“None of the previous governments have ever fulfilled their promises. But, this government is the worst. Not only they are breaking their promises of waiving off our loans, but also burdening us with rising cost of production. They want that we all should die,” thundered 60-year-old Jaagir Singh, a farmer from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. Singh isn’t the only one. His anger with the current government is shared by lakhs of farmers, who have thronged the national capital to register their protest against government’s attention towards burgeoning agrarian crisis in the country. Fearing clashes, around 3,500 extra security personnel were deployed along the March route in the national capital.
Under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella organisation of 200 farmers’ outfits, tens of thousands of farmers and agricultural laborers started a mega protest march from Delhi’ iconic Ramlila Maidan to Parliament street on November 30. Representatives of 21 political parties, including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav and Sharad Pawar also supported the protest and their demands for higher MSP, loan waiver, and implementation of Swaminathan Commission report that has been lying untouched for past 14 years.
Addressing the gathering at Jantar Mantar Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “While the government is unwilling to waive off farmers’ loan, it is writing off Rs 3.5 lakh crores of loan to at least 15 big industrialists.” He further added that if the government ignores farmers’ plight, they’ll be removed from power in 2019 elections.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal too joined the opposition parties in cornering BJP-led NDA government at the Centre . “The prime minister and BJP haven’t kept their promise of implementing the Swaminathan report. And their Kisan Bima Yojana is only benefitting firms, not farmers,” Kejriwal lashed out at the Centre.
From raising slogans like ‘Ayodhya Nahin, Karz maafi chahiye’ to Tamil Nadu farmers wearing nothing but skulls and bones of their fellow farmers who committed suicide, farmers expressed anti-government sentiments at Jantar Mantar on November 30.
Coming from different states in tractors, buses, and trains, these farmers are demanding a special parliamentary session and the passage of two private members’ bills- Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018, and Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018. They are also demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Commission report that guarantees fair MSP for the farm produce. The current MSP, as determined under 2018-19 Union budget, is 40% less than the recommended price.
The BJP had promised to implement the recommendations made by Swaminathan Commission in its 2014 election pitch. However, the government has switched its stand multiple times over the past four years.
Explaining the need to implement Swaminathan recommendations award-winning journalist and author of ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’ P Sainath told Youth Ki Awaaz, “The cost of farm produce and subsequent MSP is decided on three formulas- A2, A2+FL, and C2. For instance, under A2, the cost of production of cheapest quality of wheat will be Rs 500 and subsequent MSP would be Rs 750. In A2+FL, the cost of production will be Rs 800, making the MSP Rs 1200. However, under the Swaminathan commission’s recommended formula,C2, the cost of production for the same quality of wheat will be estimated at Rs 1200 and MSP at Rs 1800. There is a huge difference between Rs 1800 and Rs 750. C2 is the most comprehensive formula that includes total paid out costs, imputed value of family labour, and the rent on the land.”
Sainath further noted that in response to the ongoing protest government may announce high MSPs but that will not translate into increased incomes for farmers because they will hold back their procurement of farm produce, like they have been doing so far.
b.) Sugarcane Arrears:
With the bumper sugarcane production and subsequent price crash in the market, sugarcane farmers are staring at acute payment crisis and sugar mills claim to be cash trapped. India produced around 35.5 million tonnes of sugar in 2018-19, while the demand staggered at 25 million tonnes. Moreover, the global prices of sugar have drastically gone down. As a result, big corporates are finding importing sugar a lot more profitable.
Further, payment of pending sugarcane arrears was BJP’s election pitch that played a major role in their sweeping victory in 2017 UP assembly elections. While government’s State Advised Price (SAP) in UP increased by 54% from Rs 205 per quintal in 2010-11 to Rs 315 per quintal in 2017-18, sugar prices and revenues from by-products has not risen in tandem.Consequently, sugar mills are cash trapped and delaying payments to farmers. As per the data, total dues to sugarcane farmers in India stood at Rs 17,493 crore in August this year.
c.) Loan Waiver:
According to the data from All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS), more than 70% of the rural population has one or more standing loans. Decreasing farm income, rising cost of production, and uncertainty of the market has led to the crippling debts in the farm sector. In 2016, India’s total outstanding agricultural loan stood at Rs 12.6 lakh crores. While the state governments have been announcing loan waivers, the strategy has failed to bring any change due to shoddy implementation and financial discrepancies in such policies. Further, according to several media reports, the UP farm loan waiver was an insult to the injury as many farmers received less than Rs 1.
While the recent agitation has put the current government in the focus, the present distress is the culmination of decades of ignorance. Over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide between 1995 and 2015, making it a big humanitarian crisis.
Staging their protest at Jantar Mantar, farmers demanded they government to waive off their loans as they have failed to increase their incomes in past to decades.
The ongoing protest is the culmination of an year-long farmers’ protests across the country. In March 2018, 35,000 farmers walked 182 kms barefoot from Nasik to Mumbai to demand land rights and fair prices for their produce. In June, farmers from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan staged 10-day protest to demand a guaranteed minimum income. In September, thousands of farmers took out Kisan Kranti March and were locked in a stand-off with security forces at UP-Delhi border. In october, farmers again staged two-day protest in Maharashtra.
More than 60% farmers are selling their produce below the MSP, which is as such not enough to cover their total input cost. Further, hiked electricity prices coupled with rising fuel prices are causing major dent in the already low farmers’ income.
“For decades, government policies have been taking the agriculture away from the community. We’ve been following US’ corporate-driven and community-driven agriculture model. It was about time for the community to rise up directly take charge of their grievances. Let them address the nation through the parliament and narrate their story of distress,” noted Sainath.