CM Ragubar Das has succeeded in amending two laws offering such protection. The rollback of Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act and Chottanagpur Tenancy Act is not just a tribal issue but foremost an agrarian issue as well. It is now easy not only for outsiders/non-tribals but even for corporates to grab be land of tribal small peasantry.
· Maharashtra amended the Maharashtra Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act in 2916 to allow use of agricultural lands for industrial purposes. As per this amendment, even those industries which had earlier hired in agricultural lands for industries—which was illegal in Maharashtra if permission for this from the District Collector had not been taken—illegally can regularize them by paying a penalty.
· In the united Andhra Pradesh itself, there were two tenancy laws—one for Andhra region and a more progressive one for Telangana region born out of the Telangana rebellion. Some surveys have pointed out that unregistered tenancy and sharecropping by tenant cultivators farming less than 1 hectare accounted for one-third of land under cultivation in key Godavari-Krishna delta areas in the coastal Andhra region.
· After division into two States, Telangana CM NCR who is shedding crocodile tears for farmers often, is planning to rollback tenancy restrictions to allow corporates to hire in land from farmers.
· In TN, tenancy doubled in the last decade and now stands at around 15%. One out of six farmers is a formal tenant. Equal number or more would be informal tenants, which makes it nearly one-third of the cultivating peasantry. Hence it is an important segment for peasant movement.
· In Kerala, since 2004 about 59,206 hectares of unused land (in Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha districts) have been taken on lease and cultivated by 38,054 Kudumbashree groups of four to ten women members. These are mostly lands of absentee landlords and under land reform laws they enjoyed some protection from eviction. But the earlier UDF government started a campaign that the land reform laws passed in the past by communists have become a hindrance o the economic development of the State and industrialization and was planning to roll back the laws passed by EMS regime in the past and make it possible for landowners to evict tenants and also for companies to hire large amount of lands which is now illegal in the State. Luckily, Chandy Government was booted out before they could bring in these amendments.
· In Delhi, in the name of relaxing the rigid Rent control Act the Supreme Court gave some judgements in 2008 paving the way for easy eviction of tenants and this came in handy for landowners in rural areas of Delhi rural areas to evict tenants. The AAP Government did nothing to reverse these SC orders through legislation after it came to power, either to protect urban residential tenants or the rural tenant cultivators.
· In Maharashtra (and Gujarat as well), the landlord for his/her personal cultivation, can evict tenants. So if a landowner is made a minor shareholder in a company, that company can evict the tenants and grab the land. In some states, the minimum period of lease of land has been prescribed anew, e.g., five years in Punjab, Haryana, etc., and in Andhra Pradesh, four years for one category of tenants and six years for another. This erodes the security of tenants and increases the bargaining power of the landowners.
INTRODUCE SAFEGUARDS AGAINST EXTREME MARKET FLUCTUATIONS THAT PRECIPITATE ACUTE CRISES FOR FARMERS
· When farmers see that the prices of a particular commodity ruling high in a season, many throng to cultivate the same commodity and in the process the acreage and output drastically increases and thereby the supply far in excess of the demand and in the process prices crash and farmers come to grief unable to recover even a part of the costs. The prices of pulses (especially, tur dal) touched Rs. 2015 and last year there was a mad rush and now the pulse prices have fallen to around Rs. 80 a kg in the wholesale markets, especially in pulse –growing States like Gujarat and Karnataka. Likewise, onion and tomato prices were hovering between Rs. 60–80 in 2014 & 2015 and last year they crashed to around Rs. 5–10 because of overproduction in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra last year thanks to and this year prices are firming up and tomato prices have already touched Rs. 70 a kg. Similar sharp price fluctuations were faced by potato farmers in UP and West Bengal, chilli farmers in AP and Telangana and cotton farmers also face similar troubles where foreign trade is also manipulated by pro-mills traders to keep the procurement prices low for farmers. The media and the government officials cheaply dismiss it in impolite language as “herd mentality” without doing anything about it.
Like the early warning system for adverse weather and floods and early warning systems for contagious epidemics there should be some system to raise the red flag when the acreage for a certain commodity reaches a certain limit in a given season. It is not impossible for an agency to compile and process information received from VAOs and block-level agricultural department officials on acreage covered under any crop. And in this communication age it is not difficult to communicate this to the farmers. Some penalties should be prescribed for misreporting or failure to report by block-level officials.
More importantly, farmers’ organisations themselves should develop a self-regulatory mechanism to monitor the situation and issue periodical alerts to farmers whenever there is a blind rush for switching over to a new crop under the influence of high market prices in one season. Expansion of cold-storage facilities by the government at block level can to some extent mitigate the problem of bumper crop and mercurial price fluctuations. Dedicate AC container trains (like the one introduced by Laloo when he was the Union Railway Minister) and trucks to move the produce from the areas of market glut should also be introduced. If the government can sanction low-interest loans without collateral to the village youth to buy AC cargo trucks and supply subsidized fuel for that and if the proposed e-NAM is redesigned to serve these youth instead of the corporates, then it can enable these youth to earn some income even while helping the local farmers by quickly moving out the surplus perishable to areas of higher demand and price. If vegetables sold at Rs. 20 a kg in Kolkata cost Rs. 100 in Silchar in Assam it shows there are severe transportation bottlenecks—not only in the remote Northeast but even in many other regions—in the country regarding which there is a policy vacuum in the government. Strictly speaking, it should not cost more than Rs. 3–5 per kg to transport agricultural goods by road or rail from Kolkata to Silchar but price differentials higher than this by 30 to 40 times shows that the markets for farm produce are underdeveloped and the traders’ lobby is making merry out of these transportation and storage bottlenecks. The ‘One Nation, One market’ humbug under the GST will not solve this problem. If the Centre can build 5000 cold-storages a year through panchayat bodies at the panchayat level at a cost of Rs. 10 crore for each the periodical phenomenon of onion tears of farmers or the spectacle of farmers dumping tomatoes on the roads can be ended in 3 years.
JUDICIARY’S AMBIGUOUS ROLE VIS-À-VIS THE FARMERS’ CRISIS
· When the agrarian crisis assumes the dimension of a severe national crisis with waves after waves of farmers’ suicides and the executive arm of the State under successive government of different hues are address it in any meaningful way, to sustain farmers; faith in the otherwise nonresponsive system the judiciary sometimes steps in and pretends to play the role of savior of the farmer. This is no more than the classical checks-and-balance drama.
The Supreme Court started hearing a PIL filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan and delivered its 2-part verdict in 2016. This verdict shows that the apex court also doesn’t have a clue to solve the agrarian crisis in a durable and far-reaching manner. The campaigners seeking the court’s intervention were also at a loss to come up with a set of credible proposals that can address different facets of the crisis in a meaningful way effectively. The end result is some kind of judicial posturing. Though actual ultimate solution to the farm crisis lies in the fields and not in the courts, the courts can also play an effective role sometimes. For instance, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court issued a landmark order directing the Tamil Nadu government to announce a loan waiver and that too to all farmers and not restrict it to a few. The pink press of the bourgeoisie started howling that it was a judicial blatant transgression of the domain of the executive by the judiciary and violation of the doctrine of division of powers. The Madras HC itself had made it clear that it was not just a matter of economic policy decision but a question of saving the right to life and livelihood as scores of farmers had started committing suicides in hundreds in the State. The Tamil Nadu government appealed against the HC order in the Supreme Court and the apex court set aside the landmark order of the HC. So the checks-and-balances drama is played out not only between the judiciary and the executive but it is also a game played within the judiciary itself. Green flag from HC and red flag from SC! Even while setting aside the HC order in an offhand manner without offering any explanation, especially on points of judicial principle raised by the Madurai Bench of Madras HC, the very next day another Bench of the SC hearing the PIL on farmers’ suicides engaged perhaps in mock chiding of the Centre asking it to walk the talk on ending suicides!
Leaving this drama aside, it is important for the farmers’ movement activists to grasp the main points of Supreme Court’s observations and directives in the PIL in order to influence future judicial activism in this regard as the crisis is not going to go away in a few years and judicial activism too is not going to come to a fruitful end soon. The show will go on and we too need to play our part.
Summary of two-part judgement on farmers’ crisis by SC in the PIL filed by Prashant Bhushan
NO ANTI-FARMERS REFORMS
· Though sometimes it also acts as a price depressant and reduces the farmers’ incomes, the MSP and procurement system offers a measure of stability in food marketing and production and thus contributes to food security. If the MSP can be fixed at costs plus 50% and regularly revised on an annual basis as the National Commission for Farmers under MS Swaminathan recommended and if MSP can be announced well in advance before every season for all crops to enable the farmer to decide upon the choice of crop to be cultivated, then it can not only keep the speculative traders at bay and the market fluctuations in check and lend a measure of stability to the markets, it can ensure some degree of food security as well to the poor when it is integrated with the public distribution system.
In the name of reforms, the government is planning to disrupt this entire system. In 2011, there were 505,000 PDS shops all over the country. The government wants to hand them over to the private parties and even close them down by substituting PDS with food coupon system and direct cash transfers to the consumers. Some government-appointed “expert committees” recommended abolition of procurement altogether and leave entire food distribution to private markets and give some direct cash to the poor so that they can use it to purchase food from the private shops. Even some pilot projects were launched in some States. Obviously, this will not work as it cannot account for sharp fluctuations in food markets and hence cannot provide food security to the poor. So the proposed “reforms” are not only anti-poor and anti-consumers, they are first and foremost anti-farmer reforms.
SCRAPPING OF APMC LAWS, PRIVATISATION OF AGRICULTURAL MARKETS AND INTRODUCTION OF e-NAM ONLINE MARKETING TO FAVOUR CORPORATES
PRO-CORPORATE e-NAM FUNCTIOING AND LINKAGE WITH SPECULATIE FUTURES TRADING—A SHORT SUMMARY HERE.
REGULATE CORPORATE FORAYS INTO AGRICULTURE
WORLD BANK’S PANACEA OF DIVERSIFICATION INTO RURAL INDUSTRIAL VENTURES IN LEAGUE WITH CORPORATES TO AUGMENT INCOME OF FARMERS UNCRITICALLY BORROWED BY NITI AAYOG
SUMMARY OF THE WORLD BANK REPORT AND THE NITI AAYOG REPORT TO BE GIVEN HERE
PAY DAMAGES CAUSED TO THE FARMERS BY DEMONETIZATION
MODIFY GST TO ENSURE ZERO NEGATIVE IMPACT ON FARMERS
DO NOT SUCCUMB TO US PRESSURE FOR YET ANOTHER SURRENDER AT WTO TO BETRAY FAREMERS
INTRODUCE AN EXIT POLICY FOR FARMERS
· The historical destiny of capitalist transition is that a large chunk of the agricultural surplus population has to exit agriculture and migrate to industry and services. Historical experiences have shown that this process could either be extremely painful and cruel, replete with Russian massacres or the European distress migrations similar to ‘Grapes of Wrath’ scenarios, or regulated and moderated to make it relatively less painful as in China and some South East Asian countries like South Korea. Some surveys have revealed that around 40% of the farmers are dissatisfied with farming and are ready to quit farming if an alternative option is given to them. That land can be handed over to agricultural labour cooperatives for collective farming with state-supplied subsidized inputs. Many farmers constantly keep repeating that the government should take over their lands and give monthly salary for them equivalent to that of a Class III Central government employee. Beyond remaining sentimental outbursts, this can be channelized into an economic option as well. As the government is giving Mudra loans of upto Rs. 1 crore to millions of youth (more than 7.45 crore small entrepreneurs received loans worth more than Rs 3.17 lakh crore.), they can also institute a scheme where if a farmer comes forward to handover his/her land, he/she can be given a loan of Rs. 1 crore as investment in any other activity or offered a monthly livelihood allowance / pension of Rs. 10,000 per acre of land handed over. As the going rate of 1 acre is in the range of Rs.15—25 lakhs in many areas the value of the land can be treated as the farmers’ share in investment or equivalent to farmer’s contribution in a contributory pension scheme.
INSTITUTE A STANDING DEBT-SWAP MECHANISM
A STANDING DEBT-SWAP MECHANISM CAN BRING DOWN THE NEED FOR PERIODICAL LOAN WAIVERS
· The Modi Government is toying with the idea of a bad bank that can buy NPAs from banks and liquidate the sick firms, sell their assets and recover the money or forcibly recover the dues from the debtors. If Modi can come forward to bailout sick PSBs pushed into sickness in the first place by their corrupt bureaucrats in collusion with the corporates, why can’t they do something similar to save unviable and heavily indebted farmers? The government can set up an agency that can swap farmers’ pending loans in return for an assurance for supply of agricultural commodities of specified quantity over a specified period (say, over 5–7 years) where the total value of commodities paid by the farmers would not include any interest and the installments would be on easier terms and payment period would be prolonged enough not to push the farmer again into another spell of crisis.
LEGALISE AND REGULATE PRIVATE LENDING
· Presently, exorbitant rent collected by private lenders and coercive harassment by them for recovering the loans as serve as the man factor behind suicides in many cases. Often, these moneylenders are either local landlords or fellow well-to-do farmers from the same area. There are laws in place to curb usurious lending but they are not being enforced or they simply do not work as farmers again and again turn to these moneylenders for money at times of need. In some States, private lending above certain limit of interest rate has been declared illegal. But that is also not working on the ground. It is better to legalise lending, make registration and reporting lending activity to a designated authority compulsory for all moneylenders and regulate them in such a manner that they need not resort to extreme coercive measures to recover their loans pushing farmers’ to suicide. This can be done by linking the credit swap mechanism with private lenders and where there is loan repayment default in some cases, the government can swap the loan from the farmer who had taken it and the immediately repay the loan on farmer’s behalf from its own funds and gradually recover the money in interest-free installments from farmers over a period of 5–7 years. In other words, this works like some kind of interest-waiver where the equivalent of loan amount is recovered over a longer period of 5–7 years. In any case, the government is already offering interest subvention and gives loans at 4% only and is periodically forced to do loan waivers too in addition. Regulating moneylender and enabling his lending operations to continue while saving the farmer from acute immediate crisis and enabling the farming to continue at a small additional cost (around Rs. 4000 for Rs. 1 lakh loan taken) is not a bad proposition either.
ENACT A LAW WITH 5-YEAR JAIL TERM FOR COERCION BY LENDERS, BE THEY BANK OFFICIALS OR PRIVATE LENDERS
· Even the public sector banks now have local thugs and gangsters on their payrolls and these informal “agents” attach movable and immovable properties of the farmers, and harass them in all possible ways, which in some cases pushes the farmers to suicide. Reliance Asset Reconstruction Company has started doing the same to students who have taken educational loans but are unable to repay as they don’t get employment thanks to jobless growth. Courts have repeatedly warned against such intimidating tactics to recover loans. Default on loans, especially from government banks, is not a cognizable offence.
REGULATE THE HIRE-PURCHASE SHARKS IN RURAL AREAS
· Consumption not just remains a personal choice under capitalism as it is externally induced/stimulated through advertisements. This gets worse when buyers are enticed and trapped to pay much more than the MRP value of goods when the payment is through EMI and where the annual interest rate works out to around 40% to 50%. This is exactly what the hire-purchase companies are doing in the countryside and as these are run by politically well-connected powerful local landlords/kulaks, their gangster use force to recover the loans and even seize the properties of the buyer. Such coercion also leads to farmers’ suicides when the farmer is unable to pay even the EMI during distress seasons.
CURB THE RAPACIOUS ROLE OF MERCANTILE CAPITAL
A ROUND-UP OF THE ROLE OF ARHTYAS AND A DISCRIPTIVE QUANTITATIVE ASSESSMENT OF THE REACH AND DEPTH OF COMMERCIAL COMMODITY SEPCULATION
SET UP A CONSTITUTIONALLY EMPOWERED FARMERS’ WELFARE COMMISSION WITH PENAL POWERS AND COMPLAINTS CELLS DOWN TO THE BLOCK LEVEL FOR FARMERS TO REGISTER THEIR COMPLAINTS
· If today farmers are feeling helpless
o If cheated by suppliers of spurious seeds or fertilisers,
o if the irrigation department officials do not release water in time and do not release adequate water,
o if revenue officials fradulantly alter land records to handover commons to vested interests after taking bribes,
o if local FCI procurement centre officials refuse to procure the stock taken there,
o if sugarmills fail to clear their dues in time,
o if traders form a cartel to depress the prices of their produce,
o if corrupt panchayat functionaries divert the funds meant for the development of their villages,
o if the local bank officials do not entertain their applications for loan and
o while facing numerous other day-to-day problems.
They can’t go to the court and take the litigation route for all these problems. If only there is a constitutionally empowered quasi-judicial body like National Commission for Women or National Commission SCs-STs or the National Commission for Minorities but with adequate teeth, having penal powers to send officials to jail, before which any individual farmers can bring up a dispute with branches upto taluk/block level, that would make a vast difference to the governance in this country in the context of bringing down the level of farmers hassles. Modi and Jaitley bother only about the Ease of Doing Business Index issued by international agencies but care two hoots about Ease of Doing Farming!
RESTRUCTURED FARMERS’ COMMISSION ALONG THE LINES OF WOMEN’S COMMISSION, MINORITIES COMMISSION AND SC-ST COMMISSION BUT WITH TEETH
OTHER ISSUES AGGRAVATING FARMERS’ AGRARIAN CRISIS AND MODI’S INACTION
· The structural crisis of unviability of farming is the most basic crisis afflicting farmers. Besides this various other factors operate that intensify the basic crisis:
MAJOR INSTANCES UNDER MODI
NON-RETURN OF THE LAND OF SEZs THAT DID NOT TAKE OFF
DISPLACEMENT DUE TO MEGA PROJECTS
EXPRESSWAYS & FREEWAYS
SATELLITE TOWNS AND NEW PRIVATE TOWNSHIPS
SHALE GAS/HYDROCARBON PROJECT IN NEDUVASAL
KADIRAMANGALAM AND ENNORE OIL SPILLS
ENDOSULFAN HAVOC IN KERALA
GIRLS WORKING IN COTTON FIELDS
CRISIS DUE TO LACK OF EXTENSION SERVICES & INPUT DISTRIBUTION NETWORKS
SEED MNCs FLOURISHING & SANGH’S Bt COTTON “NATIOANLISM”/BOGUS OPPOSITION TO MONSANTO
NO PACKAGE FOR FARMERS’ CLIMATE SECURITY IN PARIS DEAL
DIVERSION OF IRRIGATION WATER TO INDUSTRY
SUICIDES BY FARM LABOURERS IS A NEW PHENOMENON—COME UP WITH AN EXCLUSIVE PACAKGE FOR AGRI LABOURERS TO TIDE OVER THE IMPACT OF FARM DISTRESS
A study commissioned by the earlier BJP-SAD Punjab government has shown that in nine districts of Punjab between 2011 and 2016 suicides by agricultural labourers account for 52% of the total farm suicides. This is a new phenomenon.
The conventional wisdom is that people seldom commit suicide out of poverty. Farm suicides were virtually unknown among agricultural labourers and even among poor farmers. Likewise, farm suicides even among middle-level farmers were uncommon among agriculturally back States like Bihar, Orissa and in regions like eastern UP.
Now all this is changing. Besides the nation’s granary of Punjab, agricultural labourers suicides have been reported from Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and also in Adilabad in Telangana and Marathwada in Maharashtra.
Closer inquiries reveal that the stupid demonetisation of Modi had closed even the minimum survival option of migration to nearby cities to find some informal work. This is especially so in the case of tribal labourers from Adilabad whose migration to Hyderabad drastically came down and for distressed labourers and poor peasants in Anantapur and other areas of Rayalaseema region who used to migrate to Bangalore, where construction work had almost come to a standstill, thanks to demonetisation and GST. Modi has also throttled MGNREGA and far from the official claims of that being a demand-driven scheme it is not available on demand anywhere and wages are not settled by weekend.
This new and disturbing phenomenon farm labour suicides has highlighted the need for democratic movements to articulate some demands to mitigate their crisis and champion their interests too along with those of farmers. Especially so when women comprise a large segment of agricultural labour thanks to the growing trend of “feminization of agricultural labour” and when dalits and tribals constitute the overwhelming majority of the agricultural labour force.
GENERALISE TELANGANA MODEL OF MINIMUM LIVELIHOOD SUPPORT FOR ALL SMALL AND MEDIUM FARMERS AND AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS
MODI’S POLICIES AND PERFORMANCE ON FARM FRONT—A SUMMARY
SOME THEORETICAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE AGRARIAN CRISIS AND THE PRESENT STATE OF FARMERS MOVEMENT
SOCIO-CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTOURS OF FARM SUICIDES
[This Policy Brief was prepared at the request of some leaders in Uttar Pradesh active in the farmers’ movement with inputs from Comrade Kumudini Pati, Allahabad, Fr. Stanley Thangaraj and his activist-intellectual associates in Hyderabad, who have done excellent work in documenting farmers’ suicides in Telangana, VSS Sastry from Kolar, Karnataka and C. Mathivanan from Madurai, Tamil Nadu.]