Just ten days back from today, New Delhi’s Parliament Street was reverberated with the thunderous roar of lakhs of workers from all over the country, demanding their rights. Their slogans and voices resonated loud and clear. India’s working class, in one voice, spoke for the whole country as they demanded curbs on price rise and universalisation of the public distribution system and creation of jobs. Their presence in lakhs at this protest ‘Mahapadav’ (grand sit-in) at Parliament Street was an indictment of the Modi Government and its utter betrayal of the labouring people of India.
Now, on 20-21 November, farmers from all over the country gathered at Delhi in a historic Kisan Mukti Sansad (Farmers’ Liberation Parliament). We are all witness to how in the past two years farmers brutalized by the twin burden of falling prices in the face of rising costs and mounting debts, have erupted in protests braving bullets and repression in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and several other states. Two of their key demands are: better prices for produce and debt relief.
Mounting Agrarian Distress
- At least one farmer is committing suicide EVERY HOUR in India!
- There has been a 42% rise in the number of suicides by cultivators between 2014 and 2015.
- 58% of the suicides among cultivators are due to debt and crop failures.
- Bankruptcy and indebtedness witnessed the sharpest spike in last three years, registering an almost three-fold increase as compared to 2014.
- 91% of farmer suicides in India are recorded in six states Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Karnataka, with the BJP ruled Maharashtra topping the list.
- The income from farming would never enable a farmer to be out of the debt trap. Economic Survey (2015-16) admits that the average annual income of the median farmer from cultivation, net of production costs, is less than Rs.20,000. That translates to an income of less than Rs.1,600 per month per farmer!
Modi’s Yet Another Jumla on Minimum Support Price
Before being elected the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi promised to honour the M S Swaminathan Committee recommendations and pay farmers a minimum support price (MSP) that will ensure 50% profitability over costs. But this promise also turned into another jumla.
- #KisanKiLoot: A forum of over 180 farmers’ organizations, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), has calculated that for the top 7 crops ((paddy, maize, soybean, cotton, bajra, groundnut and urad) in the kharif season 2017 – 18, farmers have already lost Rs 6,283 crores compared to the prevailing MSP. According to the same study, for the total crop that would be sold by farmers this season the estimated loss compared to prevailing MSP will shoot upto Rs35,968 crores. (Business Line 9 Nov 2017)
- And when compared to the promised MSP, i.e., the cost of production + 50%, the loss faced by farmers is more than a mammoth Rs 2 lakh crores.
- The study further found that among the 14 crops of Kharif 2017-18, the MSPs for 7 crops have been fixed less than the cost of production and for the other 7 crops, the margin above cost of production is merely 2% to 19%! ( Newsclick, 15 Nov 2017)
Lakhs of Crores of Loan Waivers for Corporates, Bullets for Farmers!
The Modi Govt showers tax and loan waivers to Adanis and Ambanis, and showers bullets on the country’s farmers when they seek loan waivers and minimum support price. In UP elections, the BJP made grand promise of loan waiver for farmers. It is now widely reported how, in course of the ‘post election implementation’ of this promise, farmers in UP are being handed over certificates waiving off their loans by 1 paisa, 19 paisa, Re. 1, Rs. 2 etc!!! (“1 paisa loan waiver a cruel joke: farmer”, The Hindu, 20 Sep 2017; “In loan waiver shocker, farmers of Uttar Pradesh get relief of 19 paise”- Hindustan Times 13 Sep 2017)
Brazen Double Standards in Discourse and Policy
It is also important to note, that both Government representatives and big media term crores of tax and even loan waivers to rich corporates as “incentives”, while they like to call it “subsidy” and a burden – when the demand for loan waivers and MSP comes from the farmers. It is shameful that both the Government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the regulator of banking sector, have maintained a shameful secrecy about the list of wilful corporate defaulters. In contrast, the farmers who fail to return their crop loan of mere Rs 15000 or so due to low minimum support price or hostile climate are named and shamed by the same banks by posting their names and photo’s on the bulletin boards, pushing them to humiliation and death. We must remind them, it is the peasantry who is feeding the nation, and the entire country is actually indebted to the farmers!
BJP Leaders Mocking At Farmers’ Suicides
Further, ministers and representatives of BJP have several times mercilessly mocked and derided the suicide stricken farmers. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has absurdly claimed in Parliament in July 2015 that impotency and love affairs are the top reasons behind farmers’ suicides! After agitating farmers were shot dead by MP police, MP Home Minister Bhupendra Singh claimed that farmers’ suicides in MP are a result of family disputes and not because of debt in agriculture. According to Gopal Shetty, BJP MP from north Mumbai, it has become a “fashion” among farmers to commit suicide!
Accept the Demands of the Farmers
In this context of brazen Government insensitivity to mounting agrarian distress, more than 180 farmer organizations have unitedly formed the AIKSCC to demand:
Fair and remunerative returns on farmers’ hard work, which is at least 50% above the total cost of production. The farmer organizations have demanded this for all crops and other produce like milk as well as minor forest produce, and such a price made into a statutorily-guaranteed price for all farmers so that it is not just a price announced, but a price realized by all farmers.
Freedom from Debt through a permanent institutional mechanism which is not only an immediate loan waiver but also institutional and non-institutional loans of all farmers, and continuous support to farmers burdened by debt. Government must also ensure effective crop insurance, disaster compensation and promotion of low or no-cost farming.
The farmer organizations held the Kisan Mukti Sansad on 20-21st November 2017 in Delhi to secure these two demands for all farmers, as immediate requirements to tackle the severe agrarian crisis in India. On behalf of AISA, we support all the demands of the farmers.