Taking to the streets: Year of changed farm laws, agitated farmers
The farming community has been up in arms against what they see as an attempt to strike at the root of their livelihood
Indian farmers, instead of ploughing the land and harvesting produce, are on the streets as the year draws to a close, expressing resentment against the ruling class. When the whole economy was crippled and the GDP had shrunk by a whopping 24%, agriculture marked a growth rate of 3.4%, beating the bottlenecks imposed by the pandemic during the first quarter of 2020.
When life was threatened and people were afraid to get out of their houses, farmers went to their fields, produced 292 MT (million tonnes) foodgrains, 320 MT fruits and vegetables, 187 MT milk, 32 MT sugar, and several other life sustaining commodities. It would have been disastrous if there was scarcity of supply and prices of food had skyrocketed in this period.
Instead of acknowledging this contribution and compensating the invaluable service of the peasantry, the government’s attempt to install an element of misgiving and apprehension on their livelihood has deeply hurt the sentiments of farmers. This is reflected in the ongoing agitation in Delhi, following far-reaching changes made to farm laws that govern agrarian relations and farm commodity marketing, that too without discussions, during the lockdown.
In the State too, amendments were brought to Karnataka Land Reforms Act, 1961, which dilutes the rules governing ownership of agricultural land. It has created fears of paving the way for corporate farming. The amendments brought in by the State government is a death knell to social justice that moves away from peasant farming, which has proved to be most sustainable across the world. The experience in the USA and other countries has shown that corporate farming is a failure economically, unsustainable environmentally, and unjust socially.
Farmers see a “design” not only to slowly withdraw the government’s role in protecting their interests but also to give it away to the powerful corporate lobby. Added to this, the fear of losing their land and the corporate takeover of farm sector have further broadened the trust deficit on the ruling dispensation that already existed due to unfulfilled promise on remunerative MSP (as recommended by noted farm scientist Prof. Swaminathan) and hollow assurances such as doubling their income in five years.
Before the opportunity to heal the hurt and seal the trust deficit in agitating farmers withers away completely, a responsible government must sincerely attempt to at least infuse an element of hope in agitating farmers of India, as the year that has seen far reaching changes in farm laws draws to a close.
As per a study by the Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, nearly 75% of farmers in Karnataka are below the poverty line, if income from agriculture alone is taken into account. The study also highlights the fact that there exists a wide disparity in income between farmers and the rest, as the average income of farmers forms just 32% of the per capita income in the State.
Precisely for this reason, the National Commission on Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan, while making far-reaching recommendations ensuring a minimum 50% profit margin while announcing minimum support price (MSP), was also categorical in highlighting the “pay parity” and placed on record that “the net income of farmers should be comparable to those of civil servants.” Farmers’ organisations are very blunt in asking that their average income should be equivalent to the salary of the lowest category of government employees. It’s time for introspection not only for the government but also all those who are concerned to seek answers as to why such a genuine claim of farmers is yet to be heard sympathetically.
Nothing could stir hope in agitating farmers other than an assurance of a remunerative MSP for their toiling efforts as per the recommendation of Prof. Swaminathan that incorporates all costs and a decent margin followed by a clear-cut means to ensure the same. A legal recourse to ensure the right for such a MSP followed by comprehensive procurement programs is long due.
Rather than a whimsical loan waiver for the purpose of electoral games, a comprehensive Act to relieve farmers from indebtedness by one-time complete waiver of outstanding loans and ensuring that they won’t fall prey again, as demanded by the coalition of farmers’ organisation in 2018, needs to be considered seriously.
(Prakash Kammaradi is retired professor of agricultural economics, UASB, and former chairman, Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, GoK.)