A critically acclaimed film “Well Done Abba” satirically addressed the issue of rampant corruption by weaving a story about how wells dug under a government scheme were stolen. It points to the fact that the wells had not been dug at all and the money under the scheme was only siphoned off. The plight of the farmers under the Narendra Modi led BJP Government is similar to the plight of the villagers whose wells were stolen. All they got in the last three years were imaginary wells, remunerative prices for their crops, insurance, employment, pensions, bulging bank balances, prosperity and development. Figment of imagination of Narendra Modi presented as reality by his spin doctors and pliant media houses have only spelt death for farmers.
The BJP had come to power three years ago promising “Achhe Din” for the farmers and agricultural workers as well as toiling masses. It had promised an end to farmers’ suicides, ensure remunerative prices for crops according to the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of at least 50 percent above cost of production, more investment in agriculture, expanded employment opportunities and higher wages under MGNREGA, irrigation facilities to all farms, effective insurance, pensions, scientific land acquisition legislation to protect interests of the peasantry and much more. It is worth looking at as to how real these promises were.
1) Farmers’ suicides have continued unabated. BJP ruled Maharashtra has been witnessing the highest number of suicides and 2015 accounted for an unprecedented 4,291 suicides. BJP ruled States of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, accounted for 6,535 (51.85%) of all farmer suicides. Overall states ruled by BJP-led NDA accounted for 7,723 suicides (61.28%). States like Punjab and Haryana which were showcased as the Green Revolution success stories have also been witnessing many suicides. Tamilnadu has witnessed over 200 suicides in the last 4 months. Malnutrition deaths in States like Maharashtra and MP in the last 3 years are over a lakh according to reports. An ostrich-like denial of the reality and refusal to address the real issues is all we get as a response to the human tragedy.
2) The promise of providing remunerative prices to crops as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of C2+50% i.e at least 50 percent more than the cost of production has been permanently belied. The BJP Government also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court clearly stating that C2+50% cannot be given. In addition it also issued a Government Order to States threatening that procurement would be banned from States providing bonus over and above the MSP fixed by the Central Government on the pretext that it was “market distorting”. There is no effective procurement even at the low prices fixed, forcing farmers to make distress sales.
3) The MSP announced for most crops are far below the actual costs of production. If we take Arhar/Tur the MSP announced is Rs.5050/Qtl. The costs of production according to State Governments were Rs.5722/Qtl in AP, Rs.6841/Qtl in Telangana and Rs.5,100/Qtl in Karnataka. Farmers are not even getting Rs.4,500/Qtl as there is no effective procurement. The Government however has assured MSP along with seeds and technical knowhow and also agreed to bear transport costs from farmers in Mozambique while refusing to pay Indian farmers. While farmers are getting low prices, corporates like Adani Wilmar are raking in super profits by fleecing the consumers.
4) After it was forced to withdraw the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance, the state governments led by BJP and its allies in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh have taken the lead in changing land laws for easy corporate takeover.
5) The disruptive consequences of demonetisation led to a further fall in incomes, threatened agricultural production and created uncertainty about any revival of agricultural growth. Under such a precarious situation the Modi-led BJP Government decided to arbitrarily bring the Import duty of wheat to zero from an earlier 25 percent. This has led to dumping of wheat at rates ranging from Rs.1329/Qtl to Rs.1431/Qtl which is far below even the MSP of Rs.1625/Qtl. The Government has failed to procure wheat at MSP and refuses to open purchasing centres which leads to distress sales. It opened the gates just ahead of the winter wheat crop to help agri-businesses rake in super profits by dumping wheat from USA, Australia, France, Russia, Ukraine and other countries which have had bumper wheat harvests. It is estimated that overseas purchase would be the highest in a decade. The move will have a catastrophic effect on Indian farmers given the fact that global wheat prices are seeing a decline. The big players in the wheat flour market like Cargill, ITC, Adani-Wilmar, Reliance and such groups have been demanding withdrawal of import duties and this move is to suit their interests. Wheat traders are expecting imports to cross 5 million tonnes this year.
6) On the MGNREGA there has been consistently low allocation and the slashed allocations under Labour Budget will restrict creation of jobs, for example in Tripura the reduced labour budget will lead to creation of jobs only for 34 days. The BJP Government claims that it has allocated a record Rs.48,000 Crores in the latest Budget. The budgeted rise in allocation for MGNREGA is just 1.1 percent. Actually this is only around Rs.500 crores over the revised expenditure of 2016-17. The increase over the 2016-17 (BE) was arrived at due to the intervention of the Supreme Court. However, the actual requirement for the programme is estimated to be over Rs.80, 000 crores. Workers have not been getting their wages within a fortnight as guaranteed by the law. In 2016-2017, wages amounting to staggering 20,000 crores rupees were not paid on time, ranging from delays of three weeks to over six months. The main reason is that the Central Government has not been giving allocations to the States in time. Shockingly over 2000 crores rupees of wage payments for the last year have still not been given to the workers. This is the shameful record of this Government. The Centre is systematically dismantling this programme and starving it of funds in a deliberate manner.
7) On the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana while claiming to increase its cover to 40 percent of the farmers the, allocation has been cut by Rs.4,240 crores from Rs.13,240 crores last year to merely Rs.9000 crores. Even this allocation has overwhelmingly gone to pay private insurance companies rather than to the benefit of farmers. Notably the premium collected in 2016-17 by Insurance Companies was as high as Rs.21,500 crores but of the total claims of Rs.4,270.55 crores in Kharif 2016 only claims of Rs.714.14 crores have been disbursed by insurance companies till date. Nearly Rs.21,000 crores taken from farmers and Governments have been pocketed by MNCs in the Insurance Sector.
8) The promise of ensuring cheap credit to farmers has also been forgotten. Most of the credit goes to agribusinesses and to urban areas and is in no way addressing credit needs of poor, landless farmers and agricultural workers. The BJP Government has through demonetisation and ban on currency exchange imposed for cooperative banks crippled the widest network for disbursal of rural credit. The talk of Price Stabilisation Fund and protection of interests of the farmers with remunerative prices has been dumped. The plight of chilli growers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where prices have crashed from Rs.13,000-Rs.15,000/Qtl to Rs.1500- Rs.5000/Qtl depending on varieties, shows how miserably this as well as the PMFBY have failed. This is also true in the case of rubber, spices and cash crops which have seen a lot of volatility in prices leading to extreme distress for farmers.
9) Another much hyped Scheme is the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana aiming to ensure water to all fields with the slogan “Har Khet Ko Pani”. The recent Budget announced micro irrigation fund with initial corpus of Rs.5000 crore and enhancement of long term irrigation corpus from the existing Rs.20,000 crore to Rs.40,000 crore. The Finance Minister has not explained the funds invested and the irrigational infrastructure developed during the last financial year. It is notable that the 11th Five Year Plan had set aside Rs.67,477 crore for irrigating 9.4 million hectares. When we consider the fact that 47 million hectares of cultivable land is unirrigated, the present allocation will not even mean Rs.10,000 per hectare. The total unpreparedness to meet the unprecedented drought in Southern India in 2016-17 and throughout the country in 2015-16 and the acute water shortage experienced is also a telling indictment of their claims.
Even as a large part of the country is faced with the worst drought the BJP Government has not disbursed adequate amount for drought relief. Tamilnadu is facing the worst drought in 140 years, with over 12 lakh acres left fallow and huge crop losses. We have all witnessed the extreme insensitivity with which the Modi-led BJP Government treated the Tamilnadu farmers on protest in the National Capital. The peasantry are rising in protest against the betrayals and massive mobilisation against Government policies have been going on across the country. The BJP and the Hindutva forces are seeking to divide the struggling masses by raking up issues like cow slaughter and using so-called “gaurakshaks” to attack cattle rearers. Communal and caste polarisation is also being attempted. Peasants and agricultural workers, Dalits and Adivasis are building issue-based unity against the Modani Model of loot of Jal, Jungle, Zameen and mineral resources and saying no to the loot.