Hopes of “Achhe Din” for the peasantry faded in the first year of the Modi led BJP Government; they have been buried forever by the end of the second year. More than 3 lakh villages spread across 300 Districts and over 33 crore people of India are reeling under the worst drought since 1986-87 leading to acute water crisis, crop losses. There were no contingency plans to address the situation and the BJP Government has totally failed to provide relief. The Government also is reported to have sent a bill of Rs.4 crores for the “Water Train” sent to the parched Latur. The Prime Minister is busy getting his wax statues made and his Ministers are competing to ape his penchant for selfies while the Farmers who feed the country are dying. Such insensitivity is all pervasive also in their approach to Farmers and agriculture.
As opposed to the promise of putting an end to farmers’ suicides, there has been a rapid rise in such cases in the last two years. According to analysts everyday 52 farmers commit suicide while the average for the last two decades was 42 suicides every day. In BJP ruled Maharashtra alone there were 2568 suicides in 2014. This has risen to 3228 suicides in 2015, the highest since 2001. Note that the 2014 and 2015 figures were arrived at by excluding suicides by labourers, which were 1436 in 2014. There is a rising trend of farmers’ suicides in Karnataka with 1336 suicides in 2015. Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, West Bengal and other states are also reporting an increasing trend. The BJP Government is seeking to wish away a human tragedy by pretending it never existed.
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 conveniently forgotten. This Government has also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that C2+50% cannot be given as it may “distort the market”. To add to the problems of farmers 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. The MSP announced for most crops are far below the actual costs of production. The Government has been scaling down procurement activities on the basis of Shanta Kumar Committee recommendations. The Government also sacrificed the interests of the Farmers and the hungry millions at the WTO negotiations.
The prices of pulses could be an interesting illustration of how farmers and consumers lose while middlemen and big corporates rake in huge profits. Depending on the variety of pulses farmers get a price ranging not more than Rs.30-40/Kg while the prices in the market had gone up to Rs.150-220/Kg for different varieties like Masoor, Urad, Tur/Arhar. In two months when the prices were reigning high India must have consumed about 4 million tonnes of different varieties of pulses. Even if one takes into account a profit of Rs.100/Kg one can imagine the humongous profits that accrued to big players like Adani, Reliance, Tata, Birla and ITC. This was facilitated by the BJP Government which relaxed stockholding norms by an Order on 30th September, 2014 and helped spike the rates. Despite the fall in production, the Government allowed traders to hoard and tightened norms very late only after much criticism. It also failed to foresee the crisis and import pulses in time and hence is culpable of allowing a supply squeeze and consequently allowing big players to rake in super profits.
Government policies have ensured that the average income a Farmer earns from farming activities, including what is retained for family consumption is merely Rs.20,000/- per year in 17 States. That would mean a meagre amount of only Rs.1,666/- per month. One has to note that it is in a scenario of high inflation in prices of food grains and essential commodities as well as health and educational expenses that we are talking of such low incomes. The Government is now talking about doubling incomes of Farmers by 2022. The Government has not taken any radical steps to generate confidence in the peasantry, to enhance productivity and profitability. According to experts to double even this meagre income in real terms would require a growth rate of over 15 percent. Growth rate of Agriculture which was 4.2 percent in 2013-14 in the first two years of the NDA Government contracted to (-) 0.2 percent in 2014-15 and hovered around a negligible (+) 1.1 percent in 2015-16.
Increasing costs of agricultural inputs and unremunerative prices have led to falling incomes and rising indebtedness. According to the latest NSSO report for Jan–Dec, 2013, more than 31 percent of the rural households in India are indebted. Among these, the cultivator households have an even higher share of indebtedness – over 52%. In some states like AP, nearly 93 percent of farmers households are in debt. There has been no effort to fulfil their poll time promise of affordable credit. A recent study in Punjab found that Farmers’ total debt in the State has gone up to Rs 69,355 crores. The average debt per household is Rs.5,52,064. Loan waivers for Farmers are not even being considered while Adani, Ambani and the like are getting huge tax concessions and defaulting on loans. Adani group alone has a debt of Rs.72,000 crores and reportedly corporate houses owe State-run banks over Rs.5 lakh crores. Very clearly a Government of Corporates.
Prices of many commercial crops are crashing and there is no help forthcoming for ensuring price stabilisation or protecting peasantry. Rather the BJP Government is entering into more and more Free Trade Agreements and going in for greater trade liberalisation. Rubber growers have been worst hit. If inflation is taken into account Rubber prices are 35 years behind and it is lower than 1980-81 prices. From Rs.239/Kg in 2011 it fell to Rs.94/Kg in 2016 and due to the price cras from 2012-13 till 2015-16 the loss of incomes to the peasantry is estimated to be Rs.27409 crores. While Farmers faced the brunt of the price crash companies like MRF registered 74 percent increase in their profits at their expense. Similar stories in the case of silk, spices and other commercial crops are heard.
The BJP Government also brought a draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance which would facilitate smooth take-over of land for corporate profiteering and real-estate speculation. It sought to do away with the principle of seeking prior-informed consent of land owners and dependants on land, Social Impact Assessment and Food Security restrictions. It also sought to open up land up to 1 KM on both sides of expressways for corporate land grab. For instance, the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor passes through 7 States and 2 Union Territories with a length of 1483 km and the Project Influence Area is expected to be 4,36,486 sq.km constituting 13.8 percent of geographical area of India. About 150-200 KM on both sides is to be acquired in the name of industrial areas and investment regions (11 Investment regions of Minimum 200 Sq KM, 14 Industrial Areas of Minimum 150 Sq KM, etc). The scope has been further expanded by adding “Smart Cities” and other projects. Multi-cropped, productive land is being acquired forcibly across the country. An issue-based unity and massive struggles had forced the Government to withdraw the Ordinance but now it is bringing such laws through the States.
One of the first attacks by the BJP-led NDA Government was on the working class and their rights in the name of ‘Labour Reforms’. This was followed up with a systematic effort to subvert the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). MGNREGA has been scaled down drastically and is being starved of funds. Through a Circular issued on 21st July 2014 the Central Government directed the States to limit the implementation of the MGNREGA only to 2500 Blocks which are “most backward” in development. Even the latest Budget allocated only Rs.38,500 crores when the actual allocation required was more than Rs.65,000 crores. The national average days of employment provided in a year is only about 36 days. A recent study showed that there has been negligible employment generation even in drought hit States. Data shows that in 2015-16 of the households that were provided work under the scheme in these regions, merely 1.8 per cent got full 150 days of employment. In BJP ruled Rajasthan the proportion of such workers is 0.2 percent or less.
There have been no social security measures for agricultural labourers or the peasantry. The promise of comprehensive farm insurance scheme to take care of crop and income loss due to unforeseen natural calamities and crop losses has been belied by a policy which prises open agricultural insurance to Multinational Companies. They are expected to rake in over Rs.8000 crores more than usual in this year. Nothing concrete has been done for the Small, Marginal Farmers and Farm Labour who are reeling under falling incomes and rising prices. FDI in retail, in agro-processing, plantation sector is being encouraged in a big way although they had claimed before coming to power that it would lead to rendering millions unemployed.
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 agriculture on the other. Issue-based unity is being built and massive struggles are going on to counter this BJP Government and their anti-peasant policies.