BJP’s Election Manifesto of 2014 had emphatically declared that “BJP commits highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmer's income and rural development”. Specifically, BJP had promised 50% profits over cost of production, scientific land use policy and no acquisition without farmers’ consent, increased public investment, crop insurance, cheaper inputs, expansion of irrigation, more rural credit, expanding MGNREGS, poverty alleviation, etc.
Despite all this tall talk, in five years of their rule, Modi and the ruling BJP have contniously faced massive protests by farmers. A never-before-seen solidarity between organisations of the peasantry, rural poor, oppressed and working classes has also emerged. Narendra Modi and the BJP which maintained an insensitive approach to farmers’ woes are today being forced to announce policies that supposedly seek to address farmers’ grievances.
Doubling Agrarian Distress Instead of Incomes
Agricultural growth has been fairly volatile over the last five years falling by 0.2% for 2013-14 to 2014-15, inching up by 0.6% for 2014-15 to 2015-16 and hovering around 2.7 % according to provisional figures for 2017-18 to 2018-19. These are shockingly low levels that adversely impact farm incomes as well as ability of the peasantry to take credit for investing in their land holdings. 2015-16 to 2016-17 showed 6.3% and provisional figures of 2016-17 to 2017-18 showed 5% growth. There are questions about this data too as the Government showed high growth rates even after demonetisation.
The Central Statistics Office has added credence to the allegations of the peasantry that the last 5 years have seen continuously low incomes. CSO figures show that farm income growth crashed to the lowest in 14 years in the last quarter of 2018 (October-December). Growth in nominal agricultural Gross Value Added (the value of output minus the cost of all inputs and raw materials involved in production) is also in single digits. This covers incomes of both farmers and agricultural labourers meaning the kitty is divided among a still bigger population. It clearly indicates that the farmers’ “take-home” incomes are very low even as the Government claims surplus production.
Agricultural output grew at only 2.7 per cent during the last October-December quarter which is the lowest in 11 quarters. This growth rate in real terms also did not lead to a corresponding growth in farm incomes. Even more significant than the low increase at constant prices is the fact that the growth in “nominal” terms at current prices is the lowest for any quarter as per the CSO’s new 2011-12 base year series at just 2.04 per cent in comparison to the real GVA growth of 2.67 per cent. It is also the worst since the minus 1.1 per cent rate recorded way back in October-December 2004 (based on the then 1999-2000 GDP series).
Rural wage growth also saw a drastic fall with demonetisation taking a heavy toll. Economists have estimated that a growth rate of more than 14.86% is required for 5 years to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. Niti Aayog economists disputed this and claimed that annual growth rate of 10.4% would be sufficient. Even if this claim is accepted one can see how far away we are from any such goal.
Farm Suicides Continue Unabated
Far from ending farm suicides they are still alarmingly high despite efforts by certain States to fudge data and paint a rosy picture. Over 36,000 farm suicides were reported in the first 3 years of the BJP Government and the Government has not released data for the last two years. BJP ruled Maharashtra with 11,956 farm suicides accounted for nearly one-third of the total. A glaring difference in the NCRB data on farm suicides in Punjab and the data generated in surveys by universities in Punjab has emerged. While NCRB figures show 459 suicides in Punjab in 3 years from 2014 onwards the door to door survey shows more than a thousand farm suicides every year. Bengal showed zero suicides in 2015 and 2016 while Bihar showed zero suicides in 2016 which is not the ground reality. Despite the gross underreporting the farm suicide figures remain very high.
Income inequality has become worse; India's top 1% bag 73% of the country's wealth up from 58% last year. Malnutrition deaths in the rural areas are a manifestation of the agrarian crisis. The UID and biometric in “digital India” are becoming tools of exclusion and denial of ration to the poor. Thousands of children below the age of 5 die of malnutrition die every year with the till recently BJP ruled States of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand having the worst record. According to FAO’s ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018 Report’, 195.9 million people are undernourished in India. The Global Hunger Index 2018 ranks India at 103 out of 119 countries. Unemployment has hit a 45 year high with the National Sample Survey showing unemployment rate as 6.1 per cent which is the highest since 1972-73. Rural India paints a bleak picture of all-round distress.
Attack on Land and Cattle Wealth of the Peasantry
Indiscriminate acquisition of land to promote corporate interests throwing to winds food security concerns and farmer’s interests has become the norm. Lakhs of acres of fertile multi-cropped land are under the threat of acquisition for real estate purposes and in the name of development activities. A network of industrial corridors, expressways, SEZs, National Investment and Manufacturing Zones and proposed Smart Cities are all literally a license to loot for the corporate sector. The drive to grab farm land has been accompanied by an attack on the cattle wealth of the peasantry. The cattle economy is being hit like never before through restrictions on cattle trade in the name of protection of the cow and barbaric attacks and killing of Muslim and Dalit dairy farmers and cattle rearers as well as dependents on cattle for their livelihood by armed vigilante groups calling themselves Gaurakshaks or protectors of the cow. The peasantry who used to sell cattle in times of crisis or to buy new ones are constrained by the atmosphere of fear generated by these groups. The menace of stray cattle has become another cause of income losses to the peasantry as they are rampantly destroying crops. Free Trade Agreements being negotiated at a feverish pace by the Government also will adversely affect the cattle economy.
Promise of Ensuring 50% Profits Over Production Cost Betrayed
On ensuring minimum of 50% profits over cost of production (as per Swaminathan Commission recommendation), the BJP Government went back on this popular promise and on 20th February, 2015 it filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that it was not possible to increase the minimum support price (MSP) on the basis of input cost plus 50% as it would “distort the market”. Recently, the Government has claimed that it was already giving MSP over 50% more than cost of production. This is a massive hoax because they are using A2+FL+50% formula instead of the promised C2+50%. The difference between the two ranges from 32% for paddy to 34% for jowar and maize and 39% for arhar on an average – farmers are losing that much. In most crops, A2+FL+50% price would be 40 per cent below the C2+50% level. In most cases the farmers are not even getting Rs.80 for every Rs.100 spent. The much-hyped announcements were also not accompanied by assured procurement and, in most States, even this MSP remained only notional as government agencies did not procure the crops from farmers who were forced to sell their produce at prices lower than MSP. According to a calculation, the Government’s refusal to redeem its promise of giving 50% profit over cost price, farmers are estimated to have lost nearly Rs.3 lakh crore for major crops in kharif and rabi 2017-18 – this being the difference between actual prices farmers got and what they would have got had Modi kept his word.
Farce in the Name of PM AASHA and PM KISAN
In September, 2018 the BJP Government came up with the Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (PM-AASHA) with the claim that it would ensure remunerative prices and protect farmers’ income through a combination of Price Support Scheme (PSS), Price Deficiency Payment Scheme (PDPS) and Pilot of Private Procurement and Stockist Scheme (PPPS). AIKS and other organisations of the peasantry pointed out the hollowness of the Scheme at the very beginning and that it was aimed at privatising procurement. The announcement of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PMKSN) a full five months after the PM-AASHA was announced is also an admission of the abject failure of PM-AASHA Scheme. If the Annadata’s income was protected as claimed when PM-AASHA was announced, then the need for PMKSN would not have arisen.
The PMKSN promises Rs.6,000/year for farmers holding land up to 2 hectares. As per the last Agricultural Census, there are about 12 crore households having land holdings below 2 hectares. It is, however, noteworthy that not only is Agricultural Census fraught with many problems, the definition of households used in Agricultural Censuses is not the same as the definition of family being used in PMKSN. In reality, the number of families operating less than 2 hectares is likely to be considerably more than 12 crores. Further, since land records are being used to identify families having less than 2 hectares of land, this Scheme excludes a vast majority of cultivators who are tenant farmers and are not registered in land records. Similarly, a vast majority of adivasi cultivators who do not have land pattas will be excluded from the scheme. Also, the amount promised to be given to each farmer family is too meagre as it amounts to Rs.500/month or less than Rs.17/day.
Taking the example of paddy in Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh etc the farmer is forced to sell at Rs-1000-1200/Qtl. Even if we take it as Rs.1200/Qtl and if 4tonnes/hectare is taken as the production, the farmer at best gets Rs.48,000/- for the entire yield. At the MSP fixed it should have brought them Rs.70,000/- that is a loss of Rs.22,000/hectare. Now consider if the MSP given by Kerala under the LDF Government i.e Rs.2350/Qtl, the same produce would fetch the farmer Rs.94,000/hectare which is Rs.24,000/hectare higher than what would accrue to a farmer at the centrally fixed MSP and Rs.46,000/hectare higher than what a farmer in States where procurement is almost non-existent will receive for the same produce. Given that the tall claims of doubling farm incomes requires an annual increase of 14.4 per cent which is a far cry from the reality, the Prime Minister’s sop of Rs.6,000/year for farmers holding up to two hectares which translates to Rs.17/day cuts no ice with farmers who are losing many times this amount due to the low pricing and near absence of procurement.
Stagnating Wages of Agricultural Workers
Modi had nothing to offer to the largest economic segment in India – the agricultural workers who make up nearly 55% of those involved in agriculture. These are the poorest, most downtrodden people, with a large share of Dalits and Adivasis. Their key demand for land is of course never mentioned but even their immediate demand of higher wages has been completely ignored by the Modi regime. The situation of agricultural wages is shocking, although landed lobbies keep lamenting about “high” wages. Recent studies have shown that after some rise between 2007-08 to 2014-15, rural wages have been stagnating under Modi rule. The average year-on-year wage growth for December during 2014 to 2018 under the BJP rule worked out to 4.7 per cent in nominal terms and a mere 0.5 per cent in real terms considering the inflation of 4.2 per cent. This is causing immense misery and hardship – but the Government has no word of solace, leave aside any relief, to offer.