People's Democracy

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


No. 18

May 05, 2013




Fight for the Right to Live

Suneet Chopra

THE spate of rapes of the helpless all over the country reflects what has trickled down to the people, nearly 80 per cent of whom have been marginalised, while those who have been raping Bharat Mata of its metals, coal, oil and land, with impunity are stashing their money in tax havens abroad. The people on the other hand, are suffering from a lack of food, with starvation deaths and farmers suicides being reported once more from UPA-ruled Kerala, while the Congress ally and outside supporter of UPA from West Bengal is reeling under the collapse of the Saradha scheme floated by a former Naxalite Sudipta Sen, who has, if his confessional letter is to be believed, been financing leaders of both the Congress and the TMC to defraud the people. Now, to cover up the role of her party in looting some Rs 2000 crores of the life’s savings of the poor, Mamata Banerjee has pledged Rs 500 crores more of the tax payer’s money as a bail-out while refusing a CBI enquiry.


While both the TMC and the Congress play to the gallery, what of the people? Many parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and even Kerala and Tamil Nadu are drought-hit. The decontrol of fertilizers and sharp increase in fuel prices has shattered dreams of self-sufficiency in food-grains which our small farmer had helped to achieve both in the increased production of wheat and rice. Today that process has been reversed by negative growth in food production.


While the government at centre dithers over the Food Security Act, it has ensured that it becomes meaningless by preserving the multi-tier public distribution system which has failed to provide us a food safety net, by cutting down the quota per family and raising the price of the lowest quality of grain from Rs 2 per Kg to Rs 3, and even fuelling the food price rise, now hovering at nearly 18 per cent, with cash transfer schemes that will benefit hoarders and grain merchants even more.


The people are left to hover on the verge of famine and starvation, with the per capita availability of grain coming down from 435.3 gms per person per day in 1990 to 422.7 gms per day in 2000 and only 401.7 gms per day in 2010. If we take the global minimum of 2400 calories per day we find that these figures reflect no less than 58.5 per cent below subsistence in 1993-94, 69.5 per cent between 2004-05 and between 70 per cent and 75 per cent in recent years. Poverty and hunger have increased both under the NDA and UPA as a result of neo-liberal governments at the centre. In fact, according to the FAO’s Global Hunger Index, India has gone down from 65 to 68 of 84 countries. This is further heightened by the central government allowing grain to rot rather than distribute it through the PDS or exporting 2-4 million tonnes at throwaway prices as animal feed.




There is a need to increase the food subsidy urgently. Even if we take a modest 24 crore families as beneficiaries, a minimum of 672 lakh tonnes of rice and 336 lakh tonnes of wheat would be required. This is likely to cost no less than Rs 1,44, 141 crores as subsidy, some Rs 84,000 crores more than what the government has allocated in this budget. The government at the centre claims it cannot cover the expense because it has to keep its fiscal deficit down. But the fiscal deficit is some Rs 4,000 crores less than the tax relief given to those who are busy looting the resources, the livelihood and the assets of the poor. Why should they be allowed to loot the exchequer as well? In fact, what is required is a universal PDS to provide 35 Kg of grain per family per month at not more than Rs 2.00 per Kg and no cash schemes to fuel the price rise in grain for the benefit of the wholesalers. This should not be so difficult as the government has cut back on other subsidies by Rs 26,571 crores.


Simply providing food through the PDS is not enough. People must be able to buy the food. And given the fact that nearly half the people of our country have no assets to fall back on than their labour, food security is meaningless without job security. They have to have money to pay for the food. But the policies of the UPA and the NDA before it helped to boost jobless growth, making even this safety net impossible.


Things have come to such a pass that before at least unskilled work was available in the rural areas. Now with mechanisation, the maximum days of work available in agriculture is less than 60 in a year. Before, large numbers of agricultural labour went from Bihar to Punjab every year, or from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. But now, they go there even from West Bengal and Rajasthan as rural jobs are drying up everywhere. The last decade was the first time ever in India when migration to slums in cities was higher than to other rural areas.


This is not a sign of better options. It is a sign of no option at all. The total growth in the economy has come down from 9.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 6.2 per cent in 2011-12 and 5 per cent in 2012-13. With the growth rate halved in three years what hope is there of employment? Jobs in the organised sector have come down from 1.9 per cent in 2009-10 to 1 per cent in 2010-11 and the situation is now even worse. Unemployment is over 11 per cent today. Rural employment has been the worst sufferer at about 15 per cent. From 1999-2000 there was an increase of 20.2 million in rural employment which has come down to 13.4 million in 2009-10. In the same period, self-employment has come down even more sharply from 21.8 million to 4.4 million, reflecting the ruin of the peasantry. What is worse is that this ruin has been engineered by government policies that have brought its investment in rural development to one-third of what it was, while allowing the prices of inputs like electricity, fertilizer and diesel to rise without controls.


Legislation like the MGNREGA which could have improved the employment situation in the rural areas considerably has been starved of funds. In its first phase, Rs 11,000 crores was sanctioned for 100 districts. In the next phase, Rs11,300 crores was sanctioned for 320 districts and in the third phase, Rs16,000 crores was sanctioned for 596 districts. In the recent budget, it has been reduced even from the last year. It is evident from this that the law was only for show and not to be implemented. And this too, despite its value as a legislation that has helped not only to build social capital in the villages, increase the minimum wage of agricultural labour and control distress migration. This law has also helped raise the social status of the poorest sections in the villages. Despite these enormous advantages under present conditions, it is being used as a propaganda weapon only.


In fact, the number of families who got work in 2008-2009 was close to 4.5 crores. In 2009-10 it came down to 4.3 crores and in 2010-11 it came down further to 3.8 crores. Instead of the promised 100 days work, in 2011-12 only 32 days work was given and only 2.8 per cent families got a hundred days work. What is worse, when work is not given most states have failed to give unemployment relief. In fact, where piece-work is concerned, even state governments like Punjab are paying a day’s wages for three days’ work. The idea is to discourage people from working under provisions of the law so that they can say that the people do not want to work and scrap the legislation.


The reason why they do not like the law is that to an extent it prevents workers from being herded like cattle from one place to another and sold to the highest bidder. Also, the provisions of the law make it virtually impossible to be looted at the top without being caught. So corrupt state governments used to skimming the cream from government schemes are hostile to its provisions. This is all the more reason for us to defend the provisions of the law, insist on its character of producing collective benefits, support its provision of manual labour as an effective safety net to resist starvation, ensure the increase of wages under MGNREGA to counter inflation and use it to strengthen the hands of the majority in the village in decision making. We have already succeeded in getting the minimum wage being raised from Rs100 to Rs 250. But now our task is to ensure 250 days of work a year at Rs 300 per day given the refusal of the government to check inflation, hoarding and large-scale dispossession of the peasantry.




The neo-liberal policies of the central government, the BJP and a number of governments supporting the UPA at the centre are totally hostile to the survival of small-scale farming, which provides employment for over half the people even today, some six times more than industry. But consistently the government has refused to invest in agriculture whose rate of growth has declined from 4.69 per cent in the eighth plan, to 3.97 per cent in the tenth plan and barely 0.3 per cent since then. Agriculture, which contributed 61 per cent of the GDP in 1950-51 contributed 14.1 per cent in 2011-12.


An agriculture starved of funds cannot survive. Some 33 lakh farmers sell their lands and join the rural workers each year. 49 per cent are in debt as input costs have risen over 50 per cent between 2008-2012. In 2011-12 a quintal of rice cost Rs1331.71 to produce but the minimum support price was Rs1250. For maize the production cost was Rs1381.69 but the MSP was only Rs1175. Even for cash crops the situation was no better. Cotton cost Rs 3944.77 but the MSP was only Rs 3600. For sunflower seed the cost of production was Rs 4192.65 while the MSP was Rs 3700.


Without reducing the cost of production there is no other way out. And it can be done. Fertiliser costs can be controlled. The 20 per cent rise in power tariffs and 44 per cent in diesel can be subsidised. There ought to be no bar to agricultural subsidies as countries like Japan, USA and EU subsidise their farmers at least ten times more than us even today. But the government is committed to ensuring the ruin of the farmer and the sale of his land to speculators and land-sharks of the corporate world. Wages of agricultural labour are not a problem as the agricultural labourer is both a producer and a consumer with most of his wage spent on food. And petty production does best when there is a local market for its products with minimal transport costs.


But even this last resort for survival of the majority of our people is being taken away. If some 56 lakh hectares have been distributed to the landless, 220 lakh hectares have been handed over to mafias, builders and encroachers who have nothing to do with farming, while 680 lakh hectares was arbitrarily declared forest with forest mafias driving away adivasis and plundering timber with impunity. It is the same with mining rights. Not only have adivasis been denied ownership of the wealth under the soil they farm, they are being driven off in their thousands by mining barons, both legal and illegal.


All this was done under the colonial Land Act of 1894. Now a new law is being enacted, but it excludes some of the biggest land-grabbing institutions like the Railways, the Highway Authorities, Mine owners, Coal block owners and Developers. What is worse, the government is willing to change the meaning of public purpose to cover private corporate land grab as well. This cannot go on. Not only must a thousand local resistances be unleashed against such corporate land-grabbers, we must firmly demand work or land to live on. The existing Land Reforms Acts and the provisions of the Tribals and Traditional Forest Dwellers Act must be forcefully implemented. There is land enough to distribute among the landless and it must be given to them.


If it is not done and there is every reason to believe it will not be done, then local people must act on the village level to ensure work under MGNREGA, to ensure their due share of the PDS and to ensure land to live by. This requires local struggles to be unleashed and effective mass organisations to propagate and defend these local movements all over India. There is no alternative to such struggles if we wish to avoid the path of being driven like cattle, starved to death or being dispossessed of our means of labour. Let us promise to lead these struggles to success this May Day.