Maha Farmers’ Rights Commission to curb agro-crisis

Mumbai: With farmers suicides unabated in 2019, a farm-panel has mooted the setting of India’’s first-ever rights commission to address the ongoing crises in the farmlands and make the state “farmers suicide-free within five years”, according to a top activist.

“We have proposed to set up a ‘’Maharashtra Farmers’’ Rights Commission’’ – on the lines of National Human Rights Commission or other similar bodies – specifically to tackle the distress in the agriculture sector,” Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (CNSSM) President Kishore Tiwari said.

He said it would be chaired by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and will have full judicial powers like the NHRC and its state branches with independent experts from different fields on board.

“Maharashtra is now under the grip of the unending agro-crises since the past over 25 years … Aid packages and farm loan waivers are insufficient to arrest suicides. The available figures of suicides are misleading since many times they are passed off as deaths due to other causes. The MFRC will help understand the real extent of the ground situation and take remedial measures,” Tiwari explained.

In a draft on the proposal for MFRC submitted to the government, the VNSSM chief reiterated that the prime causes of India’s agrarian crisis are due to what he termed as “strategic blunders committed in five key areas”.

“They are not limited to merely agriculture and rural economy, but encompass health, social imbalances, problems of employment, depleting water resources and lack of storage/processing facilities, on which the farmers’’ livelihood depend,” he said.

Accordingly, while loan-waivers, free food and health are at best only temporary solutions, the proposed MFRC can take a holistic approach to end the spectre of farmers suicides permanently in under five years, said Tiwari, who enjoys a Minister of State status. The five key areas that need to be focused are: Farm Credit Supply policy control, Fund Management for cost of cultivation and stabilizing agricultural prices, Equitable Distribution of the available water resources and control of rain/ground water sources, Crop Management planning with a competent agriculture disaster management system in place, and implementing Agricultural Conservation and Storage Processing System.

Detailing, he said Farm Credit Policy reforms stressing on investment and development in the rural/agriculture sector have failed in 30 years owing to various reasons.

A revolutionary new farm policy under the regulatory control of the proposed MFRC along with according ‘’industry status’’ to agriculture is a must to avoid regular or even annual farm loan waiver schemes which divert valuable resources from other critical areas.

Tiwari said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government has failed to regulate or reduce the cost of cultivation owing to climatic change impacts, degradation of soil health, environmental and other issues.

Accordingly, the state must include Agriculture in the ‘’Concurrent List’’ to regulate the agriculture costs.

In recent years, the demand for water for agriculture and related uses has shot up three-fold, and has resulted in huge and unequal exploitation of rainwater and ground-water resources.

The proposed MFRC can ensure the rational and equitable distribution of all available water resources to maintain a balance between development and environment with its judicial powers, Tiwari pointed out.

Another issue that needs attention is faulty import-export policies intended to protect ‘’agriculture lobbies’’ in textiles, oil, pulses, sugar, promoting unsuitable cash crops to the detriment to the perennial cash crops and massive imports of cheap foods, oilseeds and pulses which have sounded the death knell for the rural economy.

The MFRC experts will suggest selection of crops, promote the right kind of crops in the crises-regions, suitable restrictions on imports/exports to protect Indian farmers, control of chemicals/fertilisers which will prevent soil damage, etc.

In most advanced countries, there are well-set insurance and risk management systems to manage agriculture disasters due to natural or artificial calamities without the involvement of the government.

“While the Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana has also failed on this count, the MFRC will suggest an independent agriculture disaster management system to ensure the rights of farmers are protected during any natural or man-made catastrophes, and prevent farmers from resorting to the last resort – suicide,” Tiwari urged.

The MFRC should also have the power to fix the Minimum Support Price through experts, and introduce agricultural storage and processing systems at village/taluka levels for the welfare of the farming community.

“Since the government appears to be unsuccessful in most of these activities, it should be relegated to experts of the MFRC who can take independent decisions free from bureaucratic hurdles. I am confident farmers’’ suicides can be eliminated within five years,” Tiwari said optimistically.