MP committee slams govt's farmer policy

MP committee slams govt's farmer policyNDTV Correspondent
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 (New Delhi):

Empty promises, persistent government apathy where even the Prime Minister’s Vidarbha relief package does not take off.
This is not an attack by the opposition but a scathing indictment of the government by a Parliamentary Committee.
Farmer anger from Nandigram to Punjab over SEZ. The other face of despair is a suicide graph that stains state after state as a recurring shortage of onions and pulses fuels the price rise.
As agriculture lurches from one crisis to another, a parliamentary report has slammed the entire government saying these are mere symptoms of a deeper malaise.
“The Committee wonders whether the government is waiting for farmers of these states to commit suicides in large numbers before announcing any package.
“Whatever is announced in the budget and in Parliament don’t get into execution because of differences of opinion among ministries. We are not impressed by the rosy picture portrayed by the Planning Commission.”
“Planning Commission is not generous about releasing money,” said Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Rural Development Minister.
Hard facts
But it’s not just rhetoric hard facts back this attack on the government.
There is prevalence of a draconian law in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Orissa, which equips the police to arrest a loan defaulting farmer.
A Rs 1000 crore shortfall in allocation for agriculture in this year’s budget collapse of the credit system, and government apathy best evidenced in the failure of even the PM’s rehabilitation package for Vidarbha farmers.
“The government tells us it wants inclusive growth of tribals, Dalits or minorities it never mentions farmers,” said Sharad Joshi, Member, Standing committee on Agriculture.
Elections one after another and tall promises about rejuvenating agriculture but this 70 page document prepared by a committee of parliamentarians belonging to different political parties brings out the brutal truth.

11782 farmers commit suicide: Report

Parliament of India…
New Delhi: Asking states to abrogate a law that provides for arrest of defaulting farmers, a Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday said the suicide of 11,782 farmers during last five years is attributable to distress sale of their produce and continuous crop failures. “The Committee is shocked to learn that in some states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, there is a law to arrest farmers who default in repayment of loans. Moreover, they are not only kept in jail but the expenditure incurred on their food, transport and others things in jail is also said be to recovered from them”, the report tabled in Parliament said. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, headed by Ram Gopal Yadav, observed that the Agriculture Minister in a letter to the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab and UP in April 2006 had taken up the matter of review of state laws to remove the provision for arrest and detention of farmers.

“The last letter (to states) for amending the relevant state laws was issued on August 12, 2005, and it seems that the government has no will to act but is only performing the duty of a postman in a way, that based on the recommendations of the Committee, a letter is written to the states to do the needful”, it said. Stating that the farmers have not got their full dues, the Committee said they have to sell their produce at very low rates and are not able to repay their debts due to drought and continuous crop failures. “Under the circumstances, the only escape route for them is to commit suicide. Thus, in the last five years, as per the records of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, about 11,782 farmers have ended their lives out of frustration and humiliation”, the report added. (PTI)

ADB says rural loan may help stem farmer suicides…

March 15, 2007
By Unni Krishnan and Surojit Gupta
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Asian Development Bank hopes a $1 billion loan aimed at reforming India’s rural credit structure will help stem farmer suicides in the country, a senior official said on Thursday.
An estimated 5,000 farmers have killed themselves over six years across India’s sprawling western and southern plateau — where the black soil has long borne a rich harvest of cotton — because they could not repay loans taken for their crops.
The spate of suicides in the country’s richest state of Maharashtra has not abated despite efforts by New Delhi to ease the farmers’ financial burden.
“We are hoping in terms of outcome I hope two years from now there will be a reduced number of farmers committing suicides,” Kunio Senga, director general of the South Asia department of the bank told Reuters in an interview.
The programme, carried out in five Indian states, aims to revitalise the cooperative credit structure and reach masses of small farmers, Senga said.
Economic growth of more than 8 percent in the past three years has made millions in the cities richer, but it has bypassed the farming sector that supports more than 60 percent of India’s one billion-plus people.
Most of India’s farming community is poverty-stricken and many farmers borrow from the village moneylender at rates as high as 30-60 percent a month.
Ensuring economic growth was inclusive of poorer members of society has become increasingly important in India and the communist-backed ruling coalition has made it the centrepiece of its economic agenda.
The Congress party-led coalition, which swept to power in May 2004, has been trying to bridge the rural-urban divide and include millions of poor in the country’s largely city-based boom. “We are very much into assistance directly to address inclusiveness of growth. Our $1 billion rural finance programme is one signal that we are very much now into inclusiveness of growth,” Senga said.
He said upgrading of rural infrastructure, particularly to develop the farm sector, was key to sustaining growth and the bank was optimistic about reforms undertaken by the government to reform the sector.
The Union budget for 2007/08 has doled out gifts aimed at giving a major boost to the ailing farm sector which puts food on the tables of 115 million farming families.
Analysts say the government should focus on linking farmers to the markets through private investment in production, post-harvest infrastructure and refrigerated distribution.
“Inclusiveness requires more reforms including agricultural related and I am quite optimistic,” Senga said.

Resoulutions passed in 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj…
The 35th National Convention of Bharat Krishak Samaj was held at Erode (Tamilnadu) from 17th to 18th February, 2007. The following resolutions have been passed:
Minimum Support Price

The minimum support prices (MSPs) of different crops estimated by the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) and subsequently endorsed by the government are low and not remunerative. There is a need for up-gradation of the methods for estimation of real cost of production and arriving at the real remunerative prices. The process should be transparent and open to farmers.
Scrap SEZs, promote AEZs

Government should scrap all Special Economic Zones set-up on farmlands acquired from farmers against a mere compensation. SEZs should not be promoted; as such policy tends to usurp fertile farmlands leading to food security problems. Rather Government should promote and encourage Agri Export Zones (AEZs), which is aimed at integrated rural development.
Seed Bill-2004

If the government wants to re-introduce the “Seed Bill-2004”, it should incorporate the all recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, because seed is the basic need for food security which should not be surrendered to corporates & MNCs at any cost. Further there is no need for any new act for regulating the seed sector. The Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers Rights (PVP&FR) Act is sufficient to regulate the seed sector and should be the only law in the country. The PVP&FR Act should be further amended to provide greater protection to farmers’ rights. The PVP&FR Act is already TRIPS consistent and there is no need for a patent regime on micro-organisms, genes and other life forms.
Agricultural Credit

Rate of interest on all agricultural credit should be brought down to 4% and made uniformally applicable in every State. The loans to farmers should be waved off subsequent on crop failure.
Impact of WTO

Unfortunately Indian agriculture has been dragged into the ambit of the WTO and we have given market access for some agro produces at a time when the developed counties have distorted global prices by their huge support to their farm sector. In this situation Indian farmers cannot compete with the farmers in the developed world. Both EU and US have protected their markets through high tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers. The US through its recent Farm Bill 2007 has increased direct payments to farmers by 10% over the previous years. It has increased direct payments by $ 5.5 billion.
Unethical manipulations and distortions by developed countries in Agreement on Agriculture (A.O.A) and unequal globalisation have negatively impacted Indian agriculture. Government should work out strategy to rectify the inequalities and try to restore the legitimate demands of India pertaining to phasing out of all types of subsidies and support by developed countries, reduction of import tariff, rationalisation of trade imbalances, enhanced market access for India.
Special Product & Special Safeguard Mechanism

As the developed countries have not fulfilled their commitments in the agreement on agriculture for reducing their subsidies and support to the farm sector, India should not open up its markets. For Indian farmers every crop is a Special Product and not a matter for negotiation. If the government wants to save agriculture from any consequent disaster, it should fight for recognition of every crop as Special Product at the WTO and seek for effective application of special safeguard mechanism. If this is not possible then India should ask for restoration of the right to impose quantitative restrictions (QRs) on imports.

Technology Mission on Oil Seeds & Pulses

The Technology Mission on Oil Seeds & Pulses should be revived and reactivated on war-footing because Oil Seeds & Pulses are the vital pillars of National Economy.

Immediate Ban on all GM Crops

Worldwide there are reports of farmers being put to heavy losses on account of cultivation of GM crops. There is a conspiracy being hatched against farmers in the name of increasing production for food security by forcibly introducing genetically modified (GM) crops. India should learn lessons from the failure of GM crops across the world. Recently the US court has called for a review of the approvals of GM crops in that country.
The failure of Bt Cotton, financially crippling thousands of Cotton growers, impelling a large number of them unable to repay the debt to commit suicides by the farming community is a National shame. The Government should put immediate ban on commercial cultivation and trials of all GM crops in the country, because GM crops will cause health & environmental hazards and destruction of bio-diversity.
Marketing of Agro-produce

The free entry of corporates and multinationals in agriculture marketing has raised new problems. They purchase produce from farmers slightly higher than the MSP to capture the market and dismantle the government’s procurement system. Subsequently they hoard the stock, manipulate the market prices and sell at high prices. This is the major cause for the present rise in prices of essential commodities. The manipulations in the futures market is another cause for price rise. Thus the present rise in prices benefits only traders and corporates. Government should immediately ban futures trading on agriculture commodities and restrict direct entry of corporates and multinationals in agricultural marketing.
Imports of Agro-produce

With a view to contain rising prices, the government is encouraging import of agro produces. This measure will be detrimental to farmers’ interest in the long run and destroy country’s food security. Imports of agro commodities should not be encouraged when they are available in plenty in the country.
Food Standard & Safety Act

With a view to destroy the traditional food habits and culture and to encourage the processed junk food of the MNCs and discourage consumption of fresh food, the Food Standard & Safety Act has been brought in. This Act should be immediately repealed.

The government does not give any direct subsidy to farmers. Whatever minimum subsidy the government intends to give for agriculture should be given directly to farmers.

Irrigation facilities

The Government should plan the policies to recharge the level of ground water. The irrigation projects and schemes to be made on priorities and the funds allotted to state Govt’s should not be diverted to other heads. Irrigation projects and linking of rivers should not be done at a cost to the ecology. The projects displaced persons should be compensated in full.
Because the water is the lifeline of agriculture, therefore, it should be saved. The farmers should use the sprinkler and drip irrigation system for irrigation to save the water. The Government should give 50% subsidy on it directly to farmers. The Government should also ensure availability of electricity for agricultural purposes at concessional rates. Exempt Agro Machines, Tools, Equipments etc., from Excise & Vat.
Utility items like tractor, agricultural equipments & machinaries, drip and sprinkler irrigation installations, fertilizers, seeds and agro-chemicals should be kept out from the ambit of excise and vat. Also, the subsidy on them should be enhanced and given directly to the farmers.

Export of Organic Foods

There is an increasing demand and unlimited scope for t
he export of organic food across the world and Indian farmers are missing this opportunity. The Government should bear the cost of certification of organic produces, which is presently high, and beyond the reach of farmers. The National Horticultural Board & APEDA should bear this responsibility immediately. The Government should also give adequate level of subsidies for cultivation of organic produce and for encouraging their exports.

Testing Laboratories

Well equipped soil, fertilizer, agro-chemicals and seeds Testing Laboratories should be established in every District Headquarter of the Country for the benefit of the farmers.
Promotion of Agro based Industrial Units
Sustenance is just not possible from ever increasing fragmentation of family farms. The Government therefore, should come-up with need based and area specific comprehensive blue print on agro based small and cottage industrial units in the villages and provide adequate incentive and financial assistance to the enterprising public of the rural belt.

Agricultural Insurance

Agri-insurance schemes must be made very responsive and its scope should be enlarged and widened to cover all sorts of calamities and the losses inflicted on the farmers should be adequately compensated. The assessment of losses should be done at village level as a unit in consultation with local farmers. Crop insurance programme should cover all crops in all areas of the country.

Employment Generation in Rural Belt

To generate employment opportunities in the rural belt, the Government should provide ready financial and infrastructural assistance to the farmers for dairy farming, animal husbandry, fisheries, poultry and bee keeping etc.

Agricultural Research

The cost of production has increased phenomenally due to the introduction of capital-intensive unsustainable agriculture. The use of costly chemicals has not only degraded the soil health and factor productivity.
Requisites of Indian agriculture and needs of the peasantry must be given top priority in the formulation of R/D policies. The Government should refrain from thrusting alien technologies on the farming community. Agri scientists should study traditional farming system and upgrade them, if necessary for implementation in farmers field. All farm policies and researches should be done in consultation with local farmers of the area.
Farmers’ representation

We demand that the Central and the State Governments should co-opt farmer leaders in all decision making bodies related to agriculture so as to make the policies more realistic, effective and action-oriented.
US-India Knowledge Initiative Agreement on Agriculture

Indo-US Knowledge Initiative Agreement on Agriculture should be immediately scraped as this treaty is designed to surrender country’s food security and research to US Government and US based multinationals.

Save small farmers and public health not DOHA…

Statement of Indian People’s Movements against WTO on the “Save Doha” Seminar
The government of India with NGO’s who have been supporting WTO is organizing a seminar on “Saving Doha and Delivering on Development”. The Doha Round of WTO collapsed in Cancun and has been on life support since the Hongkong Ministerial. No progress has been made because more “progress” in trade liberalisation will devastate the lives of millions more than a decade of WTO has already devastated. More than 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in India due to distortions introduced in agriculture as a result of trade liberalisation. Seed monopolies have pushed up he prices of inputs, and market access forced through removal of Quantitative Restrictions (QR’s) has made the prices of farm products collapse. WTO has imposed a suicidal economy on India’s small farmers and peasants who constitute two third of the population.
The G-33 has been struggling to implement the commitments made in WTO to protect small farmers through instruments of Special Products And Special Safeguard Mechanism (SPSSM). The G-33 was to meet in Delhi. The meeting was shifted to Jakarta because the Indian government was reluctant to host it. Instead an anti-Third World, anti-farmers and anti-worker and anti-public health meeting is being organized in Delhi on 12-13th of March to push the corporate agenda of further liberalisation of trade, bypassing the multilateral negotiations where the WTO agenda is being blocked. This meeting has no democratic standing. It has no political legitimacy. It does not represent the will or perspective of the Indian people. It is a desperate attempt by the global corporate powers, and the governments they control to manipulate a “consensus” to “Save Doha”, when citizens access the world and the majority of Third World governments want to save democracy and the rights of people to food and water, jobs and livelihoods, medicine and health. The US government has been repeatedly stating that India must play a role in moving the Doha negotiations. And India is rushing ahead to provide market access to US agribusiness and industry as witnessed in wheat and corn and wine imports and in reduction of duties on industrial products. The US India Knowledge Agreement in Agriculture is effectively a bilateral agreement. On the board of the agreement are Monsanto, and Walmart. Under US pressure, the government of India has already implemented more than the Doha round commitments and have signed the Indo-US MOU on Patents. That is why the Indian government is being used by the US and EU to bulldoze Doha on other countries. And the “Save Doha” seminar is part of this bulldozing.
The bias of the ‘Save Doha” seminar is apparent in terms of who has sponsored it, who is being invited and what will be discussed.
Orchestration of Consensus
The two NGO’s involved have been supporting WTO over the past decade. CUTS initially supported WTO on grounds that trade liberalisation would make food cheaper for consumers. Today, food prices are going through the ceiling in India. The ruling Congress party has recently lost elections in two states, and the Party President, Sonia Gandhi, has admitted that increase in prices of food and essential commodities was the reason behind the electoral defeat. Trade liberalisation translates into falling prices for farmers and rising prices for consumers, with the increasing polarization of prices generating super profits for agribusiness. Further liberalization will deepen the livelihood and food insecurity of the poor. The recent NFHS 3 (National Family Health Survey) has clearly shown increase in malnutrition, anemia and maternal mortality in many parts. The serious public health implications are clear specially for women and children. Over 20% maternal deaths are anemia related
The second NGO involved in organising the seminar to “Save Doha” has been supporting WTO even when the massive people’s movements brought the WTO Ministerial to a halt in Seattle. While farmers’ movements across the world have been mobilising to protect farmers’ lives and livelihoods, as was evident in Seattle, Cancun and Hongkong, Oxfam International has been working to save WTO on terms of the corporate led North. It has been arguing that trade liberalisation serves the interests of Third World farmers even while farmers across Latin America, Africa and Asia are fighting for food sovereignty not for “free trade”. Hundreds of thousands of farmers are being pushed to suicides, and millions are being uprooted from their land and livelihoods to make for global agribusiness, which is the only beneficiary of the WTO rules of Agriculture. Oxfam International blocked a change in these rules after Seattle by supporting the Market Access rules of WTO which would mean unregulated imports, while farmers groups demanded FOOD SOVEREIGNTY. It is now blocking the SPSSM demands of Third World countries by “Saving Doha” instead of the peasants of the South.
If the seminar was committed to Delivering on Development, it would have addressed the agrarian crisis that the globalisation has unleashed on India besides in other parts of the third world. It would have had other farmers leaders like Krishan Bir Chaudhry of Bhartiya Krishan Samaj, Mahendra Singh Tikait of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Kishore Tiwari of Vidharbha Jan Andolan, or Puttaniah of Karnataka Rajya Ryotu Sangha to share their concerns about farmers and their families impacted by WTO led agricultural policies, not Sharad Joshi. Sharad Joshi has been supporting WTO and globalisation of agriculture even while globalisation robs 87 farmers per day of their lives in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, Joshi’s home state. When 100,000 farmers gathered at India’s historic Red Fort in 1994 to caution the government against signing the Dunkel Draft of GATT which lead to the signing of the WTO agreements in Marrakesh, Sharad Joshi was a lone voice supporting WTO. Today, too, his is the only voice talking of “Saving Doha”, while farmers’ movements are talking of “Saving Small Farmers”. This calculated exclusion of the people’s viewpoint and biased selection of issues reflects that a consensus is being orchestrated to protect and promote corporate interest.
This is obvious from the exclusion of TRIPS as the Save Doha seminar does not have any sessions on TRIPS even though the Doha Declaration included a commitment to review TRIPS and a commitment to public health. TRIPS review which was due in 2000 is still pending. The way Dunkel draft was pushed with only take it or leave it option, this exercise is being undertaken to push some corporate led agenda excluding others which are protective of public health and public interest. And this lapse is extremely significant since Novartis is challenging India’s patent laws clauses that provide safe guards for ensuring that affordable generic medicines are available to Indian citizens and citizens worldwide. India is the source of 67% of the World’s low cost generic medicines. The “Save Doha” seminar’s silence on TRIPS is infact support for Novartis, and hence on attack on citizens right to affordable medicines, and the movements fighting to defend peoples’ rights by preventing corporations monopolies. The spirit of Doha Declaration in TRIPS and Public Health is a matter of life and death for millions across the world specially the Third World.
The outcome of this seminar will not be based on a democratic dialogue in society or among the governments of the world. It will be a contrived “consensus” among corporate cronies in governments and among NGOs.
The seminar should not be used to subvert the rights of Third World countries to defend the rights of their peoples’ through democratic negotiations at the multilateral level and democratic policies at the national level. Asia, Caribbean, Pacific and African countries have already expressed unhappiness
over how the G-4 – US, EU, Brazil and India – were keeping others out of the process of reviving trade talks. They are worried that the G-4 would present a grand package and offer it as a “fait accompli”. The “Save Doha” Delhi meet driven clearly by the G-4 should not be allowed to be another step in this exclusion of the concerns of the majority.

Budget 2007 is an exit budget for farmers, says Devinder Sharma

Express News Service

Ludhiana, March 7: Well-known activist, and Director, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, New Delhi says the Budget is an exit-budget for farmers. “This budget does not want the farmers who earn their livelihood. This budget wants them to give up agriculture,” said Dr Sharma, who was in PAU today to deliver a lecture. “The intention of the government help the farmer can be gauged from the fact that farmer suicides continue despite the so called futuristic budgets,” he said.

Ridiculing Dr Manmohan Singh announcement of a grant for Vidharbha and subsequent claim that the impact of it would be visible in six months at farmer suicide ridden land, Dr Sharma said the impact was visible, as the rate of suicide rate has gone up from one in every eight hours to one in every four hours.

Dr Sharma said, “Farmers need credits and need income, too, and for that we need to work towards making agriculture sustainable. But the mindset of our policy maker has changed from that of sustainable agriculture to commercial agriculture. Our finance minister says that and more clearly does out agriculture minister who candidly says there is no place for small farmers

The farmer isn't feeling good…

You are Right, Mr. Advani, The Farmer isn’t Feeling Good
February 28, 2004
Meeting a group of farmers last week, the Deputy Prime Minister said the rural sector had reason not to feel good. Tehelka correspondents fanned out to figure the truth about the condition of our farmers. A report from India’s crisis-ridden rural heartlands put together by VK Shashikumar
To the passing eye, Harikishenpura in Bhatinda is like any other Punjab village. But linger a moment and you will find something unsettling here, something almost surreal. And soon enough you know why. The village of 125 families has put itself up for sale. “We have asked Raja sahib (referring to chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh) to buy whatever remains of our village,” says farmer Jarnail Singh, defeat and resignation writ on his face.
The farmers of Harikishenpura once owned 1,170 acres of fertile agricultural land; they are now saddled with just 500 acres of broken, fallow earth. Banks and moneylenders have confiscated the rest.
“The banks, cooperative societies and other lending agencies would come to our doorsteps and cajole us to take loans. Everything was there for the asking when the times were good. Now they only come to hound us,” says Roop Singh who owes the State Bank of Patiala Rs 4,00,000; he does not know how he will pay that back.
Their death knell was sounded fourteen years ago when they took to cotton as their primary crop. The first two years fetched them bumper dividends producing as much as 1,000 kg per acre. However, the initial euphoria died down when bollworm pests began destroying the crop year after year.
“Initially we need just three or four sprays of pesticide to kill the insect, but gradually the number of sprays increased and now even 30 sprays are not enough to kill the insect,” says Lal Singh the nambardar (village record keeper) of Harkishenpura.
Today the productivity per acre has reduced by more than 60 percent and the farmer considers himself lucky if his field yields 350 to 400 kgs of cotton per acre. With little productivity and burgeoning costs of pesticides, the farmers resorted to loans. Now, they stand indebted for life; so indebted they have had to resort to the bizarre remedies like putting their village up for sale.
Harkishenpura’s collective debt stands at over Rs 4 crores. The village panchayat is serious about selling the village. The villagers in one of India’s richest agrarian states, meanwhile, wait to live, die or become insane. More than 20 farmers from Harikishenpura travel to nearby towns, Rampura and Balawali. They work as daily labourers in the vegetable markets and bring home around Rs 60 every day. The once prosperous cotton farmers of Punjab now struggle to eke out a living for their families and themselves.
A grey shroud has fallen over Punjab’s green revolution. There couldn’t be a more torturous irony than this. The farmers of Punjab who played a stellar role in making India self-sufficient in food grain production now despair for a turnaround. But many have given up already. In the last couple of years eight Harikishenpura farmers have killed themselves, unable to bear their crop failures. Five have gone insane in trying to figure out their reversal of fortunes. The once fertile and prosperous rural outback of Punjab has turned into a remorseless killing field.
“I lost both my brother Shabia Singh and sister-in-law Nazeem Kaur, because they lost all their pride after being under debt for nearly five years and did not know how to return the money,” says Kunda Singh a farmer of the village.
The burden of paying back the Rs 7 lakh loan has now shifted to Kunda who has inherited the four acres of land after his brother death. He, too, has this vacant look in his eyes. Is he thinking about hope or about the future? Maybe, future because ever so often he breaks down and cries the silent the cry. “Even if I sell all of the land the maximum it will fetch me is four lakhs,” he says in a matter-of-fact manner. Its almost like the last line of a suicide.
If such is the shape of the farmer in Punjab, the cradle of the Green Revolution, it’s probably no surprise he is much worse off in other parts of the country. The farmer isn’t feeling good, his India isn’t shining. And that’s bad news for all of us because this remains a country whose majority lives in and off the village.
In India’s north eastern states, however, banks and cooperative societies are wary of giving loans. In Assam the farmers complain of being unable to avail of the facilities provided by government schemes.
Batuwa and Golap Boro, farmers in Sonapur village, barely 25 km from Guwahati are preparing to sow their second crop of the year but do not know where the money to buy the seeds is going to come from. “Whatever rice we produced last year was consumed by the entire family over the past six months. There is no cash in hand for purchasing seeds,” Golap at 50, the elder of the two brothers says.
Hasn’t he heard of governments and banks giving out loans? “Those schemes are all on paper Sir. Despite several attempts for the last so many years, we have not been able to understand the system of getting loans. Every visit to the block office is futile and time consuming,” says Batuwa.
Across the breadth of the gangetic plain farmers share a unique, albeit, tragic kinship. Take, for instance, the 52 farmer families of Paramanandapur village in Orissa’s Bargarh district. They once earned their livelihood from agriculture. The lush green fields have now become dust bowls.
Nothing grows here anymore except for rising gusts of dust storms. Five years ago a severe drought hit this village. Ever since the women, children and men in this nondescript village have lived in hunger and penury.
For five months in a year, after monsoon rains fill up the dry katas (ponds) these villagers cultivate paddy in their small patches of land. “We earn some money but it is difficult to survive in the other seven months of the year,” says Ranjit Bibhar.
Bibhar, like most others, is a marginal subsistence farmer with a small patch of land. Years of unremunerative agriculture have forced many of his fellow farmers to sell their land. “We have become landless wage workers,” says Bibhar. “At least 15 people of our village have migrated to Andhra Pradesh and Raipur, capital of Chhattisgarh, to work in brick kilns as daily wage labourers,” says Dhruba Chechama, another farmer.
Thousands of farmers across the country find themselves helplessly trapped in a downward spiral of mounting debt and diminishing returns. Their quest for survival is swelling the ranks of daily wage workers in the country.
And all this while, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre has covered up the dark truth about the inexorable impoverishment of the Indian farmer; it has lied about the desperate straits he is in. On the Punjab issue, the government officially announced in the Lok Sabha that “an NGO documented alleged cases of suicide by farmers” and then took refuge in technicalities, stating that “the issue is sub judice before the Punjab and Haryana High Court.”
Clearly, ‘all lies on deck’ is the rallying cry of a government hell bent on making India feel good about itself. Take, for instance, another murderous lie: “No report has been received from any state regarding suicides by farmers during July 2002 to June 2003.” This was stated on the floor of the Lok Sabha on July 21, 2003. However, the government’s own records show 191 farmers committed suicide in 2002 in Andhra Pradesh.
In neighbouring Karnataka, 850 farmers have committed suicide in the last 10 months. In Kerala thirteen farmers, mainly from the plantation-rich Wynad district, have committed suicide in the last three years. Most of them had pledged t
heir properties to the local co-operative banks. The recovery procedures from the banks, including confiscation of their houses, led to their suicides.
Paddy fields are dry and uncultivated in most parts of Kerala today. The once famous Palakkad and Kuttanad fields wear a deserted look. Not only labourers and farmers with small holdings, even those with larger acreage are thinking twice before seeding their patches because agriculture has become unproductive and their debts are mounting.
For the rubber farmer in Kerala ,there is a slight recovery in the last year. But he knows very well that the price fell earlier due to entry of foreign rubber into the Indian market due to policy dilution.The increased competition led to the present recovery.“ This can end anyday and I am planning to sell my small estate and set up a shop or something or go to the Gulf’’. says newly wedded Aravindan off Pathanamthitta. Aravindan’s had been a family of traditional rubber farmers.His father had to sell nearly 50 percent of the holding before passing away, and passing the burden down.
This is a far cry from a situation ten years back when most of the `rubber kids’ went to schools and colleges in newly bought Marutis.
The plantation sector, coffee or tea, suffers equally.With the market hit badly, the plantation owners have cut down the wages .Unheard in the history of Kerala.Not resisted by the weak labourers.
Traditional sectors like coir or cashew are merely surviving.The subsidies extended by the Kerala Government make no difference. Globalisation has hit them badly. A few heavyweights survive.
It would be a shock for outsiders, especially Malayalis living outside Kerala without a recent visit home ,to learn that a nut in the market costs Rs 8. Kerala,named after ‘Kera’, or coconut, today is a seller’s market in coconuts.And who are the sellers? From the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.The diseases which have afflicted the coconut trees in the state have made coconuts a dear commodity.Nobody even bothers to climb the trees in many houses to pluck the dirty nuts.The offshoot industries like toddy are doing as badly.
Death is no longer a metaphor in the lush green lands of western UP. It’s a hard and sad reality. It’s been stalking the farmers of one of the most fertile regions in the country. Travelling through the once-prosperous western UP belt – Mathura, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Bulandshahar – you may not get an instant taste of the terrible living conditions. But look deeper and you will find people trapped in poverty and bondage. People do not venture out after dark. As the sun sets, gangs of bandits take over the highways and kuchcha roads. People are being killed for as little as Rs 50.
No major river, except the Yamuna, runs through this region. But despite that, this dustbowl turned into the country’s sugar bowl in the late 1960s. The agricultural pattern of the area changed dramatically with the farmers growing mostly cash crops – sugarcane, potato and vegetables. It brought success and money initially; then cash-cropping boomeranged on them.
Four years ago, a drive through Karnataka’s sugar bowl, Mandya, was a visual treat. Lush green fields of sugarcane, paddy and ragi reflected the resurgence of the farming community. Not any more. Drought has parched this otherwise irrigated land of its water and forced farmers to fall into debt and death traps.
Take the case of Doddabanasvadi, a village about 12 kilometres from Mandya. It has feeder canals from the Krishnaraja Sagar (KRS) dam for irrigation. But in the last three years, these canals have run dry. A trip to the village poses more questions than offering answers.
All its villagers depend on agriculture for livelihood. But debts and drought have made land owners become landless labourers over years. Sixty per cent of Doddabanasvadi’s villagers are agricultural labourers. Their numbers are rising. It’s soil has lost fertility with extensive use of chemicals, say farmers. Canals going dry has forced farmers to either switch crops or dig borewells. Despair pervades Doddabanasvadi.
Thanks to crop failure with scarce rains in the past three years, the only farmers who manage a good crop are those who can afford to dig borewells. Even here, farmers end up in debt to dig a borewell. Digging borewells and fixing pumpsets has even led to family feuds as the ground water table depletes. The region that earlier never needed ground water finds itself in a water crisis now.
Mandya reported 22 of the over 275 debt-driven farmers’ suicides in the State last year between April and September alone. Consider this: Mallaiah, 50, has a hut and a one-acre plot to call his own. To marry his elder daughter, he took a Rs one lakh loan, and spent Rs 1.35 lakh. This was four years ago. It took them all these years to repay the loan. The income from his last crop was minimal, with the sugarcane crushing factory in Mandya not paying him on time. For the last season’s crop, he borrowed another Rs 10,000. He is planning to take another loan of Rs one lakh for his younger daughter’s marriage. Despair has driven him to alcohol and his wife bears the brunt. He beats her up often after a bout of drinks.
Has the government not helped with loans? “They are lying if they say they help,’’ he says. “Whether he places that flower before God’s picture in the morning or not, he needs that drink,’’ says his wife Sarojamma of her husband’s desperation.
Mandya’s social workers say that online lottery promoted by the State government has been an added bane. The temptation of easy money has made farmers take to gambling and losing their meager earnings. That has only compounded their crisis.
In western UP, farmers not used to poverty do not know how to handle it. Their average incomes are down to Rs 400 a month. But they don’t admit that. They take out their anger and frustration within their domestic walls. Women are actually facing the brunt of it. Unable to cope with the crisis, some of them think of suicide all the time. “There is a crisis in all homes. People are on the verge of breaking down,” says Inderpal Singh, a farmer in Shamli.
All marriages in the area in the past one year have been plain and simple; they can’t afford grand shows. They are so glum, they don’t feel like celebrating anything anyway. “In these conditions, we are only concerned about surviving, nothing else. We haven’t seen days as bad as these,” says Rauf Ahmed, who runs a jaggery plant in Bharaut.
Everyone – the old, the young and children are getting caught in the ripple-effect of the crisis in the countryside. The elderly are getting increasingly worried about the youth. Half-educated and not interested in agriculture, they watch television all day and by night they drink. Then, some of them disappear into the dark. In the morning, people hear about a robbery on the road or a murder near the canal. But no one talks about it.
Rural communities in India are on the verge of collapsing into chaos. If appearances are deceptive, it’s here that one has to look.
Farmers in western UP have also resorted to massive agitations in the last two years. It’s just that Shining India has not heard or seen them. The farmers have staged rallies, blocked roads and faced police bullets to demand better prices for their crops.
This is western UP’s paradox – rich agricultural land, bumper crops but not good enough prices and fewer buyers. The government fixes the price of their crops. They can’t sell it for more than that. In most cases, the rate is too low. And in many cases, they even don’t get that much. Result: unsold crop stands in their fields. They burn it as the season gets over. “Until the farmers get the right to decide the rate they want to sell their crops at, this problem cannot be solved,” says Ishwar Singh of Baghpat. Is someone listening?
Reported by Nitin A Gokhale (Assam), Shobhan Saxena (Uttar Pradesh), Arnab P Dutta (Punjab), M Radhika (Karnataka), TN Gopakumar (Kerala) and Sudarshan
Chhotoray (Orissa)