People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 29

July 19, 2009

  Against Govt Apathy In The Wake Of Drought



The All India Kisan Sabha issued the following press statement on July 10, 2009

EVEN as the country was faced with the bleak prospect of delayed monsoons and drought-like situation, the union Agriculture minister and the government set the tone by expressing completely misplaced and suicidal optimism that the situation was not grave. For a government that has continued with perilous neo-liberal policies even as over 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide, this apathy to the plight of the peasants and agricultural workers is not unexpected.


It is alarming that there has been a huge drop in the acreage under cultivation for various crops. So far the delayed monsoons has led to reduction in paddy transplantation by 13.66 lakh hectares and it has been completed in only 38.14 lakh hectares compared to 51.80 lakh hectares in 2008-09. This is a shortfall of nearly 25 per cent. The intensity of the crisis comes out more starkly when one considers the fact that in the Punjab and Haryana which are regions endowed with assured irrigation; there is a shortfall of 8.17 lakh hectares in paddy transplantation. The shortfall is hence very clearly not merely a response to climatic conditions but to other factors including unremunerative prices, high input costs, skeletal or near absence of procurement mechanism etc.


The shortfall in the case of coarse cereals is nearly 53 per cent and it is covering merely 26.60 lakh hectares as against 56.54 lakh hectares in 2008-09. In the case of bajra the sowing has taken place only in 6.56 lakh hectares which is not even 8 per cent of the 2008-09 figures of 78.9 lakh hectares. Jowar has seen a reduction by nearly 50 per cent at 3.62 lakh hectares when compared to 6.63 lakh hectares in 2008-09. The deficit in maize is 4.17 lakh hectares with the coverage being 14.21 lakh hectares and in the case of oil seeds it is almost down by 45 per cent at 35.58 lakh hectares as opposed to 68.76 lakh hectares in 2008-09. Unremunerative prices have also seen a decline in acreage under sugarcane cultivation in 2008-09 and the MSP of 107/Qtl fixed does not even meet 70 per cent of the costs incurred.


The delayed monsoon and drought-like situation has obviously been a major cause for the reduction in acreage under cultivation. It however, needs to be noted that neo-liberal policies, unremunerative prices, high input costs and ineffective procurement mechanism as well as scuttling of extension facilities for dissemination of scientific technology, drought-resistant varieties and best agronomic practices had already created a situation of acute distress and indebtedness. In times of such an agrarian crisis the climatic conditions have only accentuated the problem and a farm disaster is staring at our resilient farmers.


The response of the government is far from wanting in this regard and certain recent decisions are an indicator of their utter callousness when it comes to the lives of millions of our farmers and agricultural workers. The Finance minister�s budget speech spoke about fertiliser subsidies and the need to streamline it such that farmers get the benefit directly. The budgetary allocations however, show a reduction of fertiliser subsidies by over Rs 25,000 crores when compared to the revised estimates of 2008-09. Similarly in the case of the minimum support price, the government has been claiming that �handsome prices� are being given to our farmers. The reality remains that the recommendations of the CACP has never been accepted in this regard and the MSP fixed is more often than not even lower than the cost of production. The Swaminathan Commission recommendation of C2+50 per cent or the Y K Alagh Commission recommendation to give statutory status to the CACP has been disregarded with contempt. The MSP for Kharif crops has not yet been announced and the delay is only going to lead to distress sales.


The clear pointer is towards the making of a national calamity and the government is culpable of having created the conditions leading to it. The least the government can do is to wake up even at this late hour, recognise that a drought is in the making and take urgent remedial measures to bail out the peasantry. The drastic reduction in acreage under cultivation is bound to have a deleterious impact on the livelihoods of the peasants and the poor as well as on the nation�s food security. The All India Kisan Sabha demands immediate response to the extraordinary situation from the government failing which it will have to face the wrath of the peasantry and the rural poor.



All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) issued the following statement July 11, 2009.


IT is a matter of grave concern that the delayed monsoon accompanied by the failure of the government to provide adequate electricity to cover up the rain loss with ground water has led to a serious situation in which agricultural growth, employment and food security are likely to suffer a serious set-back. This is even more serious as the budget has failed to address the issue of land reforms and the necessary funding to implement the Forest Rights Act.


The monsoon rain in the North has been 46 per cent less, in Central India the loss is 43 per cent, in the North East 35 per cent and in the South 21 per cent.  Unfortunately the government appears to have followed a �wait and watch� policy quite out of keeping with the needs of present-day agriculture where the timing of the crop is of utmost importance.


It is tragic that the break up of state electricity boards in many parts of the country into separate producer and distribution companies has led to a situation where power is sold at a profit and denied to agriculture as a priority at times like these.  The profiteering of distribution companies and lack of incentives for the producers of power has resulted in a false electricity famine for agriculture which could have been avoided in Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and North West Rajasthan, saving the paddy crop.


As a result of the failure to provide adequate electricity only 38.14 lakh hectares was planted with paddy this year compared to 51.80 lakh hectares last year. The highest shortfall of 7.02 lakh hectares being in Punjab, 2.05 lakh hectares in Uttar Pradesh 2.44 lakh hectares in Orissa and 1.15 lakh hectares in Haryana. To avoid such losses the break up of the state electricity boards into separate companies ought to be reversed and agriculture and small production units be given priority.


What is worse is that irrigation has also been ignored. It has consistently been overlooked and lacks government support. Since the Seventh five-year plan of 1985-90, the outlay on agriculture and allied activities has come down from 5.8 per cent of the total plan investment to 3.7 per cent in the Eleventh plan. In 2008 the money spent on minor irrigation was just over half its meagre allocation of Rs 500 crores. These policies must be reversed.


The urgency of the situation requires the immediate provision of adequate electricity and refurbishing the irrigation system on a war footing. This can only be done by funding the NREGA to the tune of Rs 40, 000 crores. So far the government has failed to provide the requisite 100 days of work. Many states have failed to use the funds provided.  Nor have they paid unemployment relief for non-provision of work to those applying for it. The government must ensure better performance as only more work can protect labour from the price rise at once.


Unfortunately, while big concessions have been made to corporates and those earning Rs 10 lakhs and above, the 35 Kilogram cheap grain under Antodaya provisions has been reduced to 25 Kilograms. The public distribution system has all but collapsed in the country. Enough food must be channelled through this system and this policy must be reversed if starvation is to be avoided.


Finally, the failure to provide adequate cheap credit to the rural areas is shameful. In the budget, the Finance minister has offered it at 7 per cent  interest, almost double that is charged to industry. Clearly there is no serious attempt to deal with the distress of farmers, over 2 lakhs of whom have committed suicide because of crop failure and debts incurred. The government must declare drought conditions in those parts of the country where the rainfall is deficient by 30 per cent or more and pay immediate relief so that what remains of the monsoon can be utilised better.


The urgent need of the moment is to:


1. Provide electricity on a war-footing to farmers and small production units in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh in the coming weeks so that planting can take place.


2. Ensure that NREGA funds are increased to Rs 40,000 crores this year with special emphasis on digging tanks to save water, repairing canals etc. A minimum of 100 days work for each unemployed family be provided and states refusing to utilise their funds be forced to ensure unemployment relief as the act requires, to prevent starvation.


3. The Food Security Act and a Comprehensive Central Legislation for Agricultural Labour must be passed immediately and a universal public distribution system ensuring 13 necessaries of life be enacted. The 25 Kilogram scheme in the budget be raised to the 35 Kilogram already being given under Antodaya. The minimum support price should be made remunerative and the PDS price be adequately subsidised.


4. Cheap credit must be provided to rural farmers and agricultural labourers at 4 per cent interest. All debts under Rs 20,000 taken by agricultural labour be cancelled.


5. The budget funding on irrigation be doubled and funds allocated for immediate implementation.


6. Increased funds for the implementation of land reforms and of the Forest Rights Act be allocated and spent fully to ensure justice to the tillers of the soil.