April 11, 2021

AIKS Puts Forth Six Specific Demands to Modi

THE All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 5, ahead of the nation-wide protest call given by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and made six specific demands apart from their demand to repeal the anti-farmer farm bills. They have warned of intensified struggles in the future if the government fails to fulfill the demands.

Given the background that the Government of India has stopped all discussions with the SKM after January 22, the SKM has given a nationwide call to gherao offices of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) as part of its FCI Bachao Divas. They said that it is in opposition to the central government’s attempts to dismantle the public distribution system, food distribution and MSP procurement. AIKS, as a constituent of the SKM, has fully supported this call.

In an open letter to the PM, the AIKS said, “You are aware that lakhs of kisans have been camping at the various Delhi borders for nearly four and a half months since November 26, 2020, despite the bitter cold, torrential rains and now the scorching heat.” The protesting farmers, being supported by millions of farmers all over the country have been demanding the repeal of the three farm laws, a law guaranteeing MSP and procurement at remunerative prices, and withdrawal of the Electricity and Pollution Bills. “Unfortunately, your government has not conceded even a single of these demands and has stopped all discussion with the SKM after January 22, 2021,” the letter said.

The AIKS said that the attack of the central government on the FCI, MSP, procurement of food grains and the public distribution system began with the report of the Shanta Kumar Committee placed in January 2015. It recommended the following: 1. Reduce the number of beneficiaries under the Food Security Act – from the then 67 per cent to 40 per cent. 2. Allow private players to procure and store food grains. 3. Stop bonuses on minimum support price (MSP) paid by states to farmers, and adopt the cash transfer system so that MSP and food subsidy amounts can be directly transferred to the accounts of farmers and food security beneficiaries. 4. FCI should involve itself in full-fledged grains procurement only in those states which are poor in procurement. In the case of those states which are performing well, like Haryana, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, the states should do the procurement.

“It is evident that the three farm laws enacted by your government would carry forward some of these recommendations. They compromise the FCI, MSP, PDS and procurement of food grains,” the AIKS said to the PM.

The AIKS said that while the central government claims that the cost of handling food storage is huge, Rs 37/kg for rice and Rs 27/kg for wheat, for the last several years, it has not cleared all dues of this FCI expense and as a result the total debt on FCI today is Rs 3.81 lakh crores. “It (FCI) pays more than eight per cent interest on this. On the other hand, for the last several years, the budget of the FCI has been reduced. Recently, it also changed the rules for the procurement of crops which will increase problems of sale by sharecroppers. The FCI’s procurement centres have also been reduced,” the AIKS said.

Highlighting their concerns with the new farm laws, the AIKS said that under the Essential Commodities Amendment Act 2020, the central government has freed up stock limits by all private traders and corporates and permitted annual increase in food grain prices by 50 per cent. It said that this will increase food grain hoarding, profiteering and black marketing. The AIKS also stressed that the new Mandi Act will promote private mandis and will practically wind up government procurement and MSP rates.

“Food grains will be handled totally by the private sector. The Acts will increase control of the private sector in food grains storage, cold storage, food processing and marketing. Ultimately the government plans to wind up subsidised food distribution under PDS and reduce it to a cash transfer scheme under pressure from the WTO and imperialist countries like the USA. It also plans to sell off the FCI warehouses to the private sector to pay off the debts,” the AIKS wrote in the letter.

It reiterated that the central government is responsible for the food security of our country and for this it has to procure food grains, maintain food stocks to tide over scarcities and calamities and distribute and provide food grains to the poor to ensure that people are not forced to remain hungry.
“The budget allocation for food subsidy continues to remain stagnant at around Rs 1,15,000 crore for the last several years and even this amount is not fully spent by the government. There are today 81.35 crore PDS beneficiaries, granted 5 kg food grains per month and they will be forced to buy from the open market if PDS is wound up,” it said.

The PDS supplies around 50 million tonnes of food grains to the poor. The Niti Aayog has already recommended that 60 per cent of the ration cards in urban areas and 40 per cent of the ration cards in rural areas must be reduced. “If the poor have to buy from the open market they will starve and deaths due to hunger will increase. It is only the private corporates, both domestic and foreign, that will benefit,” the AIKS asserted.

The AIKS also alleged that the central government claims incorrectly that there is surplus food in India. “It (central government) states that it has more than double the required food stock of around 42 million tonnes. This is mainly because food has not been adequately supplied to the poor and the needy,” they said. The AIKS reminded that India is shockingly rated at 94 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index. “Its score of 27.2 shows a serious hunger situation in the country and over the last few years this has worsened. It shows that around 35 per cent of our population is undernourished,” the AIKS said.
The AIKS stressed that it is a serious matter of the future of both food growers and food eaters, hence they raise the demands for strengthening the FCI, guaranteeing procurement of all crops at MSP and expanding and making the PDS run efficiently.

The AIKS has come up with six specific demands relating to the FCI, MSP, PDS and procurement. They demanded that the FCI must be strengthened by increasing its budget substantially and utilising it completely. The FCI loan and interest must be fully paid off by the central government and the FCI’s procurement centres must be greatly increased all over the country so that farmers can get some guarantee of MSP, they demanded.

The AIKS also sought that all purchases must be done on remunerative MSP and strict action must be taken against buyers who purchase below that MSP. The process of procurement must be completed in minimum time and it must be ensured that farmers do not face any problems due to lack of bags etc.

The source of food security for millions of people is the PDS service through the FCI. The AIKS demanded that the storage must be continued by the government and run smoothly so that people do not have to suffer from hunger. All attempts to cut down the number of ration cards must be immediately withdrawn, they demanded.

Expansion of PDS towards universalisation and ensuring that the 81.35 crore PDS beneficiaries get 15 kg food grains, and 1 kg each of dal, sugar and cooking oil per head per month until then, is another demand made by the AIKS. 

It demanded a roll back of the provision of direct payment to farmers’ bank accounts. “Implementing it in haste will lead to many complex problems that will prevent many farmers from getting the price of their crops. The decision to submit Jamabandhi for the procurement of wheat must be withdrawn,” AIKS said.
And lastly, the AIKS demanded that the FCI employees and workers who are on contract must be given permanent charges and all vacant posts must be filled up immediately. In the letter to the PM, the AIKS urged him to concede the above demands at the earliest, failing which, it said, the united struggle will be further intensified.