Rural anger: Lakhs of farmers plan showdown with Modi govt in Delhi on Feb 23
A showdown seems imminent between the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the beleaguered farming community of the country as latter plan to lay siege to the national capital from February 23. This protest has been announced even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reportedly called for a brainstorming session on 18 and 19 February with experts, including economists and academics, and policymakers to identify ways in which the government can quickly address the ongoing agrarian crisis and work towards doubling the income of farmers.
Lakhs of members affiliated to as many as 62 farmer organisations have come together under the banner of Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh (RKM) to launch a countrywide agitation against the anti farmer policies of the central government.
According to core committee members of the RKM, farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh would try to enter Delhi while those from other states would be carrying out protests in their respective state capitals and other major cities.
“Although we have a whole lot of issues to be taken up but we will be focusing on two major issues for which we want an immediate redressal. Our first demand is a complete loan waiver for the farmers across the country and the second one is regarding the implementation of the formula suggested by the Swaminathan Commission Report that calls for paying every farmer 50 per cent in addition the farmers' input cost so that they do not fall in the debt trap again. We also want that the government procure every crop. They have started the practice of declaring minimum support price (MSP) for crops which they later do not procure from the farmers leaving them high and dry,” said Gurnam Singh, a core committee member of the RKM.
His associate Suresh Koth disclosed that this will be a 'do or die' movement by the farmers. “The farmers from Punjab and Haryana will move towards Delhi from Kundli and Bahadurgarh, those from Uttar Pradesh will come from Baghpat and those from Madhya Pradesh will proceed from the Yamuna Expressway from Agra. We will be moving ahead in tractor trolleys carrying our paraphernalia as we plan to stay put wherever the government stops us. We will be carrying out own drinking water, food, mattresses and blankets so that the government does not repeat what it did when we were camping at Jantar Mantar where our tents were forcibly taken away. All these contingents will comprise at least 15,000 farmers each.”
He further said that if the farmers are stopped they would not allow any vehicle except ambulances and other emergency vehicles to enter Delhi by road. “We have never tried to put the common people to discomfort but the government has compelled us to do so.”
When asked about the court orders that do not allow such protests and whether they have sought permission for this move, Koth said, “We have never sought permission from the government and neither has any government given us permission. We have been fighting cases in the courts for several years now and the courts have never directed the government to address our concerns. Both of them together have compelled us to take this step.”
He also came down heavily on the recent orders of the national Green Tribunal (NGT) directions forbidding protests at Jantar Mantar in Delhi saying, “The governments and the legal institutions are trying to strangulate democracy by denying the people their right to protest and the farmers are ready to defy such moves. This is nothing short of an undeclared emergency in the country.”
Responding to a query from Catch on the budget provisions announced by the finance minister Arun Jaitley for the farming community Koth Said, “They have been fudging statistics and misleading the farmers. They have done this in this budget also.”
The agitated farmers have been saying that despite there being no signs of an end to the continuing farmer suicides the government has failed to come out with any policy intervention and instead there have been steps to curtail spending on the agriculture sector. The RKM leaders have stated, “Everyday there are round 2500 farmers who are giving up agriculture to work elsewhere and those getting employment are being paid a salary of Rs 5000 to Rs 6000 per month which is far below the minimum wages that have been fixed. The recent National Sample Survey has pointed that almost 96 per cent of the farmers are unable to make their two ends meet from their earning from agriculture. The average income of the farming families has come down to Rs 3081 per month.”
The farmers are angry with the BJP for not implementing its poll promise of implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission Report. They are annoyed with the government having waived off the debt of industrialists every year pointing that this year also the government has waived off the debts of industrialists to the tune of Rs 81,683 crore and the figure for the last five years stands at more than Rs 2.46 lakh crore. On the other hand the farmers are being put to shame and are being harassed for the comparatively paltry loans that they are unable to pay leading to the continuing suicides.
Farmer leader from Punjab Harmit Kadian says, “When the government can bear the annual load of Rs 3 lakh crore by implementing the Seventh Pay Commission and give relief worth lakhs of crores to the corporate sector why can't it waive off the farm debt of Rs 6 lakh crore?”
The RKM has written to various political parties to join in their struggle for getting the farmers their dues from the central government.
The outcome of this agitation is going to have a bearing on the forthcoming Assembly polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that have been a theatre of farmer unrest in the last one year. It may as well define the path for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.