March 29, 2020

Ensure Immediate Financial Allocation for Food & Livelihood Support: AIKS & AIAWU

Below we publish the text of the letter written by the All India Kisan Sabha and All India Agricultural Workers' Union to the prime minister, on March 26, regarding the Covid-19 and lockdown, seeking mitigation of the suffering of the peasantry and toiling masses.

THE country is reeling under the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The central government’s decision of lockdown declared by you for 21 days across the country to contain the pandemic is inevitable. The All India Kisan Sabha and All India Agricultural Workers’ Union understand its need and appeal to all working people including peasantry to earnestly ensure successful implementation with strict discipline. In the context of the lockdown of various sectors, the life of people would come to a standstill for a long period. Government has suspended commutation of people from place to place. All these measures are going to impact rural economy in general and agrarian economy in particular very badly.

Standing crop worth thousands of crores is ready for harvesting. But the restriction imposed by state governments and the central government is going to make the task of harvesting impossible in many parts of the country. Agricultural workers are also deprived of work and wages in such a circumstance. The plucking of commercial crops like cotton, chilly, daily collection and processing of rubber, harvesting wheat and rice is fraught with the shortage of labour. Coupled with this, the yearlong labour and investments on crops by farmers are going to be ruined and food security will also be adversely affected. Even if some farmers manage to harvest, they are not in a position to sell it due to restrictions on transportation and unavailability of workforce to commute goods. Hence the farmers and agricultural workers are going to be affected severely. The livelihood opportunities for agricultural workers and the investment on crops made by farmers are at stake.

Many sectors like dairy, vegetables, floriculture, fisheries, poultry, egger nursery, meat, animal farms etc also are facing severe losses. The daily-wage workers in various sectors also are losing their job and earnings due to the lockdown thus putting the daily sustenance of their families in peril.

Though the union government has constituted a task force under the finance ministry to workout possible assistance to the economy, so far no proposal has been formulated and placed before the nation except certain tax concessions and extension of due dates. Your address merely mentioned that the nation will incur financial burden without stating any plan to financially support the millions of peasants and the working people who are suffering due to the nationwide lockout.  People are eagerly waiting to know the composition, terms of reference of the task force and how they are consulting the stakeholders etc. Since your announcement of the task force on March 20, it is shocking that none of the above details nor even declaration of an immediate interim relief package has been part of your address to the nation. Kerala and a few other states have come up with allocation and steps to address the food and livelihood security concerns. The central government should assist states with financial support and technical knowhow and help them to overcome the crisis. In states that are still lagging behind on this front the effective model of Kerala can be adopted with central assistance on a war-footing.

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) activists along with cadres of all other fraternal mass and class organisations are willing to work as health volunteers. The health department and district collectorates may coordinate to facilitate the training and provide the technical knowhow to meet the extraordinary situation. With a spread across the length and breadth of the country this could emerge as an important network in the present juncture.

The AIKS and AIAWU demands from the union government to include the following points and announce a special interim finance package to address the sufferings of the peasantry and working people in the context of the lockdown. 

1. Immediately declare Rs 3,50,000 crore to provide Rs 5000 as assistance for one month food and livelihood security to 70 crore adult citizens.
2. Provide free ration of all provisions to all households for six months.
3. Declare harvest of standing crops as an essential service like Kerala has done, revoke lockdown and provide farmers and agricultural workers protection for the same. Provide harvesting equipments and supply seed for the coming season free of cost.
4. Invoke unemployment benefit clause under MGNREGA to pay allowances for agricultural workers losing work due to lockdown.
5. Ensure Covid-19 testing facilities at district and block centres across the country as per requirements.
6. Union government and state governments have to take stern steps to curb black marketing and declare maximum retail price of each and every essential commodities in order to prevent hoarding and artificial price rise.  Ensure strict action against the violators. Ensure sufficient supply of essential commodities.
7. Provide free safety equipments to farm workers and peasants in order to undertake unavoidable agriculture operations including harvesting of vegetables, milk and other perishable food materials through block and district administration.
8. Have an assessment of the crop loss due to the lockout and ensure compensation under crop insurance scheme.  
9. Issue direction to the banks and RBI to revise crop loan guidelines to issue fresh crop loans irrespective of pending instalments to start the fresh cropping season.
10. Declare moratorium on recoveries of crop loan and all loans under different schemes for one year at least.

Hope you will do the needful to mitigate the suffering of the peasantry and toiling masses.