People's Democracy

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


No. 12

March 13, 2012




Govt Unmindful to Rural Masses’ Needs


IN a communication addressed to Pranab Mukherjee, minister for finance in the government of India, leaders of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) have expressed surprise how the minister failed to include this over 50 lakh strong union in his consultations again, before presenting his budget this year.


The AIAWU is of the opinion that “this section of our population, that represents nearly half the rural workforce and is a growing part of it, has been ignored by a series of budgets of UPA-2 or has been offered sops that are neither financed properly nor implemented as they should be.”


To the union, the most serious concern is employment. Not only are a majority of agricultural labourers landless; the days of work in agriculture have also come down from 100 days a year in 1990 to around 52 days today, which is hardly enough to keep these people alive. Even for their bare subsistence, a minimum of 200 days work is required at a wage of Rs 250 per day.


Taking note of the finance minister’s assertion that he cannot provide jobs for all, the AIAWU said the minister runs the country, tax the people and even take their land, their only means of subsistence, for doling it out to the land mafias who are parading themselves as “developers” of various sorts. Hence, the union thinks that in return for handing the rich resources of this country over to the government, the least the people could ask for is work to survive. The AIAWU has categorically pointed out that the minister would “be held responsible for not investing the wealth of the Indian people in areas that allow them to unleash their labour and increase the gross domestic product.” In this process, the people would not be manipulating money milked from the consumer as “value added;” rather it would be the “value created” by them through their labouring on resources.


In this connection, the AIAWU has reminded that even for the much-tomtomed Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the allocation was cut down by Rs 100 crore last year, reflecting how unmindful the finance minister was to the needs of the rural masses.


The organisation’s communication to the finance minister quoted some more hard facts in this connection:


“Your last two budgets have failed the rural masses. The 2011-12 budget cut back on rural development to Rs 87845 crore from Rs  89629 crore in 2010-11. Agriculture was cut back from Rs 17523 crore from Rs 17695 crore in the same period. Subsidies on fertilisers were reduced by 9 per cent, on food by 9.4 per cent and on oil by 38.5 per cent --- cutbacks of no less than Rs 20,000 crore. At the same time, the rural drinking water programme was cut down by Rs 400 crore in comparison to the expenditure of the year before. The PM’s Gram Sarak Yojana saw a cutback of Rs 1600 crore, while the Indira Awas Yojana was unable to meet the cement price rise. If we look at the public health schemes with the national vector borne disease control programme (which includes malaria control) reduced by 23 per cent, routine immunisation by 17 per cent, TB control by 11 per cent and blindness control by 4 per cent, we can see a massive unconcern for the majority of the people.”


Saying that it is not asking for charity, the AIAWU said, “It is national security that your policies threaten through these measures. They have resulted in nearly three hundred thousand farmers and agricultural labour committing suicide, increased the flight to urban slums known for their blatant failure to protect the lives and livelihood of our fellow citizens and throwing them to criminals and exploiters to loot and oppress as never before in the history of independent in India. The cost of the law and order machinery in coping with the crimes endemic in these conditions is greater than the amount you would need to spend to provide for them in the rural areas.”


But this is not all. The government “refuses to stop the machinery of speculative hoarding and raising prices of essential commodities through the mechanism of futures trading in essential commodities that has fuelled the food price rise over the last three years.” Nor is there any mention of increasing the efficiency of the public distribution system (PDS) in which food grains are at present rotting “even as the per capita availability of foodgrains has gone down because of a refusal to sell grain at subsidised rates even where it would help increase production, improve the health of people and reduce theft and crime.” The AIAWU communication pointed out that the last budget actually cut the food subsidy down by Rs 27 crore. “It is unthinkable that your government prefers to feed vermin like rats but prevents the Indian people from using the same food to the benefit of the economy. But this is what is happening.”


In view of these harsh realities, the AIAWU stressed that the next budget requires to make a serious move in favour of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), with a thrust on producing cheap food which those earning more as a result of the scheme will go for at once. But then it sadly added that “the record of your government has been dismal. The scheme has suffered primarily from a refusal of your government to finance it adequately. When it took off in 2006 in 100 districts, the allocation per district was close to Rs 55 crore. Now the figure is roughly half that. How can one expect the scheme to work?”


The AIAWU noted that despite the government’s attempt to strangle the abovementioned scheme, people have made an effort and states like Tripura, Kerala, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra, Maharashtra, Odisha and Tamilnadu have registered better performances. “Surely this desperate attempt to survive on one’s labour rather than beg or steal needs more help from the state as an incentive.”


Unfortunately, central funds have not been remitted on time to the states, making late payments chronic all over the country. What is worse is that at one time the minimum wages provision was watered down with reports of workers being paid Re 1 per day in Tonk in Rajasthan. Further, among other dilatory steps, the government opened the door to corruption by waiving the mandatory social audit for expenditure. Hence the union has demanded that all these measures must be rescinded at once and a minimum outlay of Rs 1,65,000 crore provided with an increased target of 200 days work at least. It said any minimum wage less than Rs 250 a day is not enough to adequately sustain creativity and growth, “which is what this country needs to counter the all-round showdown of the economy.”


The AIAWU has also demanded that the Food Security Act must be financed adequately to ensure 2200 calories per day for all. Rs one lakh crore is said to be required for this purpose, and it needs be provided. Moreover, if the government provides sufficient subsidies for fertiliser and free electricity to 63 per cent of the small holders and agricultural labour, cuts down the prices of diesel and kerosene, sufficiently expands irrigation facilities and feeder canals that can be constructed by MGNREGA labour, “food security will be assured and foodgrain production will become cheaper, allowing the PDS better scope to reach the people more cheap.” Therefore the government must stop quibbling over who qualifies for BPL status and who not, and provide BPL cards for all agricultural labourers and rural landless.


The AIAWU has also demanded reopening of seven state-owned closed-down fertiliser plants in the eastern region, which will “not only provide cheap fertiliser but also work for the unemployed in a region from where people migrate traditionally.”


Further, adequate credit should be provided for the agriculture sector, distinguishing between that for small farmers and that for landlords and agro-industries, giving the small farmers the lion’s share at a 4 per cent rate of interest. Rural health centres,  electrification of villages and primary education too need adequate funding. Also, a growing number of tribal people and traditional forest dwellers are being deprived of land because of non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act. This must be reversed and provisions made to give land to whom the government cannot provide work.


Rejecting the argument of finance crunch, the organisation said Rs 5 lakh crore of taxes on corporate houses were exempted. It suggested steps like accessing the large and low interest bearing deposits of foreign currency, recovery of loans big businesses have taken from government banks but are not paying back despite having the capacity of doing so, tightening of screws against corruption scams, and bringing back the vast deposits of black money stashed away in tax havens abroad. These, the union said, “will more than cover any shortfall you might experience.” Therefore the government must show the will to get the money from who have misappropriated it.


On the contrary, the poor are being forced to hand over the little they earn in the form of indirect taxes, exorbitant prices for food and inputs for agriculture, while receiving nothing in return for the assets daily being plundered from them by land-sharks, illegal mining mafias and criminals of various sorts.


The AIAWU has urged the finance minister, therefore, to address these needs of the people in the coming budget before it is too late. It reminded the finance minister that draft of a comprehensive legislation covering the working conditions and welfare of agricultural labour has been lying with the government since 1980 but has not been passed. “This should find mention in the budget perspective,” the union said, expressing the hope that the coming budget would respond to these needs of the poorest and the most oppressed.


Signatories to the communication were the AIAWU president P Ramayya, its general secretary A Vijayaraghavan and its joint secretaries Suneet Chopra and Hannan Mollah.