People's Democracy

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


No. 40

October 04, 2009



Make Farming Viable, Prevent Speculation,

Universalise PDS and Increase Employment



N S Arjun


SPEAKERS at a seminar on the 'Agrarian Crisis' stressed the need to wage big struggles in the coming period on four key demands to be wrested from the central government: ensure viability of farming; prevent speculation in commodity prices; universalise public distribution system; and ensure a more employment-intensive pattern of growth. This combination of measures would provide real relief to the people suffering from the severe agrarian crisis and relentless price rise.


Eminent economists Professor Jayati Ghosh (JNU) and Professor Narasimha Reddy (HCU), deputy speaker of Tripura legislative assembly and AIAWU leader Bhanulal Sahu, and APAWU general secretary B Venkat addressed the seminar held on September 24, 2009 in Nellore.


Jayati Ghosh in her presentation elaborated on the four demands. She said achieving food security is possible only by increasing our own agricultural production rather than depending on imports, which usually become costly the moment we enter global markets for foodgrains. And this can be done only by making farming viable. Public procurement and a good minimum support price are essential in achieving this, she said. Despite the government's claim of overall inflation decreasing, the food prices are increasing significantly. The prices of food items have gone up by around 45 per cent in the last five years while wages have increased hardly by 15 per cent. Finding fault with the government's policies for this rampant price rise, the speaker called for struggles to force the government to control speculation by banning future trading in commodities, and stopping the hoarding of food items.


On universalisation of PDS, Ghosh gave figures to prove how it is eminently feasible. As per her study, providing 35 kg of rice for every household in the country would require around 90 million tonnes of rice. This is only half of our total production of rice. Moreover this is a maximum estimate as the rich and higher middle classes may not take this rice as they would prefer finer quality rice. The economic cost of providing this at Rs 2 per kg would entail a subsidy of Rs 1,20,000 crore. At present the subsidy for PDS is coming to around Rs 50,000 crore. So, only another Rs 70,000 crore is needed to universalise the PDS. Although this amount sounds huge, it is only 1.5 per cent of our GDP. Moreover, compared to the largesse of around Rs 3 lakh crore given by the government to the corporates (as per its own budget figures) in the form of taxes foregone, this is not at all a burden. Ghosh questioned when just one company like Reliance is given a largesse of Rs 45,000 crore in the last one year, what prevents the government from spending money in providing food to the poor of the country. The government has decided to side with the big corporates and not with the people. Therefore organisations such as AIAWU have to launch movements forcing the government to concede this demand, she felt.


Professor Narasimha Reddy stressed that the government needs to increase its spending on agriculture and rural infrastructure. It must also provide easy access to cheap credit to farmers by financial institutions. At present around 60 per cent of farmers in Andhra Pradesh go to private moneylenders for credit and they are charged anywhere between 36 to 45 per cent interest on such credit. He stressed that land reforms have to be undertaken in a big way so that everyone gets at least one or two acres of land. The sharecroppers must also be registered, and their rights protected. All these measures would help in overcoming this crisis, which he said is not one of production, but of wages and prices for the produce of the farmers.


Tripura assembly deputy speaker and AIAWU leader Bhanulal Sahu in his speech elaborated on the achievements of Left Front governments in Bengal and Tripura in providing relief to the people despite having limited powers as state governments.  It is because of land reforms in these states that agricultural production has gone up. Also because of these reforsm, there are no starvation deaths or suicides of farmers that one finds in other states. Despite being a land-locked state with only 20 per cent of cultivable land, Tripura has achieved good agricultural production because 80 per cent of cultivable land has been brought under irrigation. Efforts are on to cultivate in the difficult areas of forest land, which accounts to 66 per cent of total land in the state.


He highlighted how the state has performed well in the implementation of NREGA, making it stand at number two position in the entire country. He also highlighted various other developmental activities undertaken by the government. He concluded saying that if the government, complimented by the mass organisations, delivers relief to the people, they can be rallied to defend those governments.


APAWU general secretary B Venkat moderated the discussion.