People's Democracy

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


No. 06

February 07, 2010

Convene Special Session of Parliament

to Discuss Agrarian Crisis: P Sainath


RENOWNED journalist, Magsassay award winner and an authority on rural distress, P Sainath, has called upon the government of India to urgently convene a special session of parliament to exclusively discuss on the present agrarian crisis and the steps needed to overcome it. �When the parliament can almost devote an entire session to sort out the trouble between Ambani brothers on sharing of KG Basin gas (which, by the way, is people's property), why can't it discuss the problems facing the nearly 60 crore farmers of the country?� he asked angrily. He also lambasted the UPA government for giving out roughly 30 crore rupees as subsidy every one hour to corporates and capitalists while seeking to cut subsidies to farmers. This is as per calculations on around Rs 4,00,000 crores given as tax concessions by the government in the previous budget. 

Sainath made this demand recently while addressing a seminar on 'Impact of Economic Reforms on Peasant Farming' in Guntur organised on the sidelines of the 32nd all India conference of All India Kisan Sabha. Professor Laxman Rao, MLC, presided over the seminar which was also addressed by agricultural scientist Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

He made two other demands from the government in order to mitigate the present crisis were: One, declare agriculture as public service on par with teaching and nursing and provide minimum wages, pensions and other benefits to farmers; Two, increase investment in agriculture to 15 per cent of GDP. These measures, along with changes in farming by farmers to make it more sustainable, would defeat the adverse impact of economic reforms on agriculture, he asserted.

Sainath began his talk with a telling statistic as an example to prove the impact of reforms: One quintal of cotton sold in 1979 could fetch 15 grams of gold. Today, even if 15 quintals of cotton is sold, it would fetch only around 8 grams of gold. What constitutes the present agrarian crisis can be explained in one sentence, he felt:  the capture of farming by the corporate world. All aspects of farming have been taken over from the farmers by the corporates directly or through government. Seeds (now in the hands of Monsanto), fertilisers (Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas etc), water and irrigation (states like Maharashtra and Andhra are enacting laws to privatise water), electricity (entry of private power companies), credit (private money lenders hold sway in view of lack of government credit), retail sales (again Ambanis and others), markets (post APMC Act private players hold sway) etc were listed and explained as to how they have been usurped. The tenant farmers are the worst-affected with this, he said.

Today, only land and growing debt is all that the farmers are left with. The government which had around 14 per cent of public investment in agriculture in 1990, is now reduced to around 6 per cent. This is after the onset of so called economic reforms in 1991. During the last twenty years, the government was even reluctant to utter the word �land reforms�. The situation has become so grave that in the period between 1991-2001 around 80 lakh farmers have quit farming. This figure is from the official census data of both 1991 and 2001.

Even before the onset of global financial crisis and its impact on India,  around 20 lakh jobs have been lost in Maharashtra in the last 36 months since March 2008. Even before the drought of 2009, food production in Maharashtra fell by a whopping 24 per cent. In the Anantapur district in AP, where only single crops are possible, crops have failed successively in 2008 and 2009. It translates to zero income for farmers for the last 36 months. Many would have died, felt Sainath, but for the existence of NREGA, putting great pressure on its continuation in the present form. This crisis is also affecting the artisans also as their income has gone down drastically.

Sainath attacked the UPA government for its utter neglect of the agrarian crisis. He said it spent around 200 crore rupees tom-tomming its Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver scheme given to farmers before elections in the 2009 budget. �In 30 years, this was the first time that the government gave this amount to farmers. But every year it hands over around four lakh crore rupees to corporates in terms of direct and indirect tax concessions. This is not taking into account the other concessions in the form of free land for SEZs and tax holidays etc�, he said.

(N S Arjun)