People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 32

August 09, 200

Kisan Sabha Organises March to Parliament

 

THE All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) organised a forceful protest at Jantar Mantar on August 3, against the UPA government’s apathy to the plight of farmers affected by drought, floods and cyclone. It also highlighted the problem of skyrocketing prices and the failure of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) to reach out to the needy people. The protest march culminated in a meeting addressed, among others, by AIKS president S Ramachandran Pillai, general secretary KVaradha Rajan, CITU general secretary Mohammed Amin, AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra, AIDWA general secretary Sudha Sundaraman, DYFI leader Pushpender Tyagi, AIKS vice president and Rajasthan MLA Amra Ram, former Haryana MLA Choudhary Harpal Singh, and Dharampal Singh (UP Kisan Sabha). AIKS joint secretaries N K Shukla and Noorul Huda conducted the meeting.

 

AGRARIAN

CRISIS

Addressing the meeting, S Ramachandran Pillai emphasised that the present spate of natural calamities, particularly the drought, has to be seen in the context of the acute agrarian crisis that has gripped the countryside for over a decade with the implementation of neo-liberal policies and also of the global recession. In such a context, there is the need for extraordinary and timely measures to save the farmers in distress. The UPA government has, however, failed to do justice to the mandate it received and has betrayed the rural poor as well as the peasantry, he said. However, while the government remained insensitive to the farmers’ plight, it is talking of bailing out private airlines. This exposes its class character and shameless doublespeak of being pro-people. The non-remunerative prices of agricultural produce, lack of extension services and costly inputs have added to the crisis and made agriculture unviable. The plight of sugarcane farmers has been worsened by unrealistic and low MSP and there has been a fall in production. All major crops have been witnessing falling productivity, he said, warning that the government will have to face the wrath of the peasantry if they don’t wake up and provide relief to farmers.

K Varadha Rajan reiterated the demands that seeds, fertilisers and other inputs be given free of cost to the farmers in drought affected areas. He also demanded an expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to absorb all the agricultural workers rendered jobless. Procurement of crops, including pulses, oil and coarse cereals for the PDS at attractive prices was another issues raised by him.

Speakers from other mass organisations expressed solidarity with the farmers and called for united struggles against the pro-rich, anti-people policies of the UPA government. A memorandum with the charter of demands was presented to the agriculture minister.

 

MISPLACED

OPTIMISM

According to the AIKS, even as the country is faced with the bleak prospect of delayed monsoons and a drought-like situation, the union agriculture minister and the government have 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 two lakh farmers have committed suicide, this apathy to the plight of the peasants and agricultural workers is not unexpected. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Manipur and parts of some other states have been affected by the deficient rainfall. Manipur has declared all its districts drought affected while Assam and Jharkhand have declared drought in 14 and four districts respectively. Uttar Pradesh has also declared drought in 47 districts.

It is alarming that there has been a huge drop in the acreage under cultivation for various crops. The government has, belatedly, agreed to the fact and stated that deficient rainfall has led to a decline in acreage of crops sown from 484.37 lakh hectares last year to 432.26 lakh hectares this year, which is a shortfall of 52.11 lakh hectares. While being forced to admit that the reduced sowing will lead to a fall in production, however, the government realistic about assessing the impact of delayed sowing on productivity also. The ‘contingency plan’ being drawn up to be ‘operationalised’ in areas where the dry spell is getting prolonged has taken far too long to be made public.

So far the delayed monsoons have led to a reduction in paddy transplantation by 30.58 lakh hectares; it has been completed in only 114.63 lakh hectares this season compared to 145.21 lakh hectares in the same season last year. The intensity of the crisis comes out more starkly when one considers the fact that in Punjab and Haryana too, which are regions endowed with assured irrigation, there is a shortfall in paddy transplantation. Shortfall has been reported from UP (--8.75 lakh ha), Bihar (--6.39 lakh ha), Chhattisgarh (--5.87 lakh ha), West Bengal (--2.80 lakh ha) and some other states. Thus, very clearly, the shortfall is not merely a response to the climatic conditions but to other factors including non-remunerative prices, high input costs, skeletal presence or near absence of procurement mechanism etc. The agriculture minister’s response that oilseeds, pulses and coarse cereals must be cultivated in areas where rice crop was affected is mechanical and devoid of any knowledge of the ground realities.

Apart from rice, bajra is reported to cover only 34.67 lakh ha area compared to the last year’s area of 46.01 lakh ha at this time. The coverage under maize and jowar is reported to be 46.18 lakh ha and 16.57 lakh ha respectively, compared to the last year’s area of 47.41 lakh ha under maize and 17.16 lakh ha under jowar. The coverage under oilseeds including soybean and groundnut is 107.10 lakh ha compared to the last year’s area of 110.32 lakh ha. The area coverage so far under Pulses is 38.38 lakh ha compared to last year’s area of 40.73 lakh ha. Also, non-remunerative prices have led to a decline in acreage under sugarcane cultivation in 2008-09 and the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 107 per quintal does not meet even 70 per cent of the cost incurred. Its area has declined from 43.79 lakh hectares to 42.5 lakh hectares in the current season.

The fall in acreage of pulses, hitherto seen as a cheap source of proteins, has led to skyrocketing of prices. Most of the pulses, especially red gram, can be cultivated only in the kharif season and it also cannot be imported, thereby leading to an exorbitant rise in its prices. This is bound to affect the people’s food security and livelihood.

 

MISSION’S FAILURE

ON FOOD SECURITY

The National Food Security Mission (NFSM), created purportedly to function in a ‘mission mode,’ aiming at increasing the production of food grains by at least 20 million tonnes by the end of the Eleventh Plan. is staggered to a point of irrelevance. According to the Economic Survey 2008-09, except for a marginal increase in the case of rice, all other food grains have seen a decline in production vis-à-vis target for 2008-09.

The ministry of agriculture came up with an advertisement on July 25, about NFSM-Rice providing ‘tips that help in good harvest’ and talking of assistance to the farmers from the NFSM. Ironically, it comes at a time when there has been a drastic reduction in acreage under paddy cultivation, and it is too late in the day. If the ministry expects that the assistance and technology transfer will take place effectively by merely placing newspaper advertisement (after having already dismantled the extension mechanism), it is either naïve or making a mockery of the farmers’ plight.

The Mission has failed to bring about any improvement in the situation, especially in the case of pulses. The Technology Mission on Oilseeds, Maize, Oil Palm and Pulses has also not achieved the desirable ends. While there has been a fairly substantial increase in the production of oilseeds, the domestic production is far short of the domestic demand for edible oils. The Eleventh Plan document admitted that despite the Mission “pulses production in the country has continued to be stagnant for decades suggesting that the pulses mission has not been effective.”

The delayed monsoons 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, non-remunerative 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.

 

INADEQUATE

RESPONSE

The response of the government is far from the requirement in this regard and certain recent decisions are an indicator of its utter callousness when it comes to the lives of millions of our farmers and agricultural workers. The finance minister’s budget speech spoke of 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 compared to the revised estimates of 2008-09.

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 Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (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’s recommendation of C2+50% or the Y K Alagh commission’s recommendation to give statutory status to the CACP has been disregarded with contempt. The MSPs for kharif crops have not yet been announced and the delay is 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.

In such a context, there is an urgent need to chalk out effective contingency plans and the AIKS demands immediate response to the extraordinary situation from the government to provide relief to the peasantry and the rural poor.

 

CHARTER

OF DEMANDS

The grim situation, described above, explains the rationale behind the protest organised by the AIKS and of the charter of demands it presented to the agriculture minister. The demands are listed below.

1) Central initiative on an immediate basis to identify the intensity of the problem and take specific measures to provide relief to the drought, flood and cyclone affected areas on a war footing.

2) Constitution of a body to look into the matters of drought relief and for state specific relaxation of norms for dealing with reduced acreage as well as productivity due to deficient rainfall.

3) Widening the scope of the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF) and making allocations commensurate to the demands of specific situations.

4) Declaration of the regions deficient in rainfall leading to cancellation of sowing operations as drought-hit, and compensation to farmers and agricultural workers who have been affected.

5) Providing free seeds, fertilisers and other inputs to farmers; providing fodder free of cost in the drought-affected areas.

6) Announcement of loan waivers and provision of interest free loans in affected areas.

7) Providing free and uninterrupted supply of power; assistance to the states by providing additional power from the central pool. Providing additional diesel subsidy to farmers.

8) Immediate announcement of remunerative prices for the crops immediately. Expansion of the crops being procured, with the inclusion of pulses, coarse cereals like bajra, jowar and ragi at assured prices.

9) Expansion of the NREGS 100-day employment guarantee limit to ensure employment to agricultural workers who have been rendered unemployed due to drastic fall in cultivation.

10) Strengthening the PDS; distribution of food grains including coarse cereals, pulses and oil to all needy families to protect food security.

11) Immediate government intervention by sending a team to assess the damages in floods and cyclone in some states; announcement of a special package to cover the losses in such areas.

12) Inclusion of frost in the list of natural calamities as it is a source of immense damage to certain crops in winter.