People's Democracy

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


No. 08

February 20, 2011


Agricultural Labour: No Alternative to Struggle


Suneet Chopra



RURAL development and agriculture are the most neglected spheres of activity under the UPA-II government. This neglect is criminal if one sees how, despite a seven per cent to nine per cent growth of the economy, the share of agriculture in our GDP has declined from 41.34 per cent to 17.1 per cent between 1982-83 and 2008-09 and is now just over 15 per cent while the number of people relying on agriculture for a living has remained high. This reflects the relatively disadvantaged position of our agrarian sector, which the vast majority of Indian people depend on. What is most reprehensible is that this is obviously the result of the government’s policy of resorting to cut-backs on public investment in this sphere under the pretence that a reduction in government funds in agriculture would encourage private investors to fill the gap.


It has, but to the detriment of the majority of peasants, nearly 63 per cent of whom are owners of less than one hectare of land. The government’s squeeze on aid, its relentless raising of diesel prices, of refusing to reopen Indian fertiliser production units and failing to provide enough electricity to counter drought and expand minor irrigation to cope with floods has led to the widespread ruin of peasants, not to speak of their crops being faced with open market uncertainties and price controls by corporates, wholesalers and hoarders. 48 per cent of the peasants are indebted and over two hundred thousand have committed suicide in the last decade, while three hundred thousand are forced to sell their land each year and over 20,000 have died of hunger in the same period.




One would have thought a government worth the name should have acted fast and in time to reverse policies that have led to these. Instead we find the Congress president, the National Advisory Council, the prime minister, the Planning Commission and the ministers of rural development and agriculture, making a show of bickering among themselves, allowing the loot of farmland as real estate, the collapse of food security and the public distribution system and fluctuating prices, with a will to hand over small-holdings to land mafias and corporates for a song. So, high growth is being encouraged among the rich and restricted exclusively for their benefit and accumulation, while the poor are the defenceless victims of these profiteers.  


On the other hand, 836 million live on Rs 20 per person per day, of whom a miserable 239 million live on Rs 9 per person per day. The figures of the landless increased steadily from 74.6 million in 1991 to 107.4 million in 2001, according to census figures. And   there is every reason to believe the same trend will continue in the 2011 census as well. But there are no bail out packages for the ruined peasantry like those for the fraudsters and mafias. All allocations for schemes for poverty alleviation have been cut down. MNREGA, whose allocation increased by 46 per cent in 2007-08 and 137 per cent in 2008-09 shrank to 30 per cent in 2009-10 and to a mere 3 per cent in 2010-11. In the same period, the allocation for Indira Awas Yojana that increased by 34 per cent in 2007-08 and 126 per cent in 2008-09, saw no growth in 2009-10 and only 14 per cent in 2010-11. The tally for most such schemes is the same. That this should happen in a period when rural employment collapsed from 2.32 per cent in 1987-1994 to 0.20 per cent in 1994-2000 and has come down sharply in terms of days of work available is unthinkable.


This has resulted from a conscious policy of starving out the vast mass of peasants, forcing them to sell off their assets to corporates and landlords and become landless labourers wandering from pillar to post looking for work to survive in the most miserable conditions while their assets are being gifted to those who need concessions least in the name of ‘development’ over and above their plunder of public money in scandal after scandal. This, they have been allowed to do in the name of privatisation which according to the Planning Commission and other ‘reform’- oriented politicians will allow private accumulation by a few and would automatically trickle-down to people from whose possession it was plundered in the first place!


Obviously this does not happen. The wealth that was meant to trickle down was siphoned off to Swiss and other foreign banks. The government of India knows their names but refuses to act. May be, it hopes to milk them selectively to finance the coming elections. This, of course, would be no less than siphoning off fraudulently accumulated money to practice a political fraud on the people as well.


We are duty bound to defend the equal rights we have got under the Indian constitution. The proper use of the one person one vote principle would be to defend the legislation in the peoples favour that has already been passed by successive governments like land reforms, the Forest Act, trade union laws, the setting up of the public sector, the public distribution system, employment guarantee, legislation to strengthen panchayati raj institutions and the Right to Information Act. The laws would neither have been passed nor implemented without the organised strength of the working class and peasantry and the Left Front governments in the country fighting consistently to pass and implement these laws. So their defence too is part and parcel of this struggle.


Left to themselves, the present UPA-II government at the centre has done its best to dilute laws passed under Left pressure by UPA-I, even going back on many provisions of its own common minimum programme. The NREGA has had its provisions for wages curtailed violating the provisions of both the NREGA Act and that of minimum wages. Its social audit provisions to prevent corruption have been diluted, resulting in a decline in the efficiency of implementing the law, with the percentage of utilisation of funds going down from 82.12 per cent in 2007-08 to 73.73 per cent in 2008-09 and 67.72 per cent in 2009-10. The percentage of assets completed also went down from 46.04 per cent to 43.76 per cent and 41.42 per cent in the same period, while the days of work per family came down from 48 in 2008-09 to 46 in 2009-10.




We have a similar scaling down of funds and performance for other welfare schemes as well, including the subsidy for food.  Not only has the per capita availability of food grains gone down sharply from 510.1 gms per person per day in 1991 to 411.2 gms per person per day in 2002, but the government has reduced the food subsidy further from Rs 56002 crores to Rs 55578 crores between 2009 and 2010.  This compounded with other policies like the opening up of the agrarian market to foreign imports, speculation on the necessaries of life, the refusal to disburse large amounts of grain lying in government stocks which even the Supreme Court demanded be distributed among the poor free of charge rather than being allowed to rot outside godowns, and the raising of petrol and diesel prices repeatedly has fuelled a food price rise of nearly 20 per cent, has made life impossible for the poor who now constitute 69.5 per cent of the Indian people if we go by the 2200 calorie norm.


True, this is part of a general phenomenon in a globalised world whose economies are geared to the principles of free trade, private profit and “the devil take the hindmost”. Already, according to the World Bank that forced these policies into the world, some 44 million people have been pushed below the poverty line by the price rise which is only a polite way of saying the people are being plundered by hoarders, speculators and profiteers. Now even the World Bank Group president, Robert B Zoellick has to admit that “while not the primary cause for the political instability we see today in the Middle East, rising prices have nevertheless been an aggravating factor that could become more serious.” But again, like our prime minister, the World Bank has no steps to offer to control profiteering. After all, they represent their interests, whatever the consequences.


The profiteers and governments that support them may have time to tinker with the problem, but not the people. For them, it is a life and death matter. The only way they can be effective is by uniting and fighting for their demands. On November 30, agricultural labour came to Delhi in force. On February 23, the trade unions are coming out. On March 11, the peasantry will add its strength to this growing mass of protestors. A big movement across the board must be developed as the masses are restive. The organised force of the working class, peasants and agricultural labour must come forward with their demands unitedly and fight till they win. They are, after all, the majority of our people. Matters of life and death facing them leave us with no other alternative than that of coming together in solidarity with each other. Agricultural labour, having no alternative but to fight, must seize the time, build up the momentum and move forward to cement the unity of workers and peasants as never before.