(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 15, 2009
AIKS-AIAWU Charter Of Demands
THE present situation in Indian agriculture is characterised by two important contradictions. The first is the sharp division between the rural rich comprising landlords, big capitalist farmers, large traders and moneylenders and their allies on the one hand and the mass of the peasantry, comprising agricultural workers, poor and middle peasants and rural artisans on the other. The second is the growing opposition to imperialist-driven policies of the government not only from the mass of the peasantry but also from sections of the rural rich.
Today, as the world goes into an economic crisis unprecedented since the Great Depression of 1930s, which is already weakened by a prolonged crisis of its own, these contradictions are being intensified. The burden of the current crisis is being shifted to the peasantry, rural labour and the working class. The neoliberal policies pursued by successive governments have led to stagnation in agriculture as public investment and institutional credit have been systematically withdrawn from the agricultural sector. Trade liberalisation has exposed the peasantry to the volatility of international agricultural prices and highly subsidised import competition. The lack of adequate social expenditure and the crippling of the public distribution system have lead to the impoverishment of the rural poor. The stagnation of agriculture and lack of public expenditure has also translated into growing unemployment for rural labour. The global economic crisis — through domestic deflation, credit squeeze and sharp fall in crop prices — is certain to worsen the state of agrarian distress unless immediate corrective steps are taken.
In the backdrop of the unfolding crisis of the capitalist world today, there is a need to forge worker-peasant unity to unleash mighty struggles against the neoliberal regime in India. The All India Kisan Sabha and the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union had adopted an alternative policy document in 2003 to put forward our alternative vision of agricultural policies and build struggles on that basis. Carrying forward this legacy, the AIKS and AIAWU, raise the following demands and resolve to unite the peasantry and agricultural workers around them in order to provide immediate relief to the rural toilers and to pave the way for a democratic and egalitarian trajectory of development.
Increase Public Expenditure on Agriculture and Rural Development: In the context of slowdown in the Indian economy, a substantial increase in public expenditure on the rural sector both to enhance the purchasing power of the rural poor and to increase productivity in agriculture is required. Investments should not be limited to large scale infrastructure but should also include small and medium scale irrigation projects, other improvements in rural infrastructure and agricultural extension and research. Any fiscal stimulus packages to address the current economic slowdown should contain a special component to meet the needs of the peasantry and the rural poor. State governments should be provided more direct and unconditional resources from the centre to meet essential rural and social expenditures.
Ensure Stable and Remunerative Crop Prices: In order to protect the peasantry from the vagaries of world commodity markets, which are witnessing sharp price falls, the government should follow a procurement policy that ensures that agriculture remains economically remunerative. Public procurement operations should be expanded vigorously and MSP should cover many more crops, including oil seeds, other cash crops and traditional staples. Procurement should be timely and sufficient to ensure that market prices do not fall below the MSP. The commodity boards should be revived to set a floor price for commercial crops. Farmers have to be protected from falling world prices by increasing import tariffs. The Model APMC act which promotes contract farming should be scrapped.
Revert to Universal PDS and Ensure Food Security: The universal PDS should be revived at affordable prices and linked to the ‘capacity to pay’ rather than ‘economic cost’ to ensure food security for the rural and urban poor and to reverse the alarming decline in their nutritional status. The PDS system should be expanded to cover all rural habitations and ration shops should be made viable by allowing them to sell other items. There should be an emphasis on local procurement and distribution of traditional staples and other foodgrains to revive cultivation of these crops and their consumption. Food production should be encouraged by appropriate input and output price policies and technological changes to raise yields.
Provide Comprehensive Debt Relief and Cheap Institutional Credit: Comprehensive measures of debt relief for distressed peasants, agricultural workers, artisans and other rural households, that cover both institutional and private debt should be enacted. Accumulated interest on any loan should not be allowed to exceed the principal and the remaining interest should be written off. The attachment of agricultural land for the non-repayment of debt should be prohibited. An adequate flow of institutional credit to the agricultural sector, at a maximum four per cent rate of interest as recommend by the National Commission of Farmers, should be ensured by strictly enforcing appropriate criteria for priority sector lending.
Oppose Moves for Future Trading In Essential Agricultural Commodities: Many agricultural commodities are still traded in futures markets exposing farmers to speculation-driven price volatility. Futures trading should be banned for all commodities for which there is public procurement.
Provide Crop Insurance To All Farmers: Access to crop insurance should not be based on land titles but should be extended to all farmers with a subsidy for small and marginal farmers. The current rigid norms for crop insurance need to be changed and comprehensive insurance coverage should be provided to all rural dwellers.
Control Input Prices: Ensure provision of high quality inputs at affordable prices at the right time to all cultivators through public production and marketing. Repeal the Seed Bill and introduce farmer-friendly seed legislation. Regulate and monitor private input suppliers and prevent the sale of spurious inputs.
Expand Access to Irrigation And Power Facilities: Ensure equity in access to surface water resources. Register and regulate the use of ground water resources with the aim of public control over ground water and its distribution. Ensure that NREGS is used to restore tanks and other water bodies in sustainable ways. Expand public investment in power and stop privatisation of electricity. Ensure uninterrupted supply of power to agriculture.
Recognise the Rights and Needs of Women Farmers: Most women farmers are not recognised as farmers because they do not have land titles and are seen at best to contribute to family work on the fields. So they do not get access to institutional credit, extension services, subsidised inputs, etc. Ensure recognition of rights of women farmers and improvement of conditions facing them.
Extend the NREGS: The NREGS must be extended to cover all adults (not one per household) and for as many days as required. The list of permissible works should be expanded to include all activities that improve the quality of life in rural areas. The NREGS work should be permitted on land of all small farmers, female-headed farming households, forest dwellers and cooperatives. Minimum wages should be ensured.
Protect Agricultural Workers: The central government must enact a separate, comprehensive law for agricultural workers to ensure for them: minimum wages, the right to bargain collectively and measures of social security such as pensions, accident compensation etc. Adequate funding should be made available in the central budget for funding the social security provisions of this law. Ensure a living wage by revising minimum wages in all states.
Enhance Public Funded Agricultural Research and Extension: Strengthen and expand public institutions for agricultural research and extension. Changes in the intellectual property regime that favour big business must be reversed and it must be ensured that intellectual property rights are not used to thwart innovation or attack the livelihood of the peasantry. Strict regulation of private agricultural research must be ensured with regard to bio-safety, protection of biodiversity and the safeguarding of traditional knowledge rights. Scrap the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture and make public all its records.
Dryland Farming: Focus research and extension on problems of dryland cultivation to ensure sustainable yields and livelihood.
Strengthen Cooperatives through Peasant Mobilisation: Co-operatives in the past have had problems of bureaucratic interference, takeover by large players and control by some politicians. Co-operatives for water use, input purchase, crop storage and output marketing and other on-farm activities like dairy can play positive role for peasantry. Avoiding these problems requires active mobilisation of the peasantry. For this to be successful it has to be accompanied by land reforms to break landlordism.
Carry Out Land Redistribution: Thoroughgoing land reforms must be implemented to break the shackles of landlordism on the agricultural economy and on rural society in general and to create the preconditions for a process of economic development based on mass rural demand and increased productivity in agriculture. Land should be redistributed free of cost to poor peasants and agricultural workers. Adequate support should be provided to beneficiaries of land reform to make their operations viable. There should be a recording of tenancy and protection of the rights of tenants in all states where this has not already been done.
Implement the Tribal Forest Rights Act: The FRA must be stringently implemented throughout the country to ensure that land is vested in the name of tribals and traditional forest dwellers.
Protect the Displaced: Transparent mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that displacement of rural communities occurs only with the consent of the displaced and adequate compensation and rehabilitation is available to the affected community before displacement occurs.
Expand Social Services in Rural Areas: Peasant households to get access to good quality low cost health care through more public expenditure on health. Provide homestead land to all rural households and initiate a major programme of construction of rural dwellings not only under Indira Awas Yojana but also covering small and medium farmers, rural workers and artisans. Provide clean water supply and sanitation to all rural habitations. Provide electricity to every rural household. Ensure access to good quality full school education to all children of farming households and big increase in scholarships for higher education for such youth.