24 - 04 - 2019

Rs 3 lakh crore waivers, 3 lakh suicides

The elections and competitive promises for loan waivers for farmers are inseparable. Despite that the farm distress does not end and they even if not on warpath are marching to Delhi and Mumbai in lakhs for some succour.

Loan waivers were given in Punjab, Karnataka, UP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamilnadu, Andhra, Telangana, Puducherry during the last over three years. Now more promises are being made by almost all political parties, including Congress and BJP. New waiver promises has led the farmers to stop repayments in MP and many go for more borrowings.

The government told Parliament in April this year that between April 2014 and December 2017, public sector banks (PSB) wrote off Rs 2,72,558 crore worth of loans. The PSBs recovered Rs 29,343 crores – a mere 10.7 percent – of the loans that had been written off. This is also over 10 percent of the Central budget. 

This should put the farmers in a comfortable situation. Then why they are marching to Delhi demanding a special Parliament session to press for discussion on agrarian crisis. 

It also includes enacting laws some of which were presented in Parliament as private members bills. The two proposed legislation are Farmers’ Freedom and Indebtedness Bill 2018 and the Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill 2018.  Twenty-one political parties had extended support.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced to implement MSP at 1.5 times the cost as per MS Swaminathan committee report. It is different that the basic Swaminathan premise was tweaked to keep the MSP lower than the actual expenses made. 

Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, encompassing 207 organisations, the banner that is leading the farmers and farm workers to Ramlila Maidan has ostensible support of the leftist Kisan Sabha. Some weeks back Bharatiya Kisan Union had also organized similar march from Haridwar on September 23 to culminate on Delhi border on October 2. Delhi police fired shots and charged water cannons.

The issues were identical. The government and some ministers tried to describe this as an opposition show.

Last year too nation was surprised to see the farmers marching in perfect order to the hearts of Mumbai without disturbing the Mumbaikars, termed as Kisan Long March. 

Suicides by farmers have not abated. According to National Crime Reports Bureau, 296,438 farmers have committed suicide between 1995 and 2014. About 4000 farmers took their lives in Maharasthra between 2004 and 2013.

The distress is growing in rural areas as share of agriculture in GDP has come down to about 14 percent from over 50 percent. Though a section of economists welcome the trend as it suggests that industry and services are growing and contributing in a major way to “improve” the national economy. 

The economic changes led to increasing disparity. The 1991 “liberalisation” has led to more government controls. A US think tank, Heritage Institute annual index of Economic Freedom ranked India at 130 of 180 countries. It has categorized India as “mostly unfree” in five categories. India apparently is nowhere near the Western norms, often mocked at by many conservative experts.

The political system of the supposedly “despised” Congress continues, including the failed Manmohanomics, often referred to as 1991 New Delhi consensus. The socialism had at least ushered in a green revolution and helped the farmers to an extent. But industrialist-centric liberalism has robbed the farmers of their land for roads, airports, industry, real estate and a chaotic situation. 

The farmer and rural destitution has been growing. The urban and non-farm sector has not only seen a corresponding expansion but has also been growing at a much faster pace than the agrarian economy. Nothing wrong. But it is at the cost of the rural and farm economy. 

The socialist or Gandhian economy was agro-based and the agriculture sustained the other aspects of the economy, including the industry. The 1991 consensus crushed the farm economy, exploited it, impoverished it and the corrections are not there. It has spread the bribes to unknown areas including bank officers and demonetization gave unfettered powers to the tax officials. Many farmers and rural entrepreneurs were forced to pay to save their skin. 

The indebtedness among farmers is high, said to be around 86 percent. Almost half the farm creditors were harassed to repay. It led to assets’ sale and a fall in economic position. It is a vortex and leads to more debt burden.

Supreme Court order for return of acquired land in West Bengal’s Singur to farmers exposed that Punjab had also acquired huge tracts of land in Barnala and even after 10 years these are unused. The land for roads may be giving one-time bounty but are displacing farmers and the mesh of roads is causing desertification in fertile areas. Tolls on roads are making the farmers alien in their own villages.

The state has turned into virtual venture capitalists. The large industrialists are making forays into the farmland further impoverishing the farmer.

This is what the farmer is protesting today. It is a battle for his survival. There is consensus on this among the leftist Kisan Sabha and rightists Bharatiya Kisan Sangh as also Swadeshi Jagaran Manch. The character of the state irrespective of political parties has not changed.

The Mumbai Long March showed farmers and agricultural labourers had wider support among Mumbaikars.

The cities would not be able to sustain for long if the villages continue to collapse economically. It may severely affect urban India. The government servants who feel secured with a pay packet may feel the pinch soon. The urban India may soon fall under a new pressure. It can lead to severe governance issues, if not chaos. 

Innovative and equitable governance calls for a churning in political thinking. The apathy is palpable; howsoever political parties couch it in jargons. 

If socialism had kept industrialists in shackles of licences, the new “economy” puts many more controls. But liberal FDI has its complexities too. Repatriation of profits is high and farm land is nothing but an investment in real estate.

India has to chalk out its own way. A national policy on land acquisition is a must along with a deep thought on ending rural indebtedness and multiplying farm incomes. Else today’s Gandhian agitation can turn into violent Maoist movement. Political parties need to rethink for their own survival.