By Santosh Bhartiya
Since the past 60 years with each passing day, the question of farm sector has become more and more significant. However, it has never been on the list of government’s priorities. The accepted refrains from politicians and bureaucrats were: farmers could never get organized and never press for their demands. Nonetheless, the recent growing unity of farmers has taken the wind out of this skewed view. In the past there was a time when farmers used to boast of having many leaders, Mahendra Singh Tikait being chief amongst them. Tikait Saheb famously laid a siege of Meerut Kachari for months by mobilizing the farmers and for the first time he made the government realize the power of farmers. Nanju Swami led the farmers in south India. Unfortunately after the demise of Tikait the farmer’s movement at least in north India got disintegrated. Although the disappointments of farmers have reached to the zenith, but the attitude of the Governments did not change, the attitude of the political parties did not change and the attitude of the bureaucrats did not change.
The farmers started committing suicide on a large scale. They have not arrived at this alarming situation because of the village money lender as it used to be, but they arrived at this situation because of the banks interest, pressure to pay back the loan, cultivation being no longer a profitable venture and the farmers getting insufficient in return of their investment. In absence of any other means of income, they devised a way to bail themselves out of the difficult situation by committing suicide. The swelling number of farm suicide which ran for many years had desensitized even the fellow farmers, but now they have decided to give a fight for their cause. Now they have started to make the decision that they would cultivate as much land as is enough for the subsistence of their families and leave rest of their holdings barren. Farmers of Maharashtra, especially of Aurangabad and Nashik, have taken lead in this initiative. The recalcitrant farmers have thrown away tomatoes on the road, flushed thousands of liters of milk, and blocked the roads in protest of not getting the right price for their crops. They held big processions on the streets across Maharashtra to express their pain but that pain has fallen on the deaf ears of Maharashtra Government and the Central Government. However, this agitation has spread its wings in the Madhya Pradesh as well.
If on the one hand the farmers were holding protest march, farm suicides were also in full swing on the other. They are in catch 22 situation to decide as to what should be their demands with the government. They are not organized; they are divided in several farmers’ organizations with their own local demands. I interacted with many farmers’ leaders and asked them what should be their demands at the national level? What I make out of their response is they have decided to organize themselves to press for their demands in a concerted way. They are also exploring ways and means to put pressure on the government vis-à-vis their distress, and wish to suggest ways to make their farming profitable, the first being the loan waiver. Their contention is if the government can write off the loans of big capitalists – whether by categorizing them as NPA, through the direct debt waiver or the one-time settlement – and then they fled the country taking the money with them, then why it invents all kinds of excuses in writing off farm loans? Why writing off a farm loan of rupees two-three lakh has become an unrealistic proposition for the government? However, if an announcement is made regarding the waiver, that announcement never sees the light of the day, and for the sake of rupees three lakh the noose around famer’s neck gets tighter and tighter.
Perhaps for these reasons farmers across the country want to get rid of their loans once and for all, though they mere loan waiver is not the solution to their problems. The solution lies in some related initiatives that will ease out their distress. One of the initiatives may be installing agro-based industries at block level, which would take raw materials from the major crop grown in the same block. Farmers are not asking the government to provide money to install such industry, they are only asking the government to make such a policy that no government official or police officer obstruct or harass them in installing such industry, and the banks provide loans on priority basis at the interest rate of not more than two percent, with repayment period of ten years. They believe this initiative will enable a farmer to take optimum benefit from his produce by travelling just 10 kilometers to his block. Also, the farmer or the owner of farm-based industry will not have to travel far enough to sell the finished product, because then small or big traders will come in that block and buy the goods directly. It will cost nothing to the central government or the state government if the banks priorities the agro-based economy and the farmer installs his own industrial unit and if apart from earning money from his crop the farmers gets jobs for his children in those units as well. In order to garner support for their demands, the farmers are bracing to organize conferences across the country, conveying the government if you do not meet our demands you will have to face a strong farmer’s movement in the country.
The farmers had given an unprecented victory to Narendra Modi with the hope that he will give the cost of their crop plus 50 percent profit as minimus support price. The prime minister had made such announcement in every nook and croner of the coutnry, in order to get farmer’s votes. Farmers are reminding him to meet the promises had made to them. They want him to act on the loan waiver promise and promote agro-based industries as soon as possible.
Why the government become so indiffernt towards the suffering of its own farmers who are committing suicide for the sake of rupees three lakh to five lakh, while it is giving grant to other nation in tune with billions and that money ended up getting devour by the corrupt system prevalent therein. In the African countries, where the government of India pumps in so much money, corruption knows no limits; they are thousand time more corrupt than India. Perhaps the officials of Indian Foreign Services or Indian Banking Services must have a big say in granting such a huge amount of money. The government should impose a moratorium on providing financial support to any other country for two years. Instead of offering billions of rupees at the altar of corruption in foreign countries, the government should use that money to install farm-based industries in India.
In fact the solution to the problems faced by farmers is not the loan waiver, but it surely is a temporary arrangement to loosen the noose around their necks. The most brazen letdown is that none of the many governments over the years have called an all-party meeting over such grave issue. The governments have never asked policy makers or the think tanks to make their policies centered on farmers. The governments never asked the industrialists to create funds out of their profit for the welfare of farmers. The governments have never talked of constituting a farmer’s commission with constitutional mandate which time to time would acquaint the government with the wellbeing of farmers.
It is high time for the government to do something for the farmers. The farmers are looking at the central government with lots of hope that the government must do something to ease them out of their distress. However, the government has made mockery of their by announcing that the cabinet has decided to facilitate loans to farmers at cheaper interest rates. This all has been going on for the past eight years without even any alteration even of comma or full stop. Then which minister of the Central Government is spreading such a big lie across the country? Do they think that farmers will not know as to what you have done for them?
It is the time to do something worthwhile for the farmers so that happiness can return to their lives, which can prevent their suicides, which facilitate them to get the cost of their crops and at the same time their crop get processed within their reach. If this does not happen today, tomorrow the country, especially the Central Government, and many state governments may have to face fierce agitations of the farmers. Today it is request, tomorrow will become compulsion. And then the farmers will begin to evaluate all the politicians with the measures that they are the enemies of their interests. To avoid this to happen, if something needs to be done, it needs to be done today.
By Santosh Bhartiya