Rich 'farmers' robbing the poor farmers

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 9/9/2018 12:20:28 AM

Faced by criticism over spiraling rise in suicide of farmers due to acute financial and agrarian crisis, about two years ago prime minister Narendra Modi promised to double the income of the farmers. He has lived up to his promise by deepening the pockets of the privileged agriculturists belonging to the crony capitalist class. They are now bagging a major percent of the loans given on easy interest rates under the agriculture sector. A report in the reveals that loans to the tune of Rs 96 crores per person on an average have been given to 615 beneficiaries totaling about Rs 58561 crores on four percent interest rates. These beneficiaries include giants like Reliance which have sought loans under the agro-industry based categories for storage, retailing etc. Small and medium farmers are unlikely to avail of loans to the tune of few crores, leave alone the whopping sum of Rs 96 plus crore something. This is how the banks are meeting the target of giving 18 percent loans under agriculture sector while filling the coffers of those who neither need government aid, nor qualify as farmers.
The flawed policy that has been in place since the previous UPA regime has been pushed to the hilt by the present government. While the farmer's incomes ever since the present dispensation took over the reins of power have dropped, if not halved, this new category of elitist agriculturists of the highest pedigree are not just doubling their incomes but multiplying it by manifolds. Clearly, the promise of giving farmers easy loans at lower interests has not only been fulfilled, the money earmarked in their name has been siphoned off to fill the pockets of crony capitalists.
It is this and many other issues that brought the largest ever number of farmers, peasants, labourers and petty workers for a massive show of strength in Delhi last week with their charter of demands that include better wages, fixation of minimum support prices that is not an eye wash but actually helps them to fetch reasonable returns to supplement their investments. They have also sought curb in price rise, universalisation of Public Distribution System, ban on forward trading in essential commodities, concrete measures for generation of decent employment, minimum wage of not less than Rs 18000 per month for all workers, amendments in labour laws to bail out workers, remunerative prices for peasants as per Swaminathan Committee recommendations, debt waivers, implementation of MGNREGA in all rural areas and its extension in urban areas, food security and basic amenities like health and education. They have also demanded redistributive land reforms, end to forcible land acquisition as well as dignified relief and rehabilitation for the victims of natural calamities.
Making a huge political statement, the farmers and workers have also sought a reversal of neoliberal policies that have pushed them to the margins. There are reasons for the farmers to have taken the bull by its horns. The politico-economic prices pursued in recent decades have encouraged exploitative practices through sheer neglect of agricultural sector, inability of successive governments to focus on agricultural sector because of the tilt towards corporate world, as well as through the virtual daylight legalized robbery that is committed on the farmers and workers by the political-corporate nexus. Their lands are forcibly taken to pursue big business ventures and a pittance is paid in the name of compensation. The necessary resources they need like water for farming are also denied, partially or fully to suit big business interests. Now even the share of loans that the poor farmers should get is being usurped by the rich and mighty business enterprise.
The anger of the farmers is naturally on the boil and recent years have seen the protests and rallies of farmers increase. After the killing of the six farmers during a protest in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh a year ago, this anger has seen no let up but has been exhibited in the most disciplined, democratic and dignified manner. In March last, farmers from Maharashtra marched for six days and reached Mumbai to make their point. The immediate reaction of the government, however, was to blame someone for provoking them. Agreeing to listen to them was only an after-thought, prompted by the massive public support that the farmers got. The recent Delhi rally carries the residues of the Mumbai march but has not ended up attracting any attention. Amidst a discourse where all dissent is being criminalized and branded as 'anti-national' or 'urban naxal', the Delhi rally has been virtually blacked out by the media and has drawn little public support. That is a sad reflection of the nation's apathy to the very people who virtually feed the nation.
India is an agrarian based economy and is the primary source of livelihood for about 60 percent of the population. Its contribution to GDP has drastically fallen from 41.8 percent in 1960 to 15.5 percent in 2017 without value addition. Due to flawed agricultural policies, the farm distress is constantly on the rise and the earnings of marginal farmers is a pittance. According to NABARD data, one in every 5 households of farmers, the earnings are less than Rs 2,500 per month.
The entire model of agriculture needs to be altered, if we want the farmers to get their due and India to continue with its reputation of food sufficiency. The economic policies that threaten to rob the farmers need to be done away with and norms for fixation of minimum support prices need to ensure that the farmer is getting sufficient returns. The farmers must get a fair percentage of the market price. The Amul milk co-operative became a success story because the dairy-farmers connected to it are getting 80 percent share of the market price. While increasing the farmer's share to that level will go a long way in bringing the much needed change in the life of an average farmer, effective co-operative models for farming including encouraging farmers to start their own agro-based industries on small scale would also be effective.
Unless these radical steps are taken, the farmers will continue to be steeped in misery. Their distress will have ultimate deleterious effects including shortage in food production. If they were to turn to other jobs like selling tea and frying pakoras, as per the self-employment vision of the present government, who will grow food for the nation?



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