Farmers need compassion
Subsequent to the strike of the farmers of Tamil Nadu at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi on April 23, 2017, and at District Punatamba village of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, a decision was made by the farmers to stop the supply of fruits and vegetables to markets of Nasik. On the other hand, from June 1-10, the small farmers and farmers organisation of Madhya Pradesh stopped the supply of milk, fruits, and vegetables, and started a strike and placed 19 demands pertaining to enhanced price of their harvest and waiving off loans. In Mandsaur, MP, the MLA of Congress and their workers instigated the farmers on Dharna indulged in rioting with police, burning Government and other vehicles. The police had to lathicharge, lob tear gas, and finally, to control the unruly crowd, resort to firing in which six farmers were dead and hundreds were injured.
The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Devendra Fadnavis immediately announced Rs.1 crore to each family member of the farmers who died in police firing and Rs. Five lakh to the farmers who were injured. Also, declared the buying price (Minimum Support Price) of Moong, Urad, Arhar, and fixed minimum price of Rs. 8 per Kg for onion. The Chief Minister also declared to increase the procurement rate of milk and to waive the loan of farmers.
The Government of U.P. had already waived off the loan to the tune of Rs. 36,000 crores. Government under the BJP and also Punjab announced to waive off the loan of farmers.
Since Independence, due to consecutive wrong policies and natural calamities, farmers were not able to pay their loans. 56 per cent farmers have loan liability of Rs. 12.60 lakh crores. Out of this about Rs. 7.75 lakh crore is against crops and Rs. 4.84 lakh crore is term loan. The cost of agriculture is now more than the income. Farmers produce more fruits and vegetables. Due to lack of cold storage and processing units, they were not able to earn their due. Hence, the farmers are at a financial loss every year to the tune of Rs. 92 thousand crores. Farmers rearing animals and earning through animal husbandry are also at a loss, not getting the optimal rates of milk and selling at a loss of Rs. 10 on each litre.
After two years of drought in the past, this year climate favoured and the farmers have been able to get record produce of 27 crore tonnes of foodgrains. Country's total pulse produce have increased to 224 crore tonnes which in comparison to last year has improved by 37 per cent and from 1635 tonnes which is 58.9 lakh tonnes more. Oil seeds produce was 336 crore tonnes which was 33 per cent more than the last year produce of 252 lakh tonnes. This time the farmers had to sell Arhar less than Rs. 3000 per quintal. This kind of stressed sale situation is not only with food grains, but also for wheat, Rice, Mustard, Soybean, Sugarcane, Cotton, and several other agri-products face the same situation whether climate is favourable or not, in all situations, farmers are dying.
Analysing the situation, Government policies need to be reviewed. This time when for cereals there has been a record production, the import of cereals rose by 37 lakh tonnes that is by 20 per cent. On the other hand, the traders' stock was limited to 200 tonnes so that traders cannot buy more. However, even after the ruckus on May 17, the stock limit removal in 25 states including Delhi has not been issued. Oil seeds produce come in the market in January-February and stock limit was removed in the month of May. It is justifiable to raise a question about such orders/policies.
Last year in December, government's anticipated record production of wheat nevertheless reduced import duty by 25 per cent initially and later by another 10 per cent which was removed entirely later. However, 50 Lakh tonnes of wheat was imported consequently and the price of wheat sharply came down in open market. 5 per cent import duty on crude and refined palm oil was cut before Kharif oil seeds crops hit the market. Due to that in local market, groundnut and soya beans price came down to Rs 1000 per quintal which was less in comparison of MSP. Such indifferent and lopsided policy on rates of agri-products are not confined to not only wheat, pulses, and oil seeds but also affected sugarcane, cotton, fruit, and vegetable farmers.
Bad government policies that have resulted in India now importing pulses from countries like Canada and Australia who used to buy pulse seeds from India. Till 1993 & 1994, India imported only 3 per cent of its total need. Now, as a result of our faulty agricultural export-import policies, India is importing 40 per cent pulses and 60 per cent edible oil to meet our total need at the cost of about 60 to 70 thousand crore rupees. This money should have gone to the farmers but now it is going to foreign companies out of our Forex reserve.
It is true that a government can't buy entire produce and procure it due to an open market economy and have to rely on market trade. In case of sharp rise and fall of prices, it could adversely affect farmers as well as consumers. In such conditions, government should intervene in export and import matters equitably.
The increased distress, frustration, and anger among farmers is the result of a badly managed system. First of all, fluctuations of reserve prices of agricultural products are much more than actual agriculture commodities. Due to this factor, agriculture income has come down. For example, the MSP of wheat was Rs.76 per quintal in 1970-1971 and now it is Rs.1625 per quintal which is increased by 21 per cent only. Add prices of fertiliser, seeds, pesticides, electricity, irrigation, labour, and agriculture equipment: the production cost hikes much more. The prices of seeds and pesticides increase by more than 500 times. The price of Massy tractor was Rs.21,140 in 1970. Now, it has increased up to 8 lakh rupees which means an increase by 40 per cent.
Apart from agriculture, other things such as the cost of a bag of cement which was Rs. 8 and it has now increased to Rs. 330 which is 41 per cent. Cost of bricks has increased from Rs. 10 per thousand to Rs. 4200 per thousands. Iron rod increased from 9 rupee per quintal to 4500 rupees per quintal which has increased 500 times more. The labor rate has increased from 2 rupees to 350 rupees i.e. by 175 times. The salary of government employees has also increased by 100 to 200 per cent.
Considering agriculture, the size of cultivation has reduced and number of dependents have increased. Due to division in the ancestral property due to nuclear family norm, 82 per cent farmers are left with only one hectare of land. Only 5 per cent farmers can run their family on agriculture income. And other farmers dependent on agriculture are looking at other alternatives for better quality of life. Farmers and their families are exposed to television and want to acquire all materialistic things. But due to insufficient agricultural income, farmers are not in a position to fulfill their desires. Also, due to lack of financial resources, 30 per cent of farmers are in acute depression. Look at the data, which is from National Crime Bureau. It has been described that during 1995 to 2015, 3,18,528 farmers committed suicide. On an average, every half an hour one farmer commits suicide. This issue is so important that Supreme Court itself took cognizance and on March 27, asked the Central Government to submit a report within four weeks along with working plans to deal with the issue of farmers' suicide. The Court also desired that there should be a policy to deal with the basic fundamental issues and reasons of farmers' suicide.
Not only of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh but the farmers of entire country have started demanding waiver of loan and to provide 50 per cent cost of crops with MSP. Just after Uttar Pradesh elections, Prime Minister announced loan waiver and as a result of that, farmers of other states also have started demanding the same.
Similarly to cultivate 10.88 crore tonnes paddy approximately loss is Rs. 4000 per tonne. And to cultivate pulses, 2.24 crore tonnes loss is Rs. 20,000 per tonne. On oilseeds, the loss is of Rs. 1000 per tonne, and except cotton and sugarcane. For 28 crore tonnes of fruit-vegetable, approximately the loss is of 3 lakh crore rupees and more than 1.5 crore rupees on 15.5 crore tonnes milk, in total, farmers have to bear the loss of Rs.7.5 lakh crore every year. If only market arrangement is made suitable, farmers will not have to take loan but they might even be lenders.
Including Urjit Patel, Governor of Reserve Bank of India, and all the learned economists need to reconsider their statements. At present, the situation of farmers is so bad that measure like waiving off loan is an immediate requirement. Though, it is true that waiving of loan is not a permanent solution of this agricultural crisis.
Farmers are demanding enforcement of the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission and several such commissions set up which have all made similar recommendations for exploring a permanent solution to agricultural crisis along with waiving of loan in phased manner to benefit farmers in distress, as was promised by Bharatiya Janta Party during Lok Sabha election of 2014. Swaminathan Commission has stated that MSP should be at least 50 per cent more than the average production cost. Commission has recommended formulating National Agriculture policy for farmers having account crisis of farmers and reasons of increasing suicides. The report focuses more on increasing resources and social security of farmers.
After Uttar Pradesh, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra also declared about waiving of loans of farmers. Urjit Patel, Arundhati Bhattacharya (Chairman of State Bank of India) and many other eminent economists, gathered for creating an environment against waiving of loans of farmers. Urjit Patel talked about "ethical tragedy" to waive off loans of farmers, while not considering corporate waiving off of loans to the tune of 5-6 crores of rupees. It is beyond any logical understanding that on which ground the corporate loan is waived and for waiving off loans of farmers there is so much hue & cry. Farmers are in very sad state and in anger for such treatment.
The loans on farmers are not due to their ill-intention, but it is solely due to wrong policy. It may be understood by an example: 9.70 crore tonne wheat crop has been produced this year. The government will only procure about 3.30 crore tonnes wheat at the rate of Rs. 1625 per quintal on minimum supporting price (MSP). Now, the rest of 6.4 tonnes of wheat will be sold in open market at an average price of Rs. 1225 per quintal. It means loss of Rs. 400 per quintal (Rs 4000 per tonne) – so far 6.40 crore tonnes x Rs. 4000= Net loss of Rs. 1,25,600 would be borne by farmers only on one crop.
The commission has tactically recommended on land reformation, advanced methods of irrigation, agricultural debt and insurance, food security, employment, increasing agricultural production and profitability, maintaining continuity and also on farmers cooperation. It is also necessary to save the farmers from the import of product at the fall of its price in the international market. In addition to wheat and rice, the commission has also recommended arranging the purchase on MSP for other crops.
The commission has also recommended lowering the interest rate on crop debt to postpone raise of debt and to exempt interest during a disaster. Agriculture risk fund may be made to help the farmers during continuous natural disasters. Combined farmers' cards may be brought under the frame of integrated health insurance on low premium. Furthermore, elderly farmers may be brought under the frame of social security and health insurance. The commission has said that the income of the farmers should be in comparison to government employees. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been emphasising from day one, i.e. May 26, 2014, that the farmers' income needs to be doubled by 2022. The commission has said that as agriculture is the most favoured and practised livelihood of 50 per cent of our population it may be included in the concurrent list. By including Agriculture in the concurrent list, both the Centre and the state will be benefiting the farmers. Another important issue is MGNREGA: it needs to be implemented effectively in a different way, not in its current state which is breeding lethargy and corruption.
The Prime Minister is aware of the hard life of the poor and farmers. The common people of the country have expressed their trust in him. Therefore, he has initiated many welfare schemes for the poor, mainly in rural India. Furthermore, the amount of the agriculture budget of farmers has increased to Rs.20,400 crore in 2016 from Rs.16,646 crore in 2015 and turned to Rs.41,855 crore in 2017. In the last three years, the Government has announced Prime Minister Agriculture Irrigation Scheme, Prime Minister Crop Insurance Scheme, Soil Health Check Card, National Agriculture Market, Kisan Channel, Organic/Traditional Agriculture Scheme and many other schemes in relation to benefit the agriculture sector.
The Government has also promised to double the income of the farmers by 2022. In spite of all these measures, the farmers have the right to make known their problems and pains besides the promises made by the Government in a democratic way. But to take the path of violence in order to make someone to accept one's demands is unfair. There is no place for violence in democracy and message/words can be conveyed peacefully.
(Naresh Sirohi is National Vice President, Kisan Morcha-BJP.
Inputs and translation by
Anushree Mukherjee. The views expressed are strictly personal.)
***********Photo caption: Representational image *************