August 9, the farmers across India, under the leadership of various organizations, had gone for a Bharat Bandh, along with some other sections of Indians. The farmers, recently under the leadership of All India Kisan Sabha, marched in a few lacs to Mumbai asking for loan waiver and Minimum Support Price for their produce.
Earlier, farmers’ movements across India had State atrocities on them. During the last two years of the ongoing NDA regime, there have been several cases of firing on farmers, killing quite a lot of them: six in Mandsaur, MP; seven in Jharkhand; thirteen in Thoothukudi, TN. No action has been taken against the police in any of these cases. Very little, or delayed, and in some cases, no relief has been provided to the deceased farmers’ families.
So, there is all disquiet in the farm-lands of India, which still engages more than 6 out of 10 working people and feeds 7 out of every 10 Indians. And it is not unique to the current government only.
In fact, nearly 4 lakh farmers have committed suicides in the past 25 years, as per the government records only. The governments across regimes have attempted to muzzle Kisan voices by firing on them, killing them, and quite often lathi charges have been done on peaceful demonstrations. The apathy is evident when the central government and multiple state governments make promises to divert attention from the distress; only to renege on them as soon as the simple folks disperse after believing the promises.
Anti-farmer Stance of NDA Government
Especially in the last two to three years, the farming community has been hit by the severe attack of demonetization and GST as most of their incomes are in cash. Alongside, so-far the central government has resorted to refusal to give central loan waiver and C2 + 50% formula based remunerative minimum support price to the peasantry. There has been a State-protected policy of land grab from the peasantry for the corporate houses across the nation. The government speaks high of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, which is a bogus scheme that helps not the farmers, but corporate insurance companies. Alongside, there has been cutback of allocations to MNREGA and to all social welfare schemes like education, health, and rights of SCs/STs and women and children. There have also been attacks on forest rights and loot of tribal resources. Many cattle cultivators have lost out due to the notification restricting cattle trade and the scourge of mob lynchings by ‘Gau Rakshaks’.
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The anomaly of the NDA Declared MSP
The MSP announced by the BJP government is a fraud on the peasantry. It is as per the limited A2 + FL formula and not the comprehensive C2 + 50% formula of the MS Swaminathan Commission. A few examples of this difference as these: Paddy – MSP announced is Rs 1750 instead of Rs 2340 per quintal as per C2 formula; Cotton – Rs 5150 instead of Rs 6771; Soybean – Rs 3399 instead of Rs 4458; Groundnut – Rs 4890 instead of Rs 6279; Moong – Rs 6975 instead of Rs 9241; and so on.
The government is thus trying to fool the farmers. Mr. Narendra Modi, it must be recalled, had promised to implement this recommendation of the MS Swaminathan Commission in his 2014 election tour in over 400 public meetings all over the country. The same promise is given in black and white in the BJP election manifesto. And yet, in February 2015, just eight months after coming to power, the same BJP government gave an affidavit to the Supreme Court of India saying that it would not implement its promise because it would ‘distort the market’.
Forest Rights Act Violated
Tribals, the beneficiaries of FRA, are very much an integral part of the peasantry. The main crops that they cultivate are paddy, various types of dals and other forest produce. So the government is dead wrong in saying that.
The FRA was enacted by the first UPA government, largely under the pressure of 61 Left MPs in 2006 to correct the ‘historical injustice’ done to tribals since the times of the British colonial regime. It provided for giving them land rights over the land that they had been cultivating in the forests for several generations and also over minor forest produce. Their land since British times is owned by the Forest Department of the government.
But, in recent times, more so under the current NDA government, there are basically three major violations of the FRA. First, lakhs of claims to land made by tribals under FRA have been unjustly rejected. Secondly, even where they have been accepted, much less land than what they are cultivating has been given to them. Thirdly, in large parts of the country, tribals are not even aware that the FRA exists, hence they have made no claims to the land they cultivate at all. There is an urgent need to create large-scale awareness of FRA among the tribals to ensure their rights over minor forest produce and cultivable land through media and public service communication.
Under the BJP regime, laws have been passed to curtail the FRA, to ensure that land of tribals can be given away to corporate houses for mining, iron and steel industry and even real estate.
Full Loan Waiver
With over four lakh peasant suicides in the country in the last 25 years of neoliberal policies, and with a 42 per cent rise in these suicides in the last four years of the Modi regime, there is just no alternative to a one time complete loan waiver of the peasantry, accompanied by legislation to ensure remunerative price as per the C2 + 50% formula of the MS Swaminathan Commission. These two steps are imperative to save farmers, save agriculture and save the country.
The Modi regime keeps silent while Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi fleece the banks of thousands of crores of rupees and flee the country. It officially gave more than Rs 3 lakh crore loans waiver to a handful of corporate houses. The corporates have over Rs 11 lakh crore NPAs (Non-Performing Assets) pending with the banks, and no action whatsoever is taken against them.
And it is the same government which says that loan waivers are bad in economics! And thus refuse them to the peasantry.
Forcible Eviction of Farmers for ‘Development’
The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), other proposed industrial corridors and dedicated freight corridors in the country, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train corridor, the Mumbai-Vadodara Expressway, the Salem-Chennai Green Corridor, the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Highway and several Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country: in all of these instances, the farmers are fighting valiantly against forced land acquisition. It is to be noted here that the Japanese government has also raised questions on the forced eviction of farmers with unsatisfactory compensation for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, in which Japan is a partner.
The Way Forward
A radical change in agrarian policies across the board is the need of the hour if agriculture, farmers and farm labourers are to be saved. The first prerequisite is radical land reforms and distribution of government and illegal land holdings or lands gratis to the landless agricultural workers and the small and marginal peasants.
Secondly, the government must massively hike public investment in farming infrastructure in the areas of agriculture, irrigation, power, storage, transport, marketing, social welfare and other areas. Third, the import-export policies must be so charted as to help the farmers of India, not the corporate houses of India and the MNCs of the world.
To ensure all this, two fundamental things are required to be done. First, neoliberal policies of strengthening the corporate houses and large landholding rural rich must be scrapped forthwith and replaced with alternative policies that will put the toiling millions in India as their centerpiece. Second, communal, casteist and divisive forces that splinter the unity of the working people must be fiercely combated, isolated and eradicated, as in the case of lynching and communal violence.
The author is a media academic and columnist on social and political issues.