According to the 2011 census, around 263 million Indians practice agriculture. The year 2017 was witness to widespread agitations led by farmers in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other areas. The most recent farmer-protest, which took place in Mandsaur district, claimed the lives of six farmers after police opened fire at them.
In 2014-15, farmer suicides increased by 42% as per the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. It recorded 5,650 suicides in 2014, which rose to 8,007 in the latest data. The factors leading to such a high number of suicides are not only economical or environmental, but also political. Until state and centre governments find permanent solutions to tackle the agrarian crisis, the farmers’ plight will continue to worsen.
Recently, in Maharashtra, farmers went on a violent strike on June 1. Their agitation saw violence. Angry farmers spilt milk and threw vegetables on the road, and further threatened to stop supply to urban markets. A similar protest was seen in Madhya Pradesh, which cost the lives of six farmers, allegedly killed in police firing. With widespread violence engulfing the cities, the BJP-ruled states heard no word from their respective chief ministers. Shivraj Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh chief minister, initially declined to talk to these farmers; he later sat for a day-long fast to reach a peaceful end to this crisis. Drought, for the last two consecutive years, has devastated the crops. The continuing water crisis and financial burden have led to an unprecedented agrarian crisis.
M S Swaminathan, Chairman of the National Commission of Farmers, submitted 5 reports – detailing the causes of the ongoing crisis in the agricultural sector – to the government, between 2004 and 2006. The reports say, “Farmers should have food and nutrition security, sustainability in farming, enhanced quality and effective cost and minimum support price plus 50% of the cost should be given to farmers.” The water crisis is just one-fourth of the entire agrarian crisis; the increase in the costs of inputs due to corporatisation is another reason for agony because the price of the output is still the same. Many farm commodities are trading below the minimum support price. According to The Times Of India, paddy in Madhya Pradesh was being sold at a cost 15% less than the cost of production, while wheat was fetching farmers just a 2% profit. The report further said that for cultivating wheat in Madhya Pradesh, ₹1,241.34 was spent on fertilisers per hectare in 2004-05, which more than doubled to ₹2,695.27 per hectare in 2014-15. The cost of seeds increased from ₹998 to ₹2,653 in the same period, while the cost of irrigation rose from ₹1,961.50 to ₹2,599.55.
Loan waiver, it seems, has become the most important political tool used by the politicians to fetch votes, without bringing a permanent end to this double-edged crisis. While the farmers never recover completely from the financial burden, these waivers take a huge toll on the exchequer. In 2017, Yogi Adityanath government signed farm loan waivers up to ₹30,000 crore, which encouraged the Maharashtra farmers to demand the same. Devendra Fadnavis has announced a loan waiver of ₹36,000 crore, but the Maharashtra government is already under a debt of ₹4,000 crore, P Sainath said recently.
The crisis will continue to either worsen or keep coming back to haunt the farmers – and the respective state governments – until the challenges are fixed permanently. A proper irrigation infrastructure is the need of this hour. Availability of seeds on time, proper storage facilities, a good minimum support price and timely payment could help alleviate the state of farmers in the country. These loan waivers, promised by politicians during the run-up to elections, can only be a temporary relief and not a permanent one.