Vol. XLIII No. 20 May 19, 2019
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Agrarian Crisis: Anti-Farmer Policies Pursued Aggressively

Vijoo Krishnan

WHILE the BJP manifesto had claimed that it will link MGNREGS to agriculture, nothing has happened to strengthen and expand it. No increase in MGNREGS allocation has been made even in the latest Budget. Rs 55,000 crore allotted is exactly the same as the revised estimate for 2017-18. Even by conservative estimates, more than Rs 80,000 crores will be required for the proper implementation of the programme. This callous attitude is despite the fact that over 56 per cent of wages were pending and more than 15 per cent of wage seekers did not find any work in 2016-17. As 2018-19 year ends, 17 states had a net negative balance of Rs 7824 crore in MGNREGS funds, i.e., their spending was more than the fund available. This is despite the fact that over 1.5 crore persons were refused work despite demanding it. States have been witnessing a drastic cut in allocations and the average number of workdays under MGNREGS has been well below what is stipulated in the Act. Without addressing these issues, their last budget talks of creating employment of 321 crore person days without any concrete proposals. Over 1.62 crore job card-holders under MGNREGA were struck off from the register in 2017-18. The average days of work provided per household was 29 in Assam, 36 in Bihar, 41 in Jharkhand and 40 in Odisha. In 2017-18, the scheme provided 45 days of work on an average to a rural household, compared to 49 days in 2015-16, when several states were under severe drought. Wages under MGNREGS continue to be lower than minimum wages for agriculture labourers in as many as 27 states and union territories.

NO RESPITE TO FARMERS

Despite faltering growth and a dire prediction in the Economic Survey that climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes in the range of 15-18 per cent on an average and in unirrigated areas up to 20-25 per cent, the allocation for agriculture in the budget is only 2.36 per cent of the total. Allocation to the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana saw a drastic cut from Rs 4,500 crore in the revised estimates to just Rs 3,600 crores in the latest budget registering a decline to the lowest since its implementation. It is notable that the outlay for Price Stabilisation Fund which was a much hyped programme aiming to address problems arising out of volatility in prices has come down from Rs 6,900 crores in 2016-17 to merely Rs 1,500 crores in 2018-19. This will affect farmers growing commercial crops like rubber, tea, coffee, spices etc. The BJP government is also making fast-paced moves to enter into a mega Free Trade Agreement namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which will hit Indian farmers.

The BJP government claimed that it has expanded agricultural credit and given Rs 8.5 lakh crores in agricultural loans in 2014-15, which has over time increased to Rs 11 lakh crores in 2018-19. Bulk of this is not a budgetary expenditure. The government pays a small proportion of interest subvention on crop loan component of this agricultural credit. Banks have failed to meet the target of 13.5 per cent priority lending to non-corporate agriculture and 8 per cent to small and marginal farmers.  A major chunk of this is made up of massive loans and is going to agri-business companies and the industrial sector. According to a reply by the Reserve Bank of India to an RTI, the government banks handed out Rs 58,561 crore to 615 accounts in agricultural loans in the year 2016. On average, each account has been given over Rs 95 crores in agricultural loans. Data from the RBI reveals that massive amounts have been given to people in the name of agricultural loans even before 2016. In 2015, 604 accounts received Rs 52,143 crores, which comes to Rs 86.33 crores per account, whereas Rs 60,156 crore (at an average of Rs 91.28 crore per account) was given in agricultural loans in 2014. Even under the earlier Congress-led UPA government, 2013 saw 665 accounts receive Rs 56,000 crores at an average of Rs 84.30 crores per account in agricultural loans, 698 accounts received Rs 55,504 crores at an average of Rs 79.51 crores per account in 2012. This trend has been accelerated under the BJP government. A Maharashtra businessman allegedly secured loans worth over Rs 5,400 crores on the basis of fake documents made in the name of farmers.

Only about 41 per cent of the agricultural credit is given to small and marginal farmers (represented by loans of up to Rs 2 lakh), while about 14 per cent carrying a loan size of more than Rs 1 crore goes to institutions and corporates engaged in agricultural production. Indebtedness is growing and is the major reason for farm suicides.

The much hyped Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana which was touted as the panacea for all farmers has proved to be a milking cow for corporate companies, while farmers are not benefiting. According to a recent reply to an RTI filed by an activist PP Kapoor, more than 84 lakh farmers, which is about 15 per cent of the total farmers insured in the first year of the PMFBY, i.e., 2016-17, withdrew themselves from the scheme in 2017-18 due to the sorry state of affairs.  A massive 68.31 lakh farmers who withdrew are from the four BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Corporate companies, including Reliance, ICICI, HDFC and IFFCO, among others, have registered a total profit of around Rs 15,795 crore since the launch of the scheme, though the final profit margins could change since the insurance claims for 2017-18 Rabi crops are yet to be estimated. The profits for 2016-17 are approximately Rs 6,459 crore, said the RTI reply. The All India Kisan Sabha had at the very beginning pointed out that the PMFBY was a scam and renowned journalist P Sainath recently termed it a bigger scam than the Rafale scam. In Maharashtra a glaring case of 2.80 lakh farmers who sowed soyabean in a district was exposed by him. They had paid a premium of Rs19.2 crores and the state as well as the central government share of Rs 77 crores each as premium, altogether totalling Rs 173 crores was paid to Reliance Insurance. The entire crop failed and Reliance paid Rs 30 crores in the district giving it a net profit of Rs 143 crores in that district alone. Such profits are accruing to these corporate insurance companies without having to invest any pie.

FAILED PROMISE OF IRRIGATION TO ALL FIELDS

All talk of Har Khet Ko Pani (water to all fields) under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) also has come a cropper with several states reeling under recurring droughts. A recent analysis shows that this programme has mostly been confined to just five states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu which accounted for 78 per cent of the irrigated area expansion during 2017-18. Bihar was able to add just 86 hectares. Failure of the poor states to finance 40 per cent of the cost which is to borne by them is a major reason.

The PMKSY with planned allocation of Rs 50,000 crores until 2019-20 has been way below target and budget allocations far less than the requirement. Of its four components, the largest is Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) that seeks to complete 149 unfinished major and medium irrigation projects. Of these, 99 projects were placed in three priority categories, to be completed by March 2017, March 2018 and March 2019. In December 2017, the completion rate for these three categories was 66 per cent, 29 per cent and 12 per cent respectively of the additional capacity that was to be created during this three-year period. A major scheme of PMSKY, Watershed Development Component, meant for recharging of ground water in rain-fed areas, has so far been allotted less than half the funds required for it. Naturally, only about 10 per cent of the target has been met: only 849 of the 8214 projects have been completed. Similarly, of the target of 1.5 lakh hectares for RRR (Repair, Renovation and Restoration) of water bodies, less than 10 per cent, or 0.147 lakh hectares was completed in 2015-16. No funds were released under this sub-head in 2016-17. In days of climate change and recurring droughts this failure has hit farmers very badly.

STRUGGLES AGAINST ANTI-PEASANT REGIME

Each one of the promises made has been broken. Modi led BJP government has only followed a policy of pauperising and dispossessing the peasantry by deliberately pushing them into distress by withdrawing State support, aggressively pursuing trade liberalisation and the gamut of neoliberal economic policies. Public investment in agriculture and rural development has been drastically curtailed, agricultural credit is inaccessible and usurious money lenders are looting the farmers unchecked, input costs are skyrocketing, crop prices and minimum support prices do not even cover the costs of production, procurement mechanism is being fast dismantled and private players allowed to exploit distressed farmers. Within six months of taking over, the BJP government came up with the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance. Indiscriminate acquisition of land to promote corporate interests throwing to winds food security concerns and farmer’s interests has become the norm. No welfare measures or pension schemes have been implemented for agricultural labour, small and marginal farmers. Agricultural wages were not in the radar of BJP’s vision and so nothing has been done to increase them. Pauperisation and dispossession of the peasantry is also leading to footloose migration and swelling army of unemployed in urban slums in extremely insecure conditions. The interests of farmers and agricultural workers have been betrayed to usher in achhe din for Adani, Ambani and their ilk. All measures of the Narendra Modi-led BJP are aimed at aiding corporate profiteering at the expense of the peasantry. The demonetisation hit farmers and all toiling masses badly and prices of all crops crashed after this disastrous decision. Thousands were rendered unemployed. Prices of agricultural inputs, essential goods, petrol and diesel have also risen incessantly. The GST has also hit the workers, the peasantry and rural poor badly. All measures of the Narendra Modi-led BJP are aimed at aiding corporate profiteering at the expense of the people. Five years of BJP rule under Narendra Modi has effectively derailed this “engine of India’s economic growth” as the BJP manifesto called it. The high hopes generated by their promises have been belied and there is a strong imprint in the minds of the peasantry that BJP-Modi is Kisan Virodhi (anti-farmer) which the BJP is unable to wipe away. This has led to massive protests by the peasantry and the atmosphere created by these struggles will play a decisive role in handing over a resounding defeat to the Narendra Modi led BJP – the most anti-farmer government in independent India.