Where is 'Aam Admi'?

Srijit Misra

‘Business as usual is no longer an option’ has become a catchword with the current financial crisis, but was initially mooted by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that presented its synthesis report in April 2008. Despite being a signatory to it, despite the acknowledgement of the larger agrarian crisis that the country has been facing and despite the similarity in purpose envisaged in the ‘inclusive growth’ slogan of the Eleventh Five Year Plan and IAASTD’s emphasis on ‘the reduction of hunger and poverty, the improvement of rural livelihoods and human health, and facilitating equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development,’ one does not find much mention of it either in the current interim budget of 2009-10 or other recent relevant policy documents.
The initiatives and achievement under agriculture, keeping the welfare of the ‘Aam Aadmi’ in mind, increased the plan allocation for agriculture by 300 per cent between 2003-04 and 2008-09 and launched the Krishi Vikas Yojana in 2007-08 to increase growth rate of agriculture and allied sectors to four per cent during the Eleventh Plan period. A good initiative that requires bottom-up planning from village to taluka to District Agricultural Plans and aggregating to form State and National Plans. Its implementation is tardy and an imposition of a target from the top makes the approach self-defeating. Keeping 2003-04 as base, the government announced a package of doubling agricultural credit in three years and actually achieved a three-fold increase of credit by 2007-08. The fact that the Government had to come up with the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme in June 2008 is itself perhaps indicative the ground work to make agriculture remunerative was not done which also means that appropriate project appraisals were not done by the banks while doubling/tripling of credit. The debt waiver is a book-keeping exercise. It does reduce the mental burden of the farmer and makes him eligible for fresh loans, but not a single rupee from this Rs.65,300 crore would lead to investments that is required to spruce up the agrarian economy.
On the one hand, the long overdue increase in the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) in recent years is a bit of relief that would help improve the returns to agriculture. On the other hand, the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) will ensure food security to those below poverty line. While talking of poverty, the Government should have updated the consumption-expenditure with appropriate nutritional measures, dealt on multi-dimensionality of poverty and on identification to avoid exclusion of the poor, of course, some of these go beyond the budget. Another matter of concern that remains is the huge subsidy bill on fertilizers, which largely goes to the industry and only indirectly to the farmers. There has been no increase in the fund allocated under Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) when compared with the previous year.
Education, health and some other social sector initiatives are indicated. The question that one is haunted is, as indicated in the United Progressive Alliances (UPAs) Common Minimum Programme (CMP), whether the promise of doubling of public expenditure as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) achieved. A silence on this indicates that the answer is no.
Some of the notable initiatives in recent years have been the Right to Information and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Though there are hiccups, the efforts are indeed laudable. The need of the hour is to complement the wage-employment scheme with an equally comprehensive self-employment scheme. This requires revamping of the Sampoorna Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) through institutional innovation to help organize the poor, financial innovation to make required credit accessible and administrative innovation to improve facilitation. This is also very essential under the current financial crisis because it would encourage a large number of smaller players. Such an effort will also have its multiplier effects not only in stimulating the economy but more importantly in improving the livelihood of the poor and also help us in easing the load on agriculture.
The finance minister quotes Professor Amartya Sen while emphasizing on the need for security during this down turn, which has nothing to do with increasing defense related expenditure. More importantly, such protective security should also address the poor returns to farmers which on a per-capita per day basis is even lower then a liter of bottled water. Notwithstanding the increase in the revenue and fiscal deficits, one is left with the question, where is the ‘Aam Aadmi’?

Farm sector needs more policy priority-Dr. Swaminathan


THE interim budget rightly refers to farmers as the ‘real heroes’ of India’s success story, because of the contributions they are making in the areas of food, livelihood and ecological security.

The finance minister also said that the Plan allocation for agriculture has been increased by 300 per cent during the last five years and that a flagship programme, R a s h t r i y a Krishi Vikas Yojana, has been launched with an outlay of Rs 25,000 crore. Reference has naturally been made to the agricultural debt waiver and debt relief scheme covering 36 million families at a cost of Rs 65,300 crore. All this, however, cannot hide the fact that agriculture is facing serious economic and ecological crises. Obviously, only the regular budget for 2009-2010, which will be presented by the next government, can seriously address issues relating to agrarian distress and malnutrition.

There are some issues that need attention. Major political parties should commit themselves to establishing a farm income commission that can go into the totality of the income of farmers from crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, agroforestry and agro-processing, and suggest ways to ensure a minimum takehome income to farmers.

An allocation of Rs 30,100 crore has been made for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme during 2009-2010. The scheme is designed to use labour for important activities such as water harvesting, watershed management, control of soil erosion and develop ment of irrigation struc tures. All these are impor tant for sustainable agri culture. Hence, it would be appropriate to refer to the participants as “defenders of India’s eco logical security”. Awards could be given to teams that have developed the best watershed and water h a r v e s t i n g programmes.

The allocation for Bharat Nirman has been raised to Rs 40,900 crore and a part of it will go to bringing new areas under irrigation. The enhance ment of the productivity of rainfed areas holds the key to the future of rural livelihood security as well as national food security.

The regular budget should consider the rec ommendations of the National Commission of Farmers on the steps needed for increasing the income of small produc ers, as well as the need for ensuring minimum sup port price not only for wheat and rice but also for millets, pulses, oilseeds and tuber crops. Provision needs to be made for establishing a national grid of warehous es for grains and cold stor age structures for perish able commodities. The mismatch between pro duction and post-harvest technologies should end.

Much has been done during the last five years to reduce agrarian dis tress. Much, however, remains to be done to do justice to the genuine needs of the majority of our population who con stitute the farming com munity.

Extraordinary circumstances calls for ordinary solutions

Devinder Sharma

It was a very busy and hectic day for me. Hopping from one TV studio to another, talking to the print media in between, essentially called upon to analyse the interim Budget 2009-10, presented by Pranab Mukherjee today in Parliament.
Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions. This is what Mr N K Singh, a former bureaucrat and now advisor to Bihar government, had written sometimes back in an article on economic meltdown. I am sure he may not have then realised that this particular sentence would be used aggressively by the corporate world and of course the electronic and print media — many of them working as their lapdogs — to seek more and more sops from the government. No wonder, this sentence reverbrated throughout the day today in media analysis. The corporate honchos made ample use of it, and so did some of the media.
The reason was simple. The corporate world had expected a series of sops and concessions in the interim budget. The real estate, the automobile sector, the exporters and you name it; they were all in a sombre mood, you could see their sullen faces and you knew what pained them. Mr Pranab Mukherjee had certainly failed them. He surely had upset all their calculations. How could Manmohan Singh’s government not realise that extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions? Agreed, that this was an interim budget but how would the national economy run in the next four months? How come Manmohan the economist didn’t think about it?
I was feeling amused. I silently looked at their faces, trying to read their expressions. I realised how indignant the rich and elite feel when denied alms from the state treasury. I recall the time when the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had opened up the state chest for the business class, it was promptly termed as a Dream Budget. They gave him 10 out of 10. Today, they were reluctant to give Pranab Mukherjee even 2 or 3 out of 10.
We talk of the booming economy, of the unprecedented economic growth trajectory. I wonder how many of us know that the net economic wealth of 36 individuals in India is equivalent to one-third of country’s 9 per cent GDP. If ever these 36 families were to migrate to say Switzerland, Indian economy will crash to 6 per cent.
So much for country’s growth. With exports down, manufacturing down, industrial production down, agriculture down, you begin to question what is driving this economic growth.
And that makes me wonder what is this Budget all about. And what are these extraordinary times? Aren’t we already living in extraordinary times? After all, over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past 15 years or so. More than 837 million people, about 77 per cent of the population is living on the edge, somehow asurviving on less than Rs 20 a day. Have we ever given a thought as to how do these millions survive if they are spending less than Rs 20 a day? Do they even manage to get two square meals a day?
The per capita intake of food is going down ever since Manmohan Singh had unleashed economic reforms in his previous avtaar as Finance Minister in 1991. We were told as people earned more their food habits change, they begin to eat less of grains and shift to more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, milk and eggs. For several years, mainline economists and agricultural scientists used this argument to defend the fall in food intake, a sure indication of growing hunger and malnutrition. The latest projections of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) have proved them wrong. The NSSO tells us that not only the food intake is going down, the intake of fruits, eggs and milk is also on the decline.
Aren’t these extraordinary times?
And yet, the former Governor of Reserve Bank of India, Mr Bimal Jalan, told a TV channel that this government and successive governments should make heavy capital investments meaning more money to be made available for infrastructure. What for? To stimulate the economy faced with a slowdown. What a shame, I thought. Why don’t these economists realise (and I know they were never taught this in their colleges) that feeding the poor and hungry too is an investment. The poor and hungry too can stimulate the economy. Give more money in the hands of the poor and you will surely generate more demand, and that is what is required to trigger off the economy.
But who cares? The poor and hungry are nothing more than statistics. When I talk of the poor, the farmers, the unorganised farm workers on the TV programmes, the fellow panelists look at me with disdain. I can see their faces, and I know how uncomfortable it is for them to even listen to me. It happened to me today. But it didn’t upset me. I give a damm to what they think. To me it is an opportunity to voice the voice of the voiceless. And I will continue to do that, for slowly and slowly I find the message is getting across. More and more people call me, talk to me and back my analysis. I realise that this world is full of people with good intent, and they are willing to stand up and walk along you. Truth eventually triumphs.
We surely are living in extraordinary times, and believe me it requires only ordinary solutions. #


Campaign against 'Conspiracy of Silence' on Agrarian Crisis

India – smugly described to be the largest democracy on earth is witnessing increasing demise of villages and the hapless people who happen to be farmers. With villages getting desolate and farmers compelled to opt for noose to terminate life that has become an everyday disgrace, contemporary India presents a picture of orchestrated silences on the part of government and corporate governors. Today the only largesse farmers get are a death trap, debt, and utter callousness at the hands of our much-hyped democratic establishment. One must be alert to the fact that the destruction of farmer is an organized act. All through the six decades of independence our democratic dispensation has persistently kept silent on the fundamental questions determining the fate of the huge populace dependent on agriculture and allied activities. In its quest to oust agriculture from national economy, the establishment has
continuously resorted to manufacture false definitions. Thus the category of ‘common man’ has been emptied of a farmer eventually leading to the exit of farming as a source and mode of livelihood.
One would do well to look at how farming has fared in the over all national economy. In 1947,according to official statistics, agriculture and allied activities accounted for 67 percent in the gross domestic product, however down the years it has plummeted to as low as 17 percent in 2008. The phenomenon is that agricultural production during this period has become fourfold. Thus valuation of this fourfold produce has nose-dived to one-fourth in relative terms
or one-sixteenth in absolute terms. How could one explain the anomaly that while the actual agricultural production has witnessed a four-fold increase, the price, to the contrary, has registered as much fall?
The fall in prices of agricultural produces has to do with the definition that governments have thrust upon it. It could not have been otherwise unless the governments struck at the very root of it by fixing up Agriculture as an unskilled vocation. It is precisely this enlightened conspiracy that has forced agriculture into a strait jacket. Thus it is not surprising to see that a farmer can earn only 30-35 rupees a day while as per the sixth pay commission fourth class government employee gets away with as much as 400 rupees for a day’s remuneration. And instead of any concern about this gross injustice, the vision document of UPA and NDA, projects with pride the share of agriculture and allied sectors at 6% in 2020. The share of `Top 10′ in the country that stands at 60 % in 2008 and may easily move up to 70% in 2020. 
But now the farmers cannot take the drubbing anymore. No matter if political parties refuse to take cognizance of the plight of them. Farmers have woken up to the challenge: now they will interrogate leaders and send directives to political parties from Village Assemblies. This is the sentiment that has emerged from a two-day meeting of National Campaign for Eradication of Inequality.
Deliberating various issues that might be included in a common programme of action, the participants focused on issues like 

1. Why work in agriculture has been classified as unskilled? This is a direct attack on farmers’ honour!
2. Why two principles for wage determination are in vogue simultaneously, one for the organized sector, that is one person should be able to earn for the family, the other for the unorganised where no such stipulation is honoured? This duality is a fraud on the people of India.
3. Why compound interest is levied on agricultural credit in total contravention of the spirit of the law in that regard? How were the doors of law courts slammed against farmers in 1984?
4. How is force and even provisions of civil jail used in recovery of credit that abrogates fundamental right of the victim?
The meeting ended on a consensus on a three-point action plan that would comprise the following, to begin with, that may grow with experience of struggle in the field and people’s response there to. Firstly, Village Assemblies in the country would issue directions to the Parliament and State Assemblies to amend the relevant laws. This
may be the beginning of people-centric structural change that has been ignored and now totally dropped by the rulers.
Secondly, the realization of dues based on levy of compound interest would be directly resisted. The banks shall be told that this blasphemy is not acceptable to the people. The 1984 amendment in Companies Act may be challenged in the Court of Law. Lastly, all political parties may be called upon to place before the people their formal stand on these four vital issues. The Campaign is of the view that the entry of members of those political parties who may fail to place their position, positive or negative, on these issues before the people may be politely requested not to enter the
village as members of political parties. They are welcome as ordinary citizens minus their politics. This will be a modest beginning towards fulfilling the constitutional commitment and national resolve to establish an egalitarian social order.
National Campaign for Eradication of Inequality has been initiated by a number of people’s movement groups. The launch meeting organized at Sahyog Pustak Kutir, New Delhi was attended by some of the groups including Bharat Jan Andolan, Kisani Pratishtha Manch, Jan Adhikar Sanghtan, Jan Mukti Sangthan, Bagar Kisan Majdoor Sangthan, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Construction Workers Panchayat Sangam, Jagaran Jan Viaks Samiti, Parivartan etc. Meeting was
presided by former Commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Dr. B D Sharma of Bharat Jan Anlodan.
Dr. B D Sharma Gian Singh Pankaj Pushkar (011-24353997) (09416358044) (09868984442)

Declining villages in shining India

By Muralidhar Rao

Farmers’ suicides in the country since 1997 has now touched 1,82,936 by December 2008. It seems there is no end to miseries of the farmers. So-called progressive states during the green revolution like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab are some of the worst affected states.
More than two-third of rural Indians and 70 per cent in urban Indians are reporting that they don’t get a full intake of 2,700 kilo calories, defined to be a minimum norm. The percentage of people reporting that they don’t get two square meals a day is still relatively large. The levels of undernourishment and malnourishment continue to be shockingly high as per the NSSO data.

It is the fact that India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at the rate of 9 per cent during the year 2007-08. In the previous two years growth rate had been 9.4 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively. Despite the fact that the world is facing deep recession, we may still achieve a growth rate of about 7 per cent.
Agriculture lagging
Government pats its back for the so-called unprecedented growth experience. What does GDP mean to an average person living in this country? If we have a look at the composition of GDP, it includes agricultural products including foodgrains, industrial products and services. On the one hand more of GDP should mean more of wheat and rice, more of cars and two wheelers and other industrial goods. It also means more of transport services, electricity, telecommunication etc. If we try to look into the factors leading to increase in GDP, we find that agriculture does not contribute to this growth experience. Whereas rate of growth of manufacturing and services had been above 10 per cent per annum, agriculture was lagging behind with an average growth of only 2.5 per cent in the last 5 years.
Industry is growing almost equal to the rate of growth of GDP and growth of services surpass all limits and as such the contribution of services sector to GDP jumps from 45.80 per cent in 1997-98 to 54 per cent in 2005-06, whereas gain of services is the loss of primary sector, contribution of which dips from 26.50 per cent to 18 per cent during the same period. Consequently, per capita production of foodgrains, pulses and edible oils show a declining trend. According to Economic Survey 2007-08, availability of foodgrain per capita per day which was 458 grams in 2002 declined to 412 grams in 2006 and pulses from 35.4 grams to only 32.5 grams during the same period. Per capita availability of edible oils declined from 9.0 kilograms in 1999-00 to only 7.2 kg. in 2002-03 and after that government deemed it fit not to publish these figures in the Economic Survey.
Consequent farmers’ suicides
Farmers’ suicides in the country since 1997 has touched 1,82,936 by December 2008. It seems there is no end to miseries of the farmers. So-called progressive states during the Green Revolution like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab are some of the worst affected states. Relief package of Rs 5000 crore by the Prime Minister could not mitigate the problems of farming community of Maharashtra. This state again has crossed 4000 suicides mark for the third time in 4 years according to National Crime Records Bureau. In all 16,632 farmers have committed suicide in the country in 2007. Sixe 2002, the annual average of suicides has increased to 17,366.
Poverty and undernutrition
Under these circumstances how can we imagine any better position for the poor living in rural areas? National Family Health Survey conducted by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also supports the hypothesis that vast majority of population is still reeling under poverty. The survey says that 46 per cent of all children are underweight and 38 per cent are stunted (too short for their age) and 19 per cent are wasted (too thin for their height). The Survey conducted three times in the past 15 years, concludes that some of these indicators have actually worsened over the years.
According to National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), nutritional intake of India is declining. NSSO says that during 1993-94 and 2004-05 calorie intake in both rural and urban India has declined by 4.9 and 2.5 per cent respectively. Protein intake in rural areas is down by 5 per cent. More than two-third of rural Indians and 70 per cent in urban Indians are reporting that they don’t get a full intake of 2,700 kilo calories, defined to be a minimum norm. The percentage of people reporting that they don’t get two square meals a day is still relatively large. The levels of undernourishment and malnourishment continue to be shockingly high as per the NSSO data.
Jobless growth
The paradox of galloping growth and with deepening poverty in the country is explained by the phenomenon of jobless growth. No doubt GDP is rising and rising at a fast pace, but not enough jobs are being created. This has resulted in rising rate of unemployment in the country both in the rural and the urban areas. We note that the rate of unemployment which was 7.3 per cent in urban areas and 7.2 per cent in rural areas (males) in the year 1999-2000 as per 55th round of NSSO, which increased to 7.5 per cent and 8.0 percent in urban and rural areas respectively. Similar is the condition with regard to females where rate of unemployment increased from 9.4 per cent and 7.0 per cent in 1999-2000 year as per 55th round of NSSO to 11.6 per cent and 8.7 per cent in the years 2004-05 in the urban and rural areas respectively. The rise in joblessness in the urban areas should be taken as an extension of the rural displacement. Employment in the organised sector shows a decline from 172 lakh to 164.52 lakh. Much hyped organised private sector also shows only a marginal increase from 84.32 lakh to only 84.52 lakh jobs during 2002 and 2006. This clearly implies that casualisation of employment is on rise. Even the much trumpeted National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme could not produce any desired results. This has been conceded by Vice Chairman of Planning Commission.
Poverty reduction slowing down
We witnessed a high rate of GDP growth in the post 1991 period, which is claimed to be a big argument in favour of economic reforms. But, even the most vocal supporter of economic reforms, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, also concedes that reforms have not resulted in desired level of poverty reduction and decline in poverty is less than what the government had perceived. His confession is supported by the findings of NSSO 61st Round data, which clearly speaks out that in the post reform period the pace of poverty reduction has not only been much lower than the official assessments made after NSSO. 55th Round, it is also less than the actual pace of reduction recorded during 1970’s and 1980’s. Thus, it is amply clear that the high rate of growth of GDP recorded in the post reform period has not made lives better for poor in the same proportion. Rather, in the post reform period inequalities have accentuated as shown by higher ‘Gini Coefficient’ (a measure of inequality), which shows an increase in ‘Gini Coefficient’ from 28.6 per cent in 1993-94 to 30.5 per cent in 2004-05 for rural India and an increase from 34.4 per cent in 1993-94 to 37.6 per cent in 2004-05 in urban India. Most notable is the fact that it is a reversal of the trend seen in the previous decade (1983 to 1993-94). These figures imply that poor have fewer claims on growth and rich have taken the bulk of the benefits from the GDP growth. These figures are not only true for all India, but are applicable for almost all states except a few. If we go on riding this high growth, pro-reform phenomenon, it is an alarming signal for times to come.
Loan waiver: No solution for distress in agriculture
In the Union Budget 2008-09, the government announced a scheme of loan waiver for the farmers. With subsequent extension of loan waiver, a total of Rs 70,000 crore were allocated for the purpos
e. But despite this scheme, condition of agriculture and poor agriculturists is still not improved. In fact this scheme is applicable to loans dispersed by the banks and other institutions only. Mostly poor farmers don’t have access to such formal institutions. The government has so far not made any effort to address the problems of the farmers like provision of cheap credit, minimum support price for most of the agricultured products and other agricultural inputs at cost effective prices.
(The writer is member of BJP National Executive.)

Neo-Liberal Terrorism in India: The Largest Wave of Suicides in History

CounterPunch, Feb 12 2009
The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936. Close to two-thirds of these suicides have occurred in five states (India has 28 states and seven union territories). The Big 5 – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh– account for just about a third of the country’s population but two-thirds of farmers’ suicides. The rate at which farmers are killing themselves in these states is far higher than suicide rates among non-farmers. Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country.
It is significant that the count of farmers taking their lives is rising even as the numbers of farmers diminishes, that is, on a shrinking farmer base. As many as 8 million people quit farming between the two censuses of 1991 and 2001. The rate of people leaving farming has only risen since then, but we’ll only have the updated figure of farmers in the census of 2011.
These suicide data are official and tend to be huge underestimates, but they’re bad enough. Suicide data in India are collated by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India. The NCRB itself seems to do little harm to the data. But the states where these are gathered leave out thousands from the definition of “farmer” and, thus, massage the numbers downward. For instance, women farmers are not normally accepted as farmers (by custom, land is almost never in their names). They do the bulk of work in agriculture – but are just “farmers’ wives.” This classification enables governments to exclude countless women farmer suicides. They will be recorded as suicide deaths – but not as “farmers’ suicides.” Likewise, many other groups, too, have been excluded from that list.
The spate of farm suicides – the largest sustained wave of such deaths recorded in history – accompanies India’s embrace of the brave new world of neoliberalism. Many reports on that process and how it has affected agriculture have been featured right here, on the Counterpunch site. The rate of farmers’ suicides has worsened particularly after 2001, by which time India was well down the WTO garden path in agriculture. The number of farmers’ suicides in the five years – 1997-2001 – was 78,737 (or 15,747 a year on average). The same figure for the five years 2002-06 was 87,567 (or 17,513 a year on average). That is, in the next  five years after 2001, one farmer took his or her life every 30 minutes on average. The 2007 figures (detailed below) place that year, too, in the higher trend.
What do the farm suicides have in common? Those who have taken their lives were deep in debt – peasant households in debt doubled in the first decade of the neoliberal “economic reforms,” from 26 per cent of farm households to 48.6 per cent. We know that from National Sample Survey data. But in the worst  states, the percentage of such households is far higher. For instance, 82 per cent of all farm households in Andhra Pradesh were in debt by 2001-02. Those who killed themselves were overwhelmingly cash crop farmers – growers of cotton, coffee, sugarcane, groundnut, pepper, vanilla. (Suicides are fewer among food crop farmers – that is, growers of rice, wheat, maize, pulses.) The brave new world philosophy mandated countless millions of Third World farmers forced  to move from food crop cultivation to cash crop (the mantra of “export-led growth”). For millions of subsistence farmers in India, this meant much higher cultivation costs, far greater loans, much higher debt, and being
locked into the volatility of global commodity prices. That’s a sector dominated by a handful of multinational corporations. The extent to which the switch to cash crops impacts on the farmer can be seen in this: it used to cost Rs.8,000 ?($165 today) roughly to grow an acre of paddy in Kerala. When many switched to vanilla, the cost per acre was (in 2003-04) almost Rs.150,000 ($3,000) an acre. (The dollar equals about 50 rupees.)
With giant seed companies displacing cheap hybrids and far cheaper and hardier traditional varieties with their own products, a cotton farmer in Monsanto’s net would be paying far more for seed than he or she ever dreamed they would. Local varieties and hybrids were squeezed out with enthusiastic state support. In 1991, you could buy a kilogram of local seed for as little as Rs.7 or Rs.9 in today’s worst affected region of Vidarbha. By 2003, you would pay Rs.350 — ($7) — for a bag with 450 grams of hybrid seed. By 2004, Monsanto’s partners in India were marketing a bag of 450 grams of Bt cotton seed for between Rs.1,650 and Rs.1,800 ($33 to $36). This price was brought down dramatically overnight due to strong governmental intervention in Andhra Pradesh, where the government changed after the 2004 elections. The price fell to around Rs.900 ($18) – still many times higher than 1991 or even 2003.
Meanwhile, inequality was the great man-eater among?the “Emerging Tiger” nations  of the developing world. The predatory commercialization of the countryside devastated all other aspects of life for peasant farmer and landless workers. Health costs, for instance, skyrocketed. Many thousands of youngsters dropped out of both school and college to work on their parents’ farms (including many on scholarships). The average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household was just Rs.503 (ten dollars) by early this decade. Of that, 60 per cent roughly was spent on food and another 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear.
Farmers, spending so much on food? To begin with, millions of small and marginal Indian farmers are net purchasers of food grain. They cannot produce enough to feed their families and have to work on the fields of others and elsewhere to meet the gap. Having to buy some of the grain they need on the market, they are profoundly affected by hikes in food prices, as has happened since 1991, and particularly sharply earlier this year. Hunger among those who produce food is a very real thing. Add to this the fact that the “per capita net availability” of food grain has fallen dramatically among Indians since the “reforms” began:  from 510 grams per Indian in 1991, to 422 grams by 2005. (That’s not a drop of 88 grams. It’s a fall of 88 multiplied by 365 and then by one billion Indians.) As prof. Utsa Patnaik, India’s top economist on agriculture, has been constantly pointing out, the average poor family has about 100 kg less today than it did just ten years ago – while the elite eat like
it’s going out of style.  For many, the shift from food crop to cash crop makes it worse. At the end of the day, you can still eat your paddy. It’s tough, digesting cotton. Meanwhile, even the food crop sector is coming steadily under corporate price-rigging control. Speculation in the futures markets pushed up grain prices across the globe earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the neoliberal model that pushed growth through one kind of consumption also meant re-directing huge amounts of money away from rural credit to fuel the lifestyles of the aspiring elites of the cities (and countryside, too). Thousands of rural bank branches shut down during the 15 years from 1993-2007.
Even as incomes of the farmers crashed, so did the price they got for their cash crops, thanks to obscene subsidies to corporate and rich farmers in the West, from the U.S. and EU. Their battle over cotton subsidies alone (worth billions of dollars) destroyed cotton farmers not merely in India but in African nations such as Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, and Chad. Meanwhile, all along, India kept reducing investment in agriculture (standard neoliberal procedure). Life was being made more and more impossible for small farmers.
As costs rose, credit dried up. Debt went out of control. Subsidies destroyed their prices. Starving agriculture of investm
ent (worth billions of dollars each year) smashed the countryside. India even cut most of the few, pathetic life supports she had for her farmers. The mess was complete. From the late-’90s, the suicides began to occur at what then seemed a brisk rate.
In fact, India’s agrarian crisis can be summed up in five words (call it Ag Crisis 101): the drive toward corporate farming. The route (in five words): predatory commercialization of the countryside. The result: The biggest displacement in our history.
Corporations do not as yet have direct control of Indian farming land and do not carry out day-to-day operations directly. But they have sewn up every other sector, inputs, outlets, marketing, prices, and are heading for control of water as well (which states in India are busy privatizing in one guise or another).
The largest number of farm suicides is in the state of Maharashtra, home to the Mumbai Stock Exchange and with its capital Mumbai being home to 21 of India’s 51 dollar billionaires and over a fourth of the country’s 100,000 dollar millionaires. Mumbai shot to global attention when terrorists massacred 180 people in the city in a grisly strike in November. In the state of which Mumbai is capital, there have been 40,666 farmers’ suicides since 1995, with very little media attention.
Farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra crossed the 4,000-mark again in 2007, for the third time in four years, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. As many as 4,238 farmers took their lives in the state that year, the latest for which data are available,?accounting?for a fourth of all the 16,632 farmers’ suicides in the country. That national total represents a slight fall from the 17,060 farm suicides of 2006. But the broad trends of the past decade seem unshaken. Farm suicides in the country since 1997 now total 182,936.
To repeat, the five worst affected states?– Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh?– account for two-thirds of all farmers’ suicides in India. Together, they saw 11,026 in 2007. Of these, Maharashtra alone accounted for?over 38 per cent. Of the Big 5, Andhra Pradesh saw a decline of 810 suicides against its 2006 total. Karnataka saw a rise of 415 over the same period. Madhya Pradesh (1,375) posted a decline of 112. But Chattisgarh’s 1,593 farm suicides mean an increase of 110 over 2006. Specific factors in these states nourish the problem. These are zones of highly diversified, commercialized agriculture where cash crops dominate. Water stress has been a common feature, and gets worse with the use of technologies such as Bt seed that demand huge amounts of water. High external inputs and input costs are also common, as also the use of chemicals and pesticides. Mindless deregulation dug a lot of graves, lit a lot of pyres.
Maharashtra registered a fall of 215 farm suicides in 2007. However, no other state even touches the 3,000 mark. And AP (with 1,797) and Karnataka (2,135) – the next two worst hit states – together do not cross Maharashtra’s 4,000-plus mark. A one-year dip of 221 occurred in 2005 too, in Maharashtra, only to be followed by an all-time high of 4,453 suicides in 2006. The state’s trend shows no turnaround and remains dismal.
Maharashtra’s 2007 figure of 4,238 follows one and a half years of farm “relief packages” worth around Rs.5,000 crore ($1 billion) and a prime ministerial visit in mid-2006 to the distressed Vidharbha region. The state has also seen a plethora of official reports, studies and commissions of inquiry over 2005-07, aimed at tackling the problem. However, the 12,617 farm suicides in the same years is its worst ever total for any three-year period since the state began recording such data in 1995. Indeed, farm suicides in Maharashtra since that year have crossed the 40,000 mark. The structural causes of that crisis seem untouched.
Nationally, farmers’ suicides between 2002-07 were worse than for the years 1997-2001. NCRB data for the whole country now exists from 1997-2007. In the five years till 2001, there were 15,747 farmers’ suicides a year on average. For the six years from 2002, that average is 17,366 farmers’ suicides each year. The increase is distressingly higher in the main crisis states.
P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu and is the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. A regular contributor to CounterPunch,  he can be reached at psainath@vsnl.com.

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