April 05, 2015

Wither Achhe Din Aanewale Hain?

AS we go to press, floods have, once again, begun their cruel devastation in the Kashmir valley. Soon its impact will be felt in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and neighbouring areas. J&K is yet to recover from the earlier devastation. The promised relief and rehabilitation has not yet even begun to reach the people in many parts of the state, particularly in the Kashmir valley. The assembly elections and the prolonged negotiations between the BJP and the PDP to strike a totally unprincipled alliance to form the government – to share the spoils of office – is propagated as the main excuse delaying the reaching of relief to the lakhs of people who had lost all means of livelihood. Even before this process could begin now, the fresh round of floods have unleashed further destruction. It is imperative that the central government offer all possible material and logistical support to the people and administration in J&K to provide immediate relief and work for the short and long term rehabilitation of the affected people. Simultaneously, unseasonal rains and hailstorms have devastated standing crops in vast tracts of northern India. Rather than meet this distress of crores of farmers and people in rural India, the Modi government at the centre seems to be pre-occupied with scaling down the extent of damage. The initial estimate of devastation of over 181 lakh hectares of standing crop has now been scaled down to 106 lakh hectares by the central government. The Bihar state government has sharply reacted accusing the central government of “pressurising” state’s to scale down the affected area (The Hindu, March 31, 2015). 14 states have reported massive crop damage so far. These include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra apart from Bihar. This is seriously aggravating the already deepening agrarian distress in the country. As noted in these columns earlier, the last kharif crop saw an absolute decline in the total sown area – for the first time since independence. Clearly, many farmers are abandoning agricultural occupation as it is not providing adequate remuneration for even a subsistence level livelihood. This is not surprising. We had earlier noted that the then union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, admitted in the parliament during the UPA-II government’s last year that in the preceding three years the minimum support price (MSP) decided by the central government grew at a rate which was lower than the growth in the cost of production as estimated by the Central Bureau of Agricultural Costs and Prices. The farmer was borrowing for agricultural operations. However, due to the non-remunerative nature of agricultural production, many farmers were driven to commit distress suicides due to mounting debt. Consequently, today, distress suicides in agriculture continue to rise. “Unseasonal storms have badly damaged the winter crop in large parts of the fertile northern plains, most likely contributing to the suicides”. Further, the report says: many “villagers have blamed Modi for not stepping in to help the distressed farmers or ensuring that crop prices remained stable.” With reference to the much publicised PM Modi’s radio address, “mann ki baat” where he decried the opposition in parliament as “spreading lies” and that the Land Bill would help create rural jobs, farmers in Uttar Pradesh said: “Instead of ensuring some concrete help to farmers, especially after rains this month, Modi and his government are spending time and energy on the land bill”, said Buddha Singh, a district chief of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, a leading farmers’ body (affiliated to the RSS/BJP) (a Reuters report quoted in Mint, March 31, 2015). Clearly, PM Modi, as far as `allegations’ of opposition parties “spreading lies”, the `Boot is on the other foot’ as an old English saying goes! As a result of this, foodgrain production has significantly declined in the country. Instead of strengthening the public distribution system and ensuring that foodgrains reach the people who need them the most, the Modi government, is busy trying to increase the exports of agricultural products in order to bolster the overall economic growth in the country. They seem to be more worried of ensuring the recovery of exports of agricultural products, several of which, including rice, tea, coffee, cereals, oil meals, fruits and vegetables registered a negative growth in February 2015. This is the Modi government’s pre-occupation as more people go hungry in our country and our farmers – annadaatas – continue to be pushed into committing distress suicides! As far as the overall economy is concerned, let’s look at the ground reality. “The annual infrastructure output growth slowed to 1.4 per cent in February 2015, mainly dragged down by a contraction in the production of steel, fertilisers and refinery products, government data showed on Tuesday (March 31, 2015). The output had expanded 1.8 per cent year-on-year in January 2015 while in February 2014 it was 6.1 per cent. Natural gas, steel and crude production declined to 8.1 per cent, 4.4 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively, according to data released by the ministry of commerce and industry. The infrastructure sector, which comprises coal, crude oil, oil refining, natural gas, steel, cement, electricity and fertilisers, accounts for 37.9 per cent of India's industrial output”. (Business Standard, March 31, 2015) Despite this, the Modi government changed the “base year” data calculations (as noted in these columns earlier). This is projecting a rosy picture of the Indian economy and creating a media hype through a massive propaganda blitz that India will be the fastest growing economy in the world this year! It is time to hear the people’s mann ki baat, PM Modi, on the deteriorating economic situation! The Modi government’s optimism on the economic front is not shared, despite the media hype, by India Inc. PTI reports (March 29, 2015), “Top Indian corporates are not planning to increase their investments yet. We believe capital spending by top Indian corporates will further decline by 10-15 per cent in fiscal 2016 from its peak in fiscal 2014”, it said. This is because companies are “yet to materially benefit from the government reforms or from an improvement in the Indian economy”, it said. The report further said that the slowdown, “we believe”, will be most evident in utilities and infrastructure, with about 20 per cent decline, and the metals and mining sector, with about 30 per cent decline by fiscal 2016 as compared to fiscal 2014.” Consequently, after the Modi government assumed office, in the third quarter 2014, pan Indian employment condition was pathetic, according to one estimate. Compared to the second quarter, employment declined by a whopping 13.2 per cent. As far as the people are concerned, their livelihood conditions continue to deteriorate. The prices of essential commodities continue to rise. This is particularly so of prices of vegetables, fruits, foodgrains, onions, sugar, LPG, over and above the rise in the prices of fuel. As noted in these columns earlier, the benefits of the steep fall in the international oil prices has not been passed on to the people. Instead, the Modi government made a killing by steeply hiking the excise duties four times, profiting government revenues. Such is the ground reality, PM Modi. Therefore, who is “spreading lies”? Opposition parties, particularly the Left parties, or the government? Clearly, therefore, even before the first year of this Modi government has ended, these are the grim realities of attacks on people’s livelihood. Further, the mounting attacks of religious intolerance by various RSS tentacles against the religious minorities, patronised by this Modi government, are alarmingly escalating. This is posing an additional challenge to societal social harmony, people’s unity and integrity of our country. This needs to be resisted and defeated in order to realise the true potential of India and our people. It is only the growing strength of popular people’s struggles that can achieve this much-required objective. (April 1, 2015)