One Year of Modi

Agrarian crisis deepens under Modi’s neglect


Vijoo Krishnan


Narendra Modi and the BJP Manifesto had promised that the BJP Government will usher in “achhe din” for farmers and put an end to farm suicides. They also claimed that the BJP Government would  increase public investment in agriculture and rural development, take steps to ensure: a minimum of 50 percent profits over the cost of production, cheaper agricultural inputs and credit, latest technologies for farming and high-yielding seeds and link MGNREGA to agriculture, implement a farm insurance scheme to take care of crop loss due to natural calamities, strengthen and expand rural credit facilities, expand irrigation facilities, institute a price stabilisation fund to protect farmers from volatile world market prices and more. The Manifesto also promised that “The  BJP will adopt a ‘National Land Use Policy’, which will look at the scientific acquisition of non-cultivable land and its development, protect the interest of farmers and keep in mind the food production goals and economic goals of the country.” Welfare measures for farmers above 60 years, small and marginal farmers and farm labour were also promised. What more could a farmer ask for?


But, one year of Modi sarkar has heightened agrarian distress. Growth rate of agriculture has drastically fallen from 3.7 percent in 2014 to merely 1.1 percent in this period. Farmers’ suicides have increased. In December, 2014 merely six months into the Modi rule, a mid-term assessment showed a 26 percent increase in farm suicides. The BJP-ruled Maharashtra has seen a 40 percent increase in farmers’ suicides. There were a shocking 1,373 suicides between August 2014 and February 2015. There has been a further spurt in farmers’ suicides after March 2015 due to the colossal damage to crops in more than 2 crore hectares across the country and insensitive handling of the crisis by the Government. States like Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been witnessing suicides in an unprecedented scale. Over 60 farmers have committed suicide in Haryana since April 2015. Rather than mitigate their suffering, provide effective compensation and take emergency confidence building measures, the Haryana BJP Minister for agriculture has callously described the farmers committing suicide as “cowards” and “criminals”. The BJP ministers in Maharashtra have also made such insensitive comments. The Union Agriculture Minister claimed in Parliament that not a single farmer had committed suicide in Haryana. The Government is continuing in this criminal denial mode and refusing to accept the truth or do anything about it.


Modi’s main thrust in his campaign speeches was that steps would be taken to enhance the profitability in agriculture by ensuring a minimum of 50 percent profits over the cost of the production. The BJP govt’s greatest betrayal was on this count. It has only made a meagre increase of Rs.50/Qtl for wheat and paddy MSP and made zero increase for most crops. The BJP govt. told the Supreme Court on 20th February, 2015 that it is not feasible to give minimum 50% profits over cost of production. Input costs are skyrocketing and the BJP govt. has done nothing to control prices. Crop prices and Minimum Support Prices are unremunerative and do not even cover the costs of production, procurement mechanism is fast being dismantled and private players allowed to exploit distressed Farmers. To add salt to injury the Government also issued an Order directing States not to pay bonus for paddy and wheat over and above the MSP and stopping procurement by Food Corporation of India (FCI) from such States on the pretext that it was “market distorting”. The Government has also fast-paced steps to dismantle the FCI which procures food grain from farmers, and dilute the National Food Security Act 2013. Even as the Government is posturing at the WTO that the farmers’ interests and food security would not be compromised domestically, it is doing exactly what the USA, EU and WTO have been demanding by scaling down the food security programme and the public stockholding programme. Nothing concrete has been done to institute a meaningful Price Stabilisation Fund. Clearly they are keen to protect the interests of the big agribusinesses and traders at the expense of the Farmers.


Public investment in agriculture and rural development has been drastically curtailed, agricultural credit is inaccessible and usurious money lenders are looting the farmers unchecked. Agribusinesses and “urban farmers” have cornered a bulk of the institutional credit. According to the latest NSSO report based on its 70th round (January – December, 2013), more than 60 percent of the rural households in India are indebted with 92.9 percent of households in Andhra Pradesh being indebted. Nothing has been done by the BJP govt. to provide debt relief, to make credit accessible to the farmers or ensure cheaper credit. The allocation for agriculture and allied activities which was Rs.11,531 crores in the 2014-15 Budget has only seen a meagre increase to Rs.11,657 crores in the 2015-16 Budget. In real terms this is no increase. MGNREGA has been scaled down drastically and is being starved of funds. The BJP Government has sought that it be restricted to only 2500 Blocks instead of the present 6576 Blocks. On MGNREGA in 2014-15 the Union Government and State Governments had jointly estimated that 227 crore workdays and Rs. 61,000 crore budget allocation was required for the year 2014-15 for Implementing MGNREGA. But the BJP Government had allotted Rs. 34000 crore only in the Union Budget 2014-15 thus denying 45% of the estimated amount. In the 2015-16 Budget it has only allocated Rs.34,699 crores which is far below what is actually required. Nothing concrete has been done for the small, marginal farmers and farm labour who are reeling under falling incomes and rising prices. When we consider the fact that there are over 600 districts in the country the allocation of Rs.5600 crore for irrigation and organic farming will boil down to around Rs.9 crore per district for both schemes put together. It is anybody’s guess as to what irrigational infrastructure can be built or organic agriculture be encouraged out of such meagre funds.


The promise of comprehensive farm insurance scheme to take care of crop loss due to natural calamities has been forgotten. In the wake of the crop loss in the unseasonal rains and hailstorm, the BJP Government cut down by nearly 50 percent the actual area where crops had been destroyed totally eliminating millions of farmers from claiming any compensation. It then announced a compensation of around Rs.12,000/acre and claimed that it was the highest ever. It is worth noting here that in parts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states hit by farm suicides, most were denied compensation. In Haryana the rent for leasing in land alone is around Rs.45,000/acre in some parts and costs of cultivation are an additional expense. Even if the compensation of Rs.12,000/acre is given, the farmer would remain in a state of extreme indebtedness. There are also instances of Farmers being given cheques for compensation of Rs.5/acre, Rs.63/acre and Rs.200/acre in different parts of the country. All sections of the peasantry have seen declining incomes forcing them to sell their assets on the one hand and being unable to invest in technology, tractors and irrigational infrastructure on the other.


The BJP Government has totally reversed its earlier stance on the Land Acquisition Act. It made a U-turn and brought amendments through the Ordinance route in December 2014. It will facilitate smooth take-over of land for corporate profiteering and real-estate speculation. The government has in effect reinstated the most draconian provisions of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and removed the necessity to seek consent of the farmers and other dependants on land as well as done away with the Social Impact Assessment altogether. The class of projects under the new Section 10 A will continue to be exempted from these requirements. It includes five items in the Special Category including industrial corridors and infrastructure projects under public private partnership. Since most acquisitions fall in these two categories, this has the impact of completely nullifying the minimal safeguards contained under the original LARR, 2013. The definition of Industrial Corridors has been expanded to include land up to one kilometre on either side of the designated road or railway line for such industrial corridors. According to a calculation for the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor which passes through 6 States there is the threat of loss of almost 7 lakh or 17.5 percent of all agricultural land in the country to forcible acquisition. There will be no safeguards for food security as even fertile multi-cropped land, as well as productive rain-fed land can be acquired without any restriction. The possibilities of some rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to dependants on land other than owners of the land have been totally discarded. There is no proposal for a Land Use Policy at national as well as state Level. The Government claim of offering job to one person of a family is like uprooting a family from their main source of livelihood and giving a token job to one person of the family. It also does not address the problems of a wide cross-section of dependants on the land.


Clearly each one of the promises made has been broken. Modi led BJP Government has only followed a policy of pauperising and dispossessing the peasantry by deliberately pushing them into distress by withdrawing State support, aggressively pursuing trade liberalisation and the gamut of Neo-Liberal Economic Policies.  The interests of farmers and agricultural workers have been betrayed to usher in achhe din for Adani, Ambani and their ilk.