Tackling Agrarian Crisis

First on August 9 this year and now recently on November 29-30, 2018, peasant organisations held massive demonstrations in the national capital. Earlier, there was a 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.

Farmers’ movements across India became poignant after several instances of atrocities on them. During the last two years of the NDA regime, there have been several cases of firing on farmers: six were killed in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh; seven in Jharkhand; 13 in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. No action has been taken against the police in any of these cases. As for relief, very little, delayed or none at all has been provided to the deceased farmers’ families. So, there is disquiet in the farmlands of India, which still engages more than 6 out of 10 working people and feeds 7 out of every 10 Indians. 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.

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 landowners, tenants, sha-recroppers, agricultural labourers and plantation workers; fishing folk, 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 per cent of the Indian society and, hence, the well-being of farmers is not just about economic survival of a majority of Indian households, it is about retaining our national dignity and India’s civilisational heritage. There has been an unprecedented increase in diversion and destruction of agricultural land, privatisation 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 areas of Indian agriculture. All these have led to a spate of farmer suicides across the country and unbearable burden of indebtedness. 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, namely, 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.

An important issue for the next government is to stop land acquisition or land pooling without informed consent of the farmers, halt acquisition or diversion of agricultural land for commercial land development or for creation of land banks and 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 at 15 per cent pa 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 per cent recovery of sugar.

The new government 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. The thid level of action should be to 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.
(The writer is an academic and columnist)