People's Democracy

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


No. 13

March 28, 2010



Peasants Quit Cultivation in Droves


B S Bhullar


SMALL peasants of Punjab are quitting the cultivation job in large numbers because of the ongoing agrarian crisis. On the other hand, the number of landless or homeless agricultural workers in the state is on a steady rise course. These circumstances are causing a spurt in the cases of suicide in Punjab.

According to the information we have, the 1991 census reported the existence of 12 lakh families engaged in agriculture in the state, but the number had come down to only about 9 lakhs 97 thousands when the 2001 census took place. In other words, more than two lakh peasant families had quit the cultivation job in the said one decade. The available information indicates that the families owning less than five acres of land numbered 3 lakhs in the state. Also, 4 lakh 50 thousand families owned land between 5 and 12 acres; 4 lakh 30 thousand families owned 12 to 25 acres each; about 11,000 families owned 25 to 100 acres of land; while 9 thousand families owned more than 100 acres each.

In the abovementioned decade, it was the families owning less than 5 acres that accounted for a majority of those leaving agriculture as a profession. What has happened is that the agrarian crisis forced these families to contract loan, which later compelled them to sell their lands. It was thus that they quit the category of cultivators and joined the ranks of agricultural workers. According to an estimate, the lands of the small and middle peasants are getting concentrated in the hands of those who are owning more than 25 acres of land. Besides, high officials who have amassed wealth through corrupt means, are investing their money in land purchases. It has also been seen that some of them are engaging in usury in a benami manner, thus multiplying their money and then investing this money in purchasing plots, while still continuing their usurious practices. Traders too have been found engaging in this game. In this way, middle peasants are becoming small ones while the small ones are becoming landless.      

The plight of agricultural workers is still worse than that of the small peasants. Some time ago, the agricultural workers living in villages had their own houses while the city workers used to live in dilapidated shanties or rented accommodations. But now the number of homeless workers is swelling in the villages as well. The skyrocketing prices as well as the economically stringent state of the state are adding to the miseries of agricultural workers, and now they are feeling compelled to sell their houses. Even those working in the cities are, with their meagre incomes, finding themselves unable to purchase a plot or construct a house in their original villages. Today, the number of landless agricultural workers lacking a house has gone up to 50,000 in the state. Many of these people are taking shelter in small makeshift accommodations built on the cultivators´┐Ż plots, in cattle sheds and in government properties.

In Punjab, small peasants and agricultural workers account for a majority of those committing suicide. The ongoing economic depression has made their life miserable or in many cases impossible. Many of them are finding it difficult to get rid of their loan burdens and they see no other way out but to end their own lives.

Talking to this writer, some leaders of the peasant organisations have expressed deep anguish over the incessantly deteriorating condition of small peasants and agricultural workers in Punjab. Their opinion is that there should be strict ban on the purchase of land by officers, traders and companies, as one of the measures to prevent or at least somewhat mitigate the growing immiserisation of small peasants. As for agricultural workers, they must be provided at least 200 days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and the minimum wage under it must be fixed at Rs 300.       

(Courtesy: Desh Sewak, Punjabi daily, March 19)