People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 23, 2006
Peasantry & The August Campaign
WHILE the UPA government has taken a few positive steps in the last two years since it came into existence, its record has not been unblemished, as it has taken several steps to the detriment of the common man’s interests. This is true of the agrarian sector in particular, where a crisis is reigning today, hitting our economy the hardest as this sector still supports some two thirds of our population.
UPA REGIME’S PROMISES
In the agrarian sector, the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government made the following promises two years ago:
The government will ensure more public investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure and irrigation. Irrigation will receive the highest investment priority and all ongoing projects will be completed according to a strict time schedule.
The government will ensure that the flow of rural credit is doubled in the next three years and that the coverage of small and marginal farmers in institutional lending is expanded substantially. Immediate steps will be taken to ease the burden of debt and high interest rates on farm loans.
Crop and livestock insurance schemes will be made more effective. Watershed and wasteland development programmes will be taken up on a massive scale. Water management, both for irrigation and drinking purposes, will receive urgent attention.
The government will ensure full implementation of minimum wage law for farm labour. Comprehensive protective legislation will be enacted for agricultural workers.
The government will ensure adequate protection to all farmers from imports, particularly when international prices fall sharply. Farmers all over the country will receive fair and remunerative prices. The terms of trade will be maintained in favour of agriculture.
The government will take steps to ensure that the dues to all farmers, including sugarcane farmers, are cleared at the earliest.
The government will pass a law for conferring ownership rights, in case of minor forest produce, on all the weaker section people working in the forests.
Landless families will be endowed with land through implementation of land ceiling and land redistribution legislations. No reversal of ceiling legislations will be permitted.
Eviction of tribal communities and other forest dwellers from forest areas will be stopped.
It is clear that if only the UPA government had honoured these promises, it could have solved many problems in the agrarian sector and given some relief to the peasantry. What to talk of implementing the above promises made in its Common Minimum Programme, however, the UPA government is following the same policies the previous BJP-led government was following. Instead of increasing, it has reduced allocations for agriculture and rural development and is contemplating to reduce fertiliser subsidies. The public distribution system is being dismantled. The government is also seeking to dismantle the mechanism of minimum support price for procurement of cereals. The union government is pressurising the state governments to change their market laws so that MNCs and big businesses may establish their private markets. There is also a move to allow foreign direct investment in retail trade, which will prove disastrous to the interests of producers, retail traders and consumers alike. What the country needs is a marketing system that, unlike the present marketing system, protects the interests of peasant producers, indigenous industries and consumers.
RECOMMENDATIONS CALLOUSLY IGNORED
In the meantime, the UPA government appointed a National Commission on Farmers under the chairmanship of Dr M S Swaminathan, which has submitted its report to the government. The commission made certain important recommendations to the government, which include the following:
The government must institute a fund, on the line of calamity funds, for assisting the farmers affected by crop losses.
The rate of interest on loans owed by peasants must be reduced to 4 percent simple interest, with government support. No compound interest must be imposed on arrears. Interest on loans in drought and flood hit areas and on crops lost by heavy pests must be waived.
Crop insurance must be expanded to cover the entire country and all crops.
The government must create a fund for stabilising price fluctuation.
It must reintroduce quantitative restrictions on imports of agricultural produce.
It must make a census of suicides to have a proper understanding of the phenomenon, for assessment of reasons and relief measures.
It must undertake an all-India debt survey.
The government must form state level farmers’ commissions for ensuring immediate government response to farmers’ problems.
But the government has not taken any steps to implement these recommendations. Instead of implementing these recommendations, it has appointed a subcommittee to look into the Swaminathan commission’s recommendations. It is nothing but a move to dilute the recommendations.
AGRO SUBSIDIES IN DEVELOPED NATIONS
With the help of their handmaids like the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation, imperialism is today increasingly attacking the people the world over. The agricultural sector in our country is one of the prime targets of assault by imperialist globalisation in this period.
The result is that India is one of the countries worst affected by this phase of imperialism. Large sections of our peasantry, caught in a pincer between higher input prices and lower output prices, are facing an acute crisis. The withdrawal of subsidies on a host of inputs, the rising costs of electricity, irrigation, seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, and the decline in priority sector lending by banks have forced our peasants to go to private moneylenders to borrow at exorbitant interest rates. This has greatly increased the costs of agricultural production.
On the other hand, with the successive central governments succumbing to the WTO’s pressures, quantitative restrictions on imports of agricultural produce have been removed and import duties reduced. As a result, highly subsidised foreign agricultural products have begun to flood the Indian market.
Agricultural subsidies given by the OECD countries have already crossed over 400 billion dollars a year. Of this, the US alone gives around 50 billion dollars. At the WTO meeting held recently in Geneva, the US and European countries refused to reduce the subsidies. On the other hand, the government of India did not have any compunction in reducing the agricultural subsidies here. Over and above, the UPA government is prepared to allow 100 percent FDI in the agrarian sector also. It means the MNCs will be controlling the markets for seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs and also the marketing of agricultural produce.
KNOWLEDGE (!) INITIATIVE
One of the successes being trumpeted since the Bush visit is the Indo-US deal on agriculture, bombastically called the “US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Teaching, Research, Service and Commercial Linkages” (in brief AKI). While both sides claim that it will lead to great advances in Indian agriculture, it is in reality an instrument to subjugate Indian agriculture to the US’s imperialist designs and to the interests of US corporate sector in particular. The AKI board comprises government officials, university representatives and the private sector’s representatives and is co-chaired by the secretary, DARE (Mangala Rai) and deputy under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services of the US. The two private sector representatives from India are from Venkateshwara Hatcheries and ITC. There are three private sector representatives from the US ---one each from Mansanto, WalMart and Archer Daniels Midland Company. The last one is one of the biggest agricultural processing companies in the world.
The Indo-US Knowledge Initiative is thus an integral part of the market driven paradigm of commercial agriculture in India, which will ensure the dominance of large corporate houses or multinational agribusiness firms through patent and other rights on farm inputs as well as their control on the sale of agricultural products through FDI in retail trade.
During the first Green Revolution, India was driven by the public sector, generated technologies with the goal of increasing food production, and these were made available to all farmers. India’s agricultural research infrastructure and institutional set-up greatly expanded in this period and it was unmatched across most of the less developed countries. In addition to a number of central institutions under the umbrella of ICAR, there came into being a large number of state agricultural universities, colleges and other institutions.
But the “Second Green Revolution,” envisaged by George Bush, is going to be based on privately controlled technologies (e g genetically modified products are controlled by only six multinationals) and focussed on commercial gains. It is not surprising that the whole thing is cloaked in secrecy. Further, if US companies are allowed “physical access to India’s gene banks” and patent laws are modified to “introduce patents on genes and seeds,” we will be delivering India’s genetic wealth to US hands.
On this issue, the government of India has neither consulted parliament nor the major stakeholders including the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Commission on Farmers and state governments. The CPI(M) has planned independent and joint campaigns against this new attack on Indian agriculture and the life of our farmers.
CONTOURS OF AN ALTERNATIVE POLICY
Proposed by the All India Kisan Sabha and other organisations, the alternative agricultural policy document has proposed a whole set of policy measures that include the following:
The weaknesses and shortcomings in the land reform measures in non-Left ruled states must be rectified and loopholes plugged. These measures must be made thoroughgoing and land distributed free of cost to agricultural workers and poor peasants.
The state must substantially increase investments in agriculture. Irrigation, power, science and technology, and infrastructure facilities must be expanded.
Necessary subsidies must be provided to increase productivity and production. The interests of small and middle peasants must be protected.
Institutional credit facilities must be expanded and the rate of interest reduced.
The mechanism of minimum support price and procurement must be expanded to cover all major crops.
A comprehensive crop insurance scheme must be implemented.
Because of the ongoing agrarian crisis, more than 30,000 suicides have taken place all over India. During his recent visit to Vidarbha, the prime minister openly admitted that our agriculture is in a deep crisis. Yet he was not prepared to discuss the reasons for it. How could he when the real reason of the crisis is the set of wrong policies being followed by the UPA government!
Struggles are on all over India against these wrong policies of the UPA government. The CPI(M) has called for an all-India campaign in August against the wrong policies of the government. The peasants’ participation in this campaign in huge numbers is a must. So is their participation in the all-India jathas planned by the All India Kisan Sabha in October and November, which will culminate in a massive rally in Delhi on November 15. This should be made the starting point of far bigger and wider struggles of the peasantry in the coming days so that the UPA government is compelled to listen to peasants’ grievances and the communal BJP is prevented from exploiting the mass discontent over such policies, for its nefarious ends.