Friday , 19 April 2019

Caring For Those Who Feed The Nation

Thousands of farmers from across the country marched through the streets of Delhi to draw the central government’s attention to their plight. The kisan mukti march was organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an alliance of farmers organisations. Farmers have been demanding remunerative prices for their produce and freedom from debt, arguing that they get but a small share of the value of their produce.

There is a growing feeling among them that their life is given no value by the government. In the last 20 years over three lakh farmers have committed suicide. Among the farmers who gathered in the national capital to register their protest against rising costs of production and decreasing farm income were wives of the farmers who committed suicide. This is not the first time that the farmers have held protests to highlight their grievances and perhaps it would not be the last. Every time a protest is held the government assures them that their grievances would be addressed but fails to do so.

The complaints of farmers range from rising cost of production including diesel hike, high debt and lack of compensation after crop damage. Though they are divided by backgrounds and cultures, the farmers in the Delhi protest spoke in one language which was loud enough for the authorities to hear. It is an irony that farmers who contribute substantial amount of revenue to the national exchequer and feed the nation have to beg the authorities to help them come out of distress.

It is a pity that they have to come out on the streets to draw attention to the problems they are facing. It would be callous for the government to play indifferent to their plight. The farmers are demanding a special session of Parliament on agrarian crisis in the country and want the government to pass two bills that could help them turn around: one pertaining to one-time full loan waiver and the other for long-term institutional measures to ensure farmers were not pushed into debt again. Implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations would also be of great help to them as they want minimum support price to be fixed at 50 per cent above the comprehensive cost of production.

Government after government has been promising the farmers to help them and allow them to lead a better life but have failed to do so. Farmers continue to lead a miserable life. Though the Union cabinet approved a substantial raise in the minimum support price (MSP) of crops in July this year, giving farmers the promised 50% return on input costs, aiming at easing farm distress and boosting rural demand, the ‘support’ has not reached the farmers as was clear from the Delhi protest.

The government had said the ‘historic’ Rs 15,000-crore allocation was fulfillment of the promise made in this year’s budget that MSPs would be determined on the principle that the harvest should get the farmers 150 per cent of the cost of planting and tending to the crop. If the intended benefits had reached the farmers they would not have come to the national capital to protest. Where has the huge money earmarked to help farmers gone?  The government should probe the leakage or diversion, if any, and take those responsible for sitting over the files to task before more farmers take the suicide route to escape distress.

The government has not been able to correct the erroneous calculation of minimum support price. The government must include actual rent of land, interest on capital invested and skilled labour rate in the calculation of the cost of cultivation of various crops. As far as tackling the debt trap is concerned, states have framed loan waiver policies, though there is no uniformity in the criteria. It is high time that a uniform loan waiver policy is brought in to help the farmers. Every political party when in opposition promises to solve the persistent problems faced by the farmers but when it comes to power, it does little or does not know how to deal with the problems effectively and satisfactorily.

Most opposition parties were with the protesting farmers in Delhi. When the BJP was in opposition they also vigorously supported farmers protests. It is high time political parties stop using the farmers as vote bank. They must make realistic policies to help farmers constructively and comprehensively, so their lives can be transformed and they can profit from the liberalising economy.

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