How to characterise a ruling establishment that finds an opportunity even in disasters in the pursuit of its both latent and stated political agenda? This is exactly what we are witnessing in the past few months, since the outbreak of Corona virus and subsequent lock-down imposed across the country, without any consultation with states, and with no planning and preparation whatsoever.
The already distressing agrarian situation has been turned disastrous, forcing uncalled-for suffering on farmers and agricultural workers with especially adverse effects on harvesting and marketing of Rabi crops in Haryana. There was enough time with the govt and it was expected that it would have a plan for all levels in the wake of second round of lockdown. However, not only did it fail in this role but it made conditions much worse for the peasantry by introducing its own ‘reforms’ agenda of opening up the agriculture sector to private sector, under the cover of Corona virus pandemic. Have a look at how this impacted rural Haryana during the most crucial season of Rabi crops harvesting and marketing.
1. Harvesting: The relaxation given for harvesting and other agriculture operations during lock down forced farmers to get it done by using combine harvester machines because of looming fear of persisting bad weather and the virus infection. The number of harvesting machines has increased during the past decades, with most of them belonging to Punjab. They arrive in Haryana after harvesting in Madhya Pradesh where wheat matures early. The result was that landless labourers could not get harvesting work and thus could not acquire a good collection of wheat for family consumption. They could get some harvesting work in regions with small land holdings who are in need of fodder for the cattle.
2.Weather Losses: This time round, standing crops in parts of Haryana had suffered losses due to unseasonal rains, hailstorm, etc. But compensation for these crop losses has not been paid.
3. Marketing Systems Alteration: Just before the onset of the purchase schedule, Haryana govt abruptly made drastic changes in the marketing systems in existence since decades without consulting the farmers’ organisations or opposition parties.
Firstly, registration for the crops grown by the farmers was made compulsory on the on-line portal Meri Fasal – Mera Beora (my crop – my profile) as a pre-condition for availing every facility. It resulted in exclusion of a large number of farmers who have no access to internet services and those cultivators who do not have their own land. The peasant movement has been opposing all such unilateral steps.
Secondly, introduction of the so called ‘direct payment to farmer’ scheme, ostensibly to the benefit of the farmers by imposing curbs on Commission Agents (arhatiyas) led to a strike by the grain market traders who form the main component of the purchasing mechanism. The predominant system of marketing in existence is that farmers bring their produce to licensee Arhtiyas who then sell it to the govt agencies on behalf of and in the name of concerned farmers at the MSP rates. Arhtiyas are the chief source of informal lending round the year and make the outstanding recoveries from farmers. It is on this occasion that they adjust this advance from the amount received by farmers from sale of crops. The prevailing system has its own component of exploitation which needs to be rectified. But a false impression was sought to be created that govt. is genuinely seeking to liberate the farmers from middlemen though farmers know the reality.
The real plan behind the on line registration or direct cash payment is to eventually closedown the grain markets and do away with the state purchase of farm produce on MSP thus facilitating the complete take over grain trading by corporate entities, which is bound to eventually end PDS as well. Such ulterior motives were being contemplated in parts by previous successive regimes but are being pursued much more ruthlessly by the Modi govt and the BJP led state govts.
Poor Purchasing Record: Government had boasted of opening more than 2000 purchase centres across the state. But more than half of these did not function for want of basic infrastructure. The system of procurement was being done through roster mode and only those farmers were allowed to bring the produce who had a message on their phones for it.
While the CM of Haryana and other ministers repeatedly make tall promises that they will purchase every grain, however, from, the beginning itself, govt. purchasing agencies like Nafed and Hafed failed to enter the market at the time of arrival of the mustard crop and distress sale of mustard had to be done by many farmers who sold it at just Rs. 3200-3500 per quintal while the MSP this year is Rs. 4425 per quintal. Procurement of mustard was surprisingly carried out for just five days - from 15 to 20 April. As a result of which major share of the produce is still either lying unsold at the homes of farmers or they are forced to make distress sale for want of cash, on much lesser rates than the MSP.
Tardy Purchasing and Leaders Threatened: Grain markets are currently totally clogged as no further lifting is taking place as trucks await unloading at the entrance of godowns. When AIKS local leaders and opposition leaders start visiting grain markets to observe the situation they were asked by the CM to refrain from doing it. The Home Minister Anil Vij even publically threatened strict action against anyone visiting the Mandis. In spite of this AIKS leadership in various districts went there and held protest actions by strictly following the norms of physical distancing. They submitted the memorandums to the authorities holding the ill advised changes responsible for the stalemate compounding hardships of the people.
Payments not Made: Payments for the entire wheat purchase and partly of the mustard remain unpaid at the time of writing. Even sugarcane farmers have not been paid so far. Farmers are totally starved of cash when the kharif sowing is on the cards and they need cash for inputs.
4. Share croppers worst sufferers: It is to be specially noted that the share-croppers and landless farmers who cultivate small holdings on others lands do not own any records and so cannot register on portal and obviously are deprived of every facility that is entitled to the land owner. They are severely distressed by this callous neglect.
5. Other Farm Produce: It is not the food crops alone that have met this fate. Vegetables, fruits, poultry, fishery, and dairy farmers have suffered incalculable losses and cannot repay the instalments for the loans taken.
6. Ban on Paddy cultivation: Haryana govt has imposed a blanket ban on paddy cultivation in 16 blocks of the state in view of alarming depletion of water table. Threats have been issued denying MSP and all other subsidies to the farmers who defy the ban. It has asked the farmers to instead switch over to maize or cotton as substitute crops. Last year the govt. promised a monetary incentive of Rs 2000 per acre and this time it increased it to Rs 7000. These monetary incentives largely remained mere promises and were not paid last year too. This is not easy for farmers to mechanically do it in view of their continued monetary dependence on Kharif paddy.
7. MGNREGA in name only: MGNREGA was exempted from lockdown after a month, but work has been given at a very few places. For example in Kaithal district canal de- silting work was given 8 km away from the village. The police challanned the tractor trolley in which men and women were going for work.
There is tremendous urgency for expanding the work scope of MGNREGA during these pandemic times so that economically and socially deprived sections can earn something.
8. Shift in burden unacceptable: What are supposed to be voluntary donations to fight corona are being changed to mandatory, in practice. Haryana CM asked farmers to donate 1 to 5 per cent of their output returns in the corona fund which will be deducted from their payments. Those who decline the donations must have to do so in writing so that they are not exempted. Diesel and petrol prices have been yet again increased without an iota of justification which is bound to have very bad effect on the peasantry soon going for Kharif sowing and a cascading effect on the rise in prices of essential commodities. A one-year moratorium on govt jobs has been enforced. And here is the ultimate symbol of the govts’ callousness: Haryana govt had just recently on 23 March doubled the house allowance of MLAs from Rs 50,000 to one lakh. Yet it is not implementing its promise of enhancing old age pension to Rs 5000 and not enhancing the honorarium of scheme workers etc.
9. Alternative Issues and Policy Shift: A new situation has arisen especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. The real face of class bias of the system has got unmasked. Modi govt will seek to shift the burden on the toiling masses who are already reeling under unprecedented crisis. The situation demands that the rich should be taxed and investment in agriculture and rural development, health, education and employment generation etc. be enhanced. These issues will have to be articulated for mass mobilisation in the direction of seeking shift in policies as well.
We demand : -
- Substantial increase in govt. spending on agriculture and rural development
- Money and other resources should actually reach the peasantry rather than Agro industry and the Corporates
- Immediate release of all the pending compensation dues for crops damaged in natural calamities for the past two years
- Remove all conditions for crop purchase
- Immediate release of dues for purchased crops
- Waiver of crop loans
- Free inputs for Kharif sowing
- Roll back enhanced prices of petrol and diesel
- Withdraw ban on Paddy cultivation
- Register the share croppers and women farmers as cultivators and give all facilities including credit cards
- Increase the PM Kisan Nidhi amount from Rs 12000 to 18000 annual
- Implement MGNREGA for certain farm operations
- Free ration to all needy from PDS