(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 29, 2012
Unabated Farmer Suicides Point
to a Looming Agrarian Crisis
Sheikh Saidul Haque
BEFORE going into details about the present agrarian
The agriculture sector has witnessed growth rate of only 2 per cent per annum during Ninth Plan period and about 2.3 per cent during the Tenth Plan against a target of 4 per cent. In the first few years of the current Eleventh Plan period, the average growth was 2.2 per cent, which is much below the expected rate. In fact, the average economic growth during the last four years ranged between 7 per cent to 9 per cent per annum, but there is hardly 2 to 2.2 per cent growth in the agriculture sector during this period.
Farming is no longer a preferred profession in
The farmers are not getting remunerative price for their produce. The prices of paddy, potato, jute, cotton and many other agricultural products have fallen to a large extent. Even the farmers are compelled to sell their produce at rates that are much below the support price. Almost 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide all over the country in last few years. Out of 28 states, farmer suicides are going on unabated in 15 states. It is so increasing that two farmers commit suicide every 6 hours in any part of the country, i.e. 3 to 4 in a day.
The highest number of farmer suicides occurred in
Vidarbha region of
The state of
It is in such a dire situation that Bengal is witnessing farmer suicides, a phenomenon totally absent during the 34 years of Left Front rule. In the last three and half months (Oct 01, 2011 – Jan 15, 2012) as many as 21 farmers have committed suicide because of indebtedness and distress sale.
Most of the farmers committing suicides are small and marginal farmers and also agricultural labourers with meagre holdings of patta land. Among the 21 farmers who have died, three belong to scheduled tribe. As many as 14 of those who committed suicide belong to Burdwan district, which is regarded as the granary of Bengal. Coming from a farmer’s family from that district, I know how the paddy farmers are in a state of dichotomy between what the state government is propagating and what the real situation is. Any investigation will show what kind of predicament the farmers of Bengal are facing now.
OF THE SITUATION
The present TMC-led state government instead of giving due importance to the causes for such farmer suicides in the state, is limiting itself to vehemently denying such incidents. Though its coalition partner, the Congress, admits the cases of farmer suicides and has also demanded compensation, the effort seems to be to cover up the anti-farmer policies of the present central government and also to gain some political mileage vis a vis TMC. The chief minister has engaged some bureaucrats and ministers to play that game of denying the reality. It has not taken any proper steps to buy paddy, potato and jute from the farmers by giving them proper minimum support price. This government has failed to involve the government agencies in directly procuring from the farmers and saving them from resorting to distress sales. They are not adding any bonus to the MSP on the plea that there is no money. But they have the money to increase the salaries and daily allowances of ministers and MLAs. They have the money to celebrate Digha festival by spending crores of rupees. At present the government has left the paddy farmers to the mercy of the rice mill owners who are by and large harassing the them to sell their produce at distress rates. This is really horrifying. The under estimation and denial of farmer suicides by the state government is a deliberate attempt to hide the administrative and systemic failures. It also shows political failure because the government has shown no political will to stand by the side of the farmers, though they came to power with slogan of “maa – mathee – manush”.
More deplorable is the plight of the agricultural labourers who practically have no work for the last six months. MNREGA works have virtually been stopped in many parts of rural Bengal. Elected panchayat bodies cannot function in the villages because of the threats and attacks by the ruling party supported hooligans. The present state government has been able to provide just 19 days of work per household in the 100 days work scheme. Bypassing the elected bodies, the government is now depending on bureaucrats to implement the scheme.
So, overall an agrarian crisis is looming large in Bengal with vast sections of the farming community in deep distress. On the one hand, they are not getting MSP for their produce, on the other hand many of them are in a debt trap. The government shows no positive stand to address the crisis. It is resorting to gimmicks. The chief minister says that it is the central government that fixes the MSP and so her government has no role to play. But it is the same coalition that is in power at the centre also. The chief minister keeps claiming that it was because of her pressure that the centre was forced to hold its decision regarding FDI in retail and from increasing fuel prices. Then the question arises why is she not pressing hard upon the central government to raise the MSP for farmers? Why is she not demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Commission Report? Why has she not objected when the central government raised the prices of fertilizers and also decontrolled it? Another question is even whatever MSP has been announced, why are the farmers of Bengal not getting even that amount? The suffering farmers of the state are demanding answers to these questions. The government has failed to pay Rs 3 crore as its share in the crop insurance scheme resulting in the affected farmers not getting any benefit. This shows how unconcerned this government is to the plight of farmers.
With the present government failing to protect their interests, the farmers are coming on to the streets to protest against the anti-farmers policy of this government. They are holding rallies against the lackadaisical attitude of this government in solving their problems. In Coochbehar, jute growers have set fire to their crops in protest. In Burdwan, Hoogly and other parts of the Bengal, potato growers did the same to express their protest. In many parts of the state, paddy growers have dumped paddy on the road side and burnt it. Responding to the call given by four Left kisan organisations for state wide agricultural strike on January 4, 2012, many farmers across the state stopped agricultural works and stayed away from their fields during the day to protest against this anti-farmer policy. They are demanding remunerative prices and a proper procurement policy. They also want proper implementation of MNREGA scheme. They are demanding restoration of subsidies in agriculture, including fertilizers.
It is important thing to note here that because of the present agrarian crisis some farmers in Andhra Pradesh have declared crop holiday. Even in West Bengal, it is seen that in some parts of the state a section of farmers who have incurred considerable losses from the Aman crop are deciding against planting upcoming Boro crop. With full sympathy to their sentiments, there is a need to propagate that this should not happen. Because that would result in a national crisis where there shall be shortage of food and the country will be thrown back to the decades of 1960s when India had to depend on food imports from other countries.
In such a situation both central and state governments should initiate urgent measures to provide relief to the agricultural sector. Steps should be taken for direct procurement from the farmers with proper MSP and also adding bonus to it. Measures should be taken to implement Swaminathan Commission Report for fixing MSP because at present MSP is not commensurate with the cost of production that has risen sharply. Both central and state governments should come forward with compensation and rehabilitation package to the deceased families taking into consideration the human and social implications. Recently the state government had announced compensation for those who died in AMRI Hospital fire accident and in the Hooch tragedy. Then, why is it not extending the same to families of farmers who have committed suicide?
Along with these demands for providing relief to those engaged in the agricultural sector, we must doggedly and unitedly fight against the state and central governments in order to make them change their neo-liberal policies and to promote a sustainable model of agriculture that will reduce the risks of farmers and protect their interests.