Immiserising the Peasantry to Fill Corporate Coffers
THE BJP had come to power three years ago promising “Achhe Din” for the farmers and agricultural workers as well as toiling masses. It had promised an end to farmers’ suicides, ensure remunerative prices for crops according to the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of at least 50 percent above cost of production, more investment in agriculture, expanded employment opportunities and higher wages under MGNREGA, irrigation facilities to all farms, effective insurance, pensions, scientific land acquisition legislation to protect interests of the peasantry and much more. It is worth looking at as to how real these promises were.
n Farmers’ suicides have continued unabated. BJP ruled Maharashtra has been witnessing the highest number of suicides and 2015 accounted for an unprecedented 4,291 suicides. BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, accounted for 6,535 (51.85 percent) of all farmer suicides. Overall states ruled by BJP-led NDA accounted for 7,723 suicides (61.28 percent). States like Punjab and Haryana which were showcased as the Green Revolution success stories have also been witnessing many suicides. Tamil Nadu has witnessed over 200 suicides in the last four months. Malnutrition deaths in states like Maharashtra and MP in the last three years are over a lakh according to reports. An ostrich-like denial of the reality and refusal to address the real issues is all we get as a response to the human tragedy.
n The promise of providing remunerative prices to crops as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of C2+50 percent ie, at least 50 percent more than the cost of production has been permanently belied. The BJP government also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court clearly stating that C2+50 percent cannot be given. In addition it also issued a government order to states threatening that procurement would be banned from states providing bonus over and above the MSP fixed by the central government on the pretext that it was “market distorting”. As a result, the states who were giving an additional bonus have stopped it. There is no effective procurement even at the low prices fixed, forcing farmers to make distress sales.
n The MSP announced for most crops are far below the actual costs of production. If we take arhar/tur, the MSP announced is Rs 5050 per quintal. The costs of production according to state governments were Rs 5722 per quintal in AP, Rs 6841 per quintal in Telangana and Rs 5,100 per quintal in Karnataka. Farmers are not even getting Rs 4,500 per quintal as there is no effective procurement. The government however has assured MSP along with seeds and technical knowhow and also agreed to bear transport costs from farmers in Mozambique while refusing to pay Indian farmers.
n The Import duty of wheat has been reduced to zero from an earlier 25 percent. This has led to dumping of wheat at rates ranging from Rs 1329 per quintal to Rs 1431 per quintal which is far below even the MSP of Rs 1625 per quintal. The government has failed to procure wheat at MSP and refuses to open purchasing centres which leads to distress sales. It opened the gates just ahead of the winter wheat crop to help agri-businesses rake in super profits by dumping wheat from USA, Australia, France, Russia, Ukraine and other countries which have had bumper wheat harvests. It is estimated that overseas purchase would be the highest in a decade. The move will have a catastrophic effect on Indian farmers given the fact that global wheat prices are seeing a decline. The big players in the wheat flour market like Cargill, ITC, Adani-Wilmar, Reliance and such groups have been demanding withdrawal of import duties and this move is to suit their interests. Wheat traders are expecting imports to cross five million tonnes this year.
n After it was forced to withdraw the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance, the state governments led by BJP and its allies in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh have taken the lead in changing land laws for easy corporate takeover.
n On the MGNREGA there has been consistently low allocation and the slashed allocations under labour budget will restrict creation of jobs. Last year instead of the 100 days guaranteed by law, an average of just 46 days work was given. This year the central government has brought new instruments to further cut allocations. In the name of accountability, geo-tracking measures are put in place. Proof of MNREGA work done for three years has to be shown. Given the nature of the works done, it can obviously be only partial. Kuccha roads in remote tribals areas, such as in a state like Tripura can rarely be identified and counted. This becomes an excuse to cut funds. Shamefully, Tripura, the state which has provided the highest number of work days, 79 as compared to the national average of just 46, is being deprived of funds. The labour budget cuts will allow creation of just 34 days of work a year.
n The BJP government claims that it has allocated a record Rs 48,000 crores in the latest budget for MNREGA. The budgeted rise in allocation for MNREGA is just 1.1 per cent. Actually this is only around Rs 500 crores over the revised expenditure of 2016-17. The increase over the 2016-17 (BE) was arrived at due to the intervention of the Supreme Court. However, the actual requirement for the programme is estimated to be over Rs.80,000 crores. Workers have not been getting their wages within a fortnight as guaranteed by the law. In 2016-2017, wages amounting to a staggering Rs 20,000 crores were not paid on time, ranging from delays of three weeks to over six months. The main reason is that the central government has not been giving allocations to the states in time. Shockingly over Rs 2000 crores of wage payments for the last year have still not been given to the workers. This is the shameful record of this government. The centre is systematically dismantling this programme and starving it of funds in a deliberate manner.
n On the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, while claiming to increase its cover to 40 per cent of the farmers, the allocation has been cut by Rs 4,240 crores from Rs 13,240 crores last year to merely Rs 9000 crores. Even this allocation has overwhelmingly gone to pay private insurance companies rather than to the benefit of farmers. Notably the premium collected in 2016-17 by insurance companies was as high as Rs 21,500 crores but of the total claims of Rs 4,270.55 crores in Kharif 2016, only claims of Rs 714.14 crores have been disbursed by insurance companies till date. Nearly Rs 21,000 crores taken from farmers and governments have been pocketed by MNCs in the insurance sector.
n The promise of ensuring cheap credit to farmers has also been forgotten. Most of the credit goes to agribusinesses and to urban areas and is in no way addressing credit needs of poor, landless farmers and agricultural workers. The BJP government has through demonetisation and ban on currency exchange imposed for cooperative banks crippled the widest network for disbursal of rural credit. The talk of price stabilisation fund and protection of interests of the farmers with remunerative prices has been dumped. The plight of chilli growers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where prices have crashed from Rs 13,000-Rs 15,000per quintal to Rs 1500- Rs 5000 per quintal depending on varieties, shows how miserably this as well as the PMFBY have failed. This is also true in the case of rubber, spices and cash crops which have seen a lot of volatility in prices leading to extreme distress for farmers.
n Another much hyped scheme is the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana aiming to ensure water to all fields with the slogan “Har Khet Ko Pani”. The recent budget announced micro irrigation fund with initial corpus of Rs 5000 crore and enhancement of long term irrigation corpus from the existing Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 40,000 crore. The finance minister has not explained the funds invested and the irrigational infrastructure developed during the last financial year. It is notable that the 11th Five Year Plan had set aside Rs 67,477 crore for irrigating 9.4 million hectares. When we consider the fact that 47 million hectares of cultivable land is unirrigated, the present allocation will not even mean Rs 10,000 per hectare. The total unpreparedness to meet the unprecedented drought in southern India in 2016-17 and throughout the country in 2015-16 and the acute water shortage experienced is also a telling indictment of their claims.
Even as a large part of the country is faced with the worst drought, the BJP government has not disbursed adequate amount for drought relief. Tamil Nadu is facing the worst drought in 140 years, with over 12 lakh acres left fallow and huge crop losses. We have all witnessed the extreme insensitivity with which the Modi-led BJP government treated the Tamil Nadu farmers on protest in the national capital. The peasants are rising in protest against the betrayals and massive mobilisation against government policies have been going on across the country. The BJP and the Hindutva forces are seeking to divide the struggling masses by raking up issues like cow slaughter and using so-called “gau rakshaks” to attack cattle rearers. Communal and caste polarisation is also being attempted. Peasants and agricultural workers, dalits and adivasis are building issue-based unity against the Modi model of loot of jal, jungle, zameen and mineral resources and saying no to the loot.