People's Democracy

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


No. 33

August 16, 200

Noble Thoughts Don’t Fill Hungry Stomachs: AIKS


IN a statement issued by its president S Ramachandran Pillai and general secretary K Varadha Rajan on August 8, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has welcomed the fact that, though belatedly, the UPA government has finally woken up to the reality of the ongoing drought situation in a large part of the country. The organisation was referring to the recent meeting of the state chief secretaries called by the centre to discuss the matter. It has, however, recalled that peasant organisations like the Kisan Sabha and different political parties have all through been warning of an impending national calamity, only to find the government in a denial mode.

At the same time, the AIKS statement drew attention to certain crucial facts that underline the gross inadequacies of the government’s approach to the drought calamity.

First, paddy has witnessed a drastic reduction in sowing and the deficit is reported to be more than six million hectares, which is quite alarming. The PM has betrayed the farmers’ hopes that there would be an announcement of a bonus for paddy growers and there would be an increase in the minimum support price (MSP). It, however, needs to be seen that the deficit is not a paddy-specific phenomenon and there are huge deficits on case of all the major crops. So, contingency plans with only paddy growing areas under consideration will be inadequate and large areas cultivating other crops, including pulses, oilseeds and coarse cereals, will be left out. The talk of alternative crops where traditional crops could not be sown due to deficit rainfall is not an easy proposition and, faced with unviable terms of agriculture, farmers will be resistant to such ideas.

Further, the prime minister has reiterated the oft-repeated assertions of the government about ‘substantial increase’ in the MSP leading to record production and procurement of food grains. But, given the fact that the prices are not remunerative and in some cases are less than even the cost of cultivation, the peasantry would disagree. The M S Swaminathan commission’s recommendations on calculating the MSP as well as the CACP recommendations on MSP are far more realistic in this regard and it would do good if the government took them with due seriousness. Also, the question is not merely of availability but also of accessibility and affordability for the affected people.

The Kisan Sabha has welcomed the decision to reimburse 50 per cent of the cost that the state would incur in providing diesel subsidies to the affected farmers. It also said free and uninterrupted supply of power must be guaranteed in the affected areas so that the ground water resources may be harnessed for irrigation purposes. The talk of excessive use of ground water, falling water tables and ensuing degradation of soil in the same breath while talking about drought, is a clever move to cover up the inadequacies of the government in generating adequate irrigational infrastructure. Water management can be spoken of only after assured irrigation and mechanism for disseminating correct agronomic practices is in place.

The prime minister has mentioned the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Food Security Mission. Created purportedly to function in a ‘mission mode,’ the National Food Security Mission aims at increasing the production of food grains by at least 20 million tonnes by the end of the Eleventh Plan. This 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 the target set for 2008-09.

Moreover, 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 desirable ends. While there has been a fairly substantial increase in 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.” This is a clear pointer to the fact that in the absence of extension facilities for dissemination of scientific technology, drought resistant varieties and best agronomic practices such missions will be rendered ineffective.

The AIKS statement also drew attention to an advertisement the ministry of agriculture came up with on July 25, about NFSM-Rice. It provided “tips that help in good harvest” and talked of assistance to farmers from the NFSM. Ironically, this ad came when there has been a drastic reduction in the acreage under paddy cultivation and it was too late in the day. The AIKS opined that the ministry is either naïve or making a mockery of the farmers’ plight if, by merely placing newspaper advertisements, it expects that the assistance and technology transfer would take place effectively, that too after it has already dismantled the extension mechanism.

The talk of planning for the rabi season to compensate for the loss in production during the kharif season would serve no purpose if the availability of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs come at exorbitant costs. The AIKS said the availability of credit is not enough, and that there has to be a waiver of loans and provision of interest free loans in affected areas. Under the extraordinary circumstances obtaining at present, farmers in the affected areas must be provided with free inputs and must also be guaranteed assured prices for their produce, which will generate the required confidence among the farmers to cultivate. However, the government has delayed an announcement of the kharif prices and also refrained from announcing the rabi prices in advance, thereby failing to generate a conducive atmosphere for cultivation.

The organisation pointed out that the tone and tenor of the prime minister’s address is seeking to portray the government as one with noble intentions. It said the statements like “in no case should we allow our citizens to go hungry,” or that they would “take strong action against hoarders and black marketers,” would be worth welcoming if they are matched by actions in that direction. However, the prime minister has conceived and presided over the implementation of policies that have long dismantled the procurement as well as the distribution system. Under the so-called targeted public distribution system (TPDS), food has become inaccessible to large sections of the population. The prices of oil and pulses have skyrocketed, taking them out of reach for the poor. The AIKS has demanded that edible oil and pulses should immediately be included under the purview of the PDS and that the government must also distribute food grains including coarse cereals, pulses and oil to all needy families to protect food security. There is also an immediate need to expand the crops being procured with the inclusion of pulses, coarse cereals like bajra, jowar and ragi at assured prices.

The organisation has taken exception to the fact that the government has gone ahead with futures trading in food grains and that there has been no effort whatsoever to curb black-marketing and hoarding. The earlier BJP-led NDA government had diluted the provisions of the Central Essential Commodities Act with the support of the Congress and, without taking remedial steps to reverse such a dilution, the prime minister is now calling upon the states to take action. In the light of these realities, the statement said, the prime minister’s address is only playing to the gallery by making the right noises but with little follow-up action.

The AIKS has demanded 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. It has reiterated that there is need to constitute a body to look into the matters of drought relief and for state specific relaxation of norms for dealing with the reduced acreage as well as productivity due to deficient rainfall. The scope of the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF) must be widened and allocations made commensurate to the demands of specific situations. The regions deficient in rainfall, leading to cancellation of sowing operations, must be declared as drought hit and compensation provided to the farmers and agricultural workers who have been affected. The 100-day employment guarantee limit under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) must be expanded to ensure more days of employment to the agricultural workers who have been rendered unemployed due to the drastic falls in cultivation.