Indian farmers have had enough: Here's why
The protests in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are proof that India's farmers have had enough.
On Tuesday, five farmers were reportedly killed in firing by the Madhya Pradesh police in Mandsaur. The state government first denied that it had fired at the farmers only to admit it later
When a journalist asked the Union Agriculture Minister Radhamohan Singh about the farmers who died, his shocking answer was that people must join a yoga revolution!
The farmers' patience has finally run out and the callousness of Central and state governments is solely to blame.
As many as 639 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra between January 1 and March 31, 2017, it was business as usual for the government. There were no warning bells in the establishment.
Everyone in Maharashtra knew that the farmers were going to start their agitation from June 1. The government had enough time to act but it chose to ride it through.
More distressing is the fact that instead of hearing the farmers out, both the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh governments tried to break the agitation by the time tested divide and rule policy. The policy backfired and the protests are a result of it. Five farmers have been killed because the government felt it didn't need to reach out to all the farmers.
Pricing is the problem
First, policy makers have to understand that the crux of the problem is pricing. Forget making profits, farmers are unable to recover their input costs. Take the example of onion, which has been hurting farmers in Maharashtra as well as MP since long. Input costs are in the range of Rs 800 to Rs 1000 per quintal, but the prices dipped to Rs 350 per quintal in May 2017. This was one of the reasons behind the current unrest in the two states.
The Centre did try to provide some relief by giving a 5% grant on the export of onions under the Merchandise Export from India Scheme, but such measures are akin to applying band-aid when a heart surgery is required.
Even after a record export of 30 lakh tonnes, there is a surplus in the market. If a farmer goes through two bad seasons, it becomes difficult for him to recuperate. Imagine what would be the state of farmers who have been running losses year after year.
Another problem lies in the minimum supnport price (MSP). The government announces MSP for 23 commodities, which comprise seven cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, barley and ragi), five pulses (gram, tur, moong, urad, lentil), seven oilseeds (groundnut, rapeseed-mustard, soyabean, seame, sunflower, safflower, niger seed) and four commercial crops (copra, sugarcane, cotton and raw jute) but dedicated buying is only reserved for wheat and paddy. This year, the Centre increased the MSP for pulses considerably – for instance MSP for tur dal was increased from 4625/quintal to Rs 5050/quintal.
The result of increasing the MSP was that Maharashtra witnessed a 25% increase in area under tur cultivation compared with the previous year and tur production in the state increased from 4.44 lakh tonnes to 20.35 lakh tonne in 2016-17.
But several farmers were in for a rude shock as they were told that their tur produce will not be procured because there are no gunny bags. Due to this shoddy procurement, the farmers were forced to sell tur at the rate of Rs 4200/quintal, much lower than the production cost.
Keep in mind that the production costs for tur is Rs 6403/quintal, according to the Karnataka Commission of Agriculture Cost and Pricing.
So on one hand, domestic farmers are not getting MSP for their produce, on the other hand the Indian government imported 27.86 lakh tonnes of tur from other countries at Rs. 10,114 rupees per quintal. Is this fair?
'Inflation targetting' and GST will harm farmers
No one has raised the question that who will bear the burden of ensuring the success of government's “inflation targetting” scheme, which aims to restrict annual rise in consumer price index to six percent.
Since the food items have a combined weightage of 45.8% in the Consumer Price Index, it will be the farmers who bear the burden for this policy. It will be the farmer who will remain underpaid in the name of reining in inflation.
On the one hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about doubling farmers' income by 2022 by reducing input costs; on the other, the new General Sales Tax regime will increase the prices of fertilisers and pesticides.
It's high time the government realises that the crores of Indian farmers are not a tool to rein in inflation, but citizens, who also have the right to expect fair prices for their crops.
The Modi government has promised too much and delivered too little as far as the farmers are concerned. Farmers wanted his government to implement the Swaminathan Report, but it backtracked by giving a affidavit in the Supreme Court. If it has to provide relied to farmers, it must waive off farm loans and ensure that the Swaminathan Report is implemented as soon as possible. Furthermore, it must enact a law making procurement of food produce below MSP an offense, punishable by law.