Repeated Movements of Farmers
First on August 9 this year, and now recently on November 29-30, 2018, the peasant organizations of India have made massive demonstrations in the national capital. August 9 being a Bharat Bandh day too. Also, there has been a massive kisan march in Mumbai as well. Issues for the farmers include waiver of loans, subsidy for crops and a mandatory procurement of crops by government, and an acceptance of the MSP-C2+50 percent equation for assessing the minimum price of crops, with C2 being the sum of paid out costs, imputed value of family labour, interest on the value of owned capital assets, rent paid for leased-in land and the rental value of owned land.
The farmers’ movements across India became poignant after several instances of State atrocities on them. During the last two years of the ongoing NDA regime, there have been several cases of firing on farmers, killing quite a lot of them: six in Mandsaur, MP; seven in Jharkhand; thirteen in Thoothukudi, TN. No action has been taken against the police in any of these cases. Very little, or delayed, and in some cases, no relief has been provided to the deceased farmers’ families.
So, there is all disquiet in the farm-lands of India, which still engages more than 6 out of 10 working people and feeds 7 out of every 10 Indians. And it is not unique to the current government only. So, the agrarian crisis is bound to be a major issue in the ensuing national elections of 2019 in India. The farming community would this time demand very solid measures in the interest of their survival if any party solicits their support.
Re-defining the Agrarian Community
There is a major difference of opinion among different schools of thought with regards to who should be called farmers with many not including tribals or milk and poultry producers etc. In fact, the conglomerate of farmers should include all producers of primary agricultural commodities, including women, dalit, nomadic and adivasi farmers; also the landowners, tenants, sharecroppers, agricultural labourers and plantation workers; fishing folks, milk producers, poultry farmers, livestock rearers, pastoralists, and collectors of MFP (Minor Forest Produce); and, finally, everyone engaged in crop cultivation, shifting cultivation, apiculture, sericulture, vermiculture, and agro-forestry.
This broad scope of agrarian community makes it around 62% of the Indian society and, hence, the wellbeing of farmers is not just about economic survival of a majority of Indian households, it is about retaining our national dignity and India’s civilizational heritage. Farmers are not just a residue from our past as many apologists of reckless industrial growth and urbanization would want us to believe. The farmers, agriculture and village community are integral to the future of India and the world. The demands of the farmers’ are fully consistent with India’s constitutional vision of a welfare state, fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy.
Going beyond, the farmers’ responsibility is as honest hard workers who face numerous odds, as bearers of historical knowledge, skills and culture; as agents of food safety, security and sovereignty; and as guardians of biodiversity and ecological sustainability in the country.
Reality of Agrarian Society
But the reality stands starkly different today. Economic, ecological, social and existential crisis of Indian agriculture and an overall ecological degradation and destruction affecting farmers and their livelihoods is the stark reality which are finding expressions through such mass movements in spite of firing and arrests.
There has been an unprecedented increase in diversion and destruction of agricultural land, privatization of water, forced displacement, deprivation and migration affecting security of food and livelihood. We find a persistent state of neglect of agriculture and discrimination against farming communities and an increasing vulnerability of farmers to extortion by the village powerful and government officials.
Also, alongside, there is a deepening penetration of large, predatory and profiteering corporations that are already in control of significant sectors of Indian agriculture. All these have led to a spate of farmers’ suicides across the country and unbearable burden of indebtedness facing widening disparities between farmers and other sectors in our society, and suicides have crossed 400,000 in independent India.
The larger part of the agrarian community of India, consisting of landless labourers or very small land holding farming families need a secure life and dignified livelihood, social security and protection against natural and other calamities, apart from protecting their rights as citizens over land, water, forest and all natural resources including common property resources. They also need a diversity in seeds, food systems and sustainable technological choices. Needless to say, as citizens they deserve freedom of expression, organisation, representation and struggle through constitutional means for realisation of their demands and shaping their future towards which they have actually faced the violent State repeatedly in recent times, though it has been the order for quite some time now.
Agenda for Government@2019
Before the next general elections, farmers demand holding of a Special Session to address the agrarian crisis by passing and enacting the two Kisan Mukti Bills that are of, by and for the farmers of India, namely, The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018; and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018. Beyond this, the agrarian agenda needs to be at the top of the manifesto of those who want to govern India from 2019 after the next general elections in the first half of the year.
The government ahead shall need to increase the number of guaranteed employment days under MGNREGS to 200 days per family, and ensure wage payment within the period guaranteed by statute and at par with legal minimum wages for unskilled farm labour. Less or no work, delayed payments, and lower than stipulated payments have been plaguing income of the farmers under this scheme.
The government ahead needs to reduce the cost of inputs for farmers either by regulating industry price or offering subsidy directly to farmers. From a very pragmatic perspective, the government ahead needs to universalize the benefits of the Public Distribution System including cereals and nutri-cereals, pulses, sugar and oils without linking it to Aadhar or biometric identification and without shifting to direct cash transfer.
Also, on social security, the government has to provide comprehensive social security for all farm households including pension at the rate of at least Rs. 5,000 per month per farmer above the age of 60.
Another vexed issue is the need to address the menace of stray animals by removing all legal and vigilante-imposed restrictions on cattle trade, compensating farmers for destruction of crops by wild and stray animals and supporting animal shelters;
A very urgent survival question for the marginalized section of the farming community is to stop land acquisition or land pooling without informed consent of the farmers, no acquisition or diversion of agricultural land for commercial land development or for creation of land banks, prevent the bypassing or dilution of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 at the state level, and instead need to evolve land use and agricultural land protection policy at the earliest.
To solve the challenges specifically of the sugarcane farmers, the government ahead needs to mandate that the sugar mills to pay interest @ 15% p.a. if cane dues are not paid to the cane-growers within 14 days of the delivery of cane; and Fixed Rate Price (FRP) of cane to be fixed by linking it to 9.5% recovery of sugar.
Farming community and rural economy also needs some protections from some detrimental foreign interventions. The government ahead needs to withdraw pesticides that have been banned elsewhere and not approve GM seeds without a comprehensive needs, alternatives and impact assessment. Also the government needs to disallow Foreign Direct Investment in agriculture and food processing, and remove agriculture from Free Trade Agreements, including the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP);
To solve problems of identification and giving benefits, government needs to secure the identification and registration of all real cultivators including tenant farmers, sharecroppers, women farmers, lessee cultivators and rural workers etc. It also needs to stop uprooting adivasi farmers in the name of afforestation, ensure strict implementation without dilution of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and Forests Rights Act, 2006 which talks about land tilling rights to farmers there for a long time and ensures rights of tribal population for using Minor Forest Produce.
The government ahead needs to provide land and livelihood rights to the landless, including agricultural and homestead land, water for fishing, mining of minor minerals etc. Also, they have to ensure timely, effective and adequate compensation for crop loss due to natural disasters; implement a comprehensive crop insurance that benefits farmers and not just insurance companies and that covers all types of risks for all crops and for all farmers, with individual farm as the unit of damage assessment; reverse anti-farmer changes in the Manual for Drought Management; and build assured protective irrigation through sustainable means for farmers, especially in the rain-fed areas;
Among some relatively minor issues, the government ahead needs to ensure remunerative guaranteed prices for milk and its procurement for dairies and to supplement nutritional security through Mid Day Meal Scheme and Integrated Child Development Scheme etc; and waive off all outstanding agricultural loans of farmers from suicide-affected families and provide special opportunities to children of such families.
The new government also needs to ensure three levels of action for the farmers: first, protect the farmers from corporate plunder in the name of contract farming by reviewing the Contract Farming Act 2018; and, second, promote procurement, processing and marketing under Farmer Producer Organisations and Peasant Cooperatives instead of corporatisation of agriculture and takeover by MNCs. And, third, promote an agro-ecology paradigm that is based on suitable cropping patterns and local seed diversity revival, so as to build economically viable, ecologically sustainable, autonomous and climate resilient agriculture.
The agrarian agenda is the most important agenda for impoverished India today and it is staring on the face of the nation whether India goes ahead with a caring governance and policy-making on these issues.
By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury. The author is a noted media academic and columnist, and is currently the Media Dean of Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai, and earlier Media Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities.