Quick guide: how to obey SC orders and stop farmer suicides
There are moments when one wishes the Supreme Court had a magic wand. Only then would it be possible for some of its orders to be complied with.
On 21 August, it instructed the Union government that no farmer should commit suicide. The apex court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by a Punjab-based NGO, highlighting the large number of suicides by farmers across the country.
The NGO reportedly wanted the SC to order the government to implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), which was set up in November 2004.
The commission, under the leadership of eminent agricultural scientist Prof. MS Swaminathan, had submitted five reports between 2004 and 2006 that contained several recommendations. These were aimed at comprehensive growth of the agricultural sector as well as welfare of farmers.
In clear terms, the SC indicated its dissatisfaction with the government's efforts to bring down the number of suicides by farmers, saying that efforts were not enough. It also said the National Policy for Farmers 2007 had failed to address the agrarian crisis, which was forcing farmers to end their lives. The Centre should re-look at the policy, the SC instructed.
As the country's farmers move from the havoc of unseasonal rains to the possibility of a drought, one can't be faulted for recalling the many suggestions that have been provided by the commission and many other agricultural experts from time to time.
Awaiting implementation, some of these include:
Most agricultural experts in India agree with the formula presented by the Swaminathan Commission that the Minimum Support Price decided by the government should be at least 50% more than the cost incurred by farmers.
Journalist Shankkar Aiyar writes that six of 10 farmers are unable to get loans from banks. They are then forced to depend on moneylenders, who charge high interest rates from 50% to 120%. The NCF recommends expanding the reach of the formal credit system to reach the really poor and needy.
Crop insurance is available only to 15% farmers out of the millions who lose their crops to unseasonal rains, drought, floods, and hail.
The chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, Ajay Vir Jakhar, says we need a good system to calculate premium, under which farmers could pay a bit, but the government should pay the larger part - 80-85%.
The NCF had asked to expand crop insurance to cover the entire country and all crops, with reduced premiums.
Buying seeds is an input cost that many claim should not have been there in the first place.
Seeds of some varieties of crops cost up to Rs 1 lakh per kilo. The general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Prabhakar Kelkar, says seed giant Monsanto earns Rs 1,000 crore annually just from the royalty of the seeds it sells.
According to him, farmers must have the right to grow, sell and distribute seeds, since they are the real owners of the seed pool.
For 60% of the area under cultivation, farmers are dependent on rains. The NCF recommends mandatory rainwater harvesting, recharge of aquifers and the 'Million Wells Recharge' programme.
The Agricultural Price Marketing Committee (APMC) system restricts farmers from selling their produce wherever they want. The NCF had recommended moving towards a Single Indian Market. Organisations like the BKS also support this.
The Swaminathan Commission was a watershed exercise in assessing the distress in Indian agriculture and coming up with solutions.
Its effort has been complemented by many more agricultural experts in recent years, who have given other solutions as well. Only some these have been recounted above.
The need of the hour is just political will. For that, the government will have to begin by changing its current line of argument in the Supreme Court - that more suicides are happening outside agriculture than in it.