November in the National Capital ended with Farmers protesting against the government. Tens of thousands thronged the streets and rallied from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament demanding redress of their many issues. With the issues so genuine, marchers joined in from 24 different states of India. Unlike other protests which often culminate into violence, farmers peacefully carried out their march in discipline and did not unnecessarily disturb the traffic. The protests can be seen in the continuation of the Kisaan March carried out in Mumbai in March 2018, which itself was succeeded by many other small-scale protests in different states. Most important ones include that of Mandsaur in which six farmers were killed by Police Personnel, and Tamil Farmers protests in Delhi in which they shaved half their heads, drank their urine and took dead rats in their mouths. Sadly, large part of the corporate media houses chose to either ignore them or did not give them the deserved attention. The government also paid no heed. Farmers in the recent protest were disheartened that although their distress was nothing new, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Government’s response and its policies were far worse than the governments before.
Most popular demand was the waiver of Farmer’s loans and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendations which BJP had promised in its Manifesto before being voted to Power at the centre. While the government makes tall claims about giving higher MSPs for the crops, ground reality has turned far grimmer. MSP higher than 1.5 the cost as the government claims is not calculated according to C2 (comprehensive cost including imputed rent and interest on owned land and capital). Plus, there are still many crops not covered under MSP. After the implementation of e-NAM, in which farmers have to register their produce online before taking it to Mandis, crops aren’t sold according to the rate, and in case of insistence by the farmers, produce is rejected for not meeting the “quality”. In other cases, they are not even able to sell more than half of their crops.
And then there are middlemen who take up larger parts of the profits leaving farmers with not enough share. A data reveals that farmers get only around Rs. 10 for a kg of apple that is sold for Rs. 110 in retail and the milk that they sell for Rs18/litre is sold outside for at least Rs 40.
Hike in Petrol and Diesel prices have also affected their income as not only production costs have increased, but also the transportation costs. Fertilizer and seeds have become costlier, and subsidies been decreased.
Another demand is the timely and proper payment for the crops.
It becomes rather problematic when it comes to the waiver of loans. Although governments justly claim that waiving off the loan isn’t viable for the economy, farmers have another debate. While discussing with a young farmer, he said that farmers have been forced to ask for the loan waiver because of the inadequate and flawed agricultural policy of the government. He added that only 1% of the bad debt is from the Agriculture sector and that large proportion of this debt never really went to the farmers but the agriculture allied industries; if the government could waive off the loans for the corporates, why not the farmers?
Then comes the issue of crop insurance. Without being properly acquainted with the terms and conditions, money from their accounts are automatically deducted, and when farmers claim for the refund in case of crop failure, they have to run from office to office. Even the much-touted Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has proved to be a failure. It had largely benefited large insurance companies who have earned thousands of crores in just two years. A report by The Wire states that for last two seasons, farmers’ claims worth Rs 2,829 crore remain unpaid by these companies.
Demonetization done in November 2015, has also had an immense impact on farmers adding substantially to their distress. It continues to affect the agrarian economy.
Since 1995, more than 300000 farmers have committed suicide and it just shows the glimpse of the distress that farming community is going through. This community accounts for half of the working population and contributes merely to 18% of the country’s GDP. That they marched together leaving behind their caste, ethnicity and religion to demand for their rights shows that there is still room for issues that matter. Different political parties better take note that their futile debates and ignoring the important matters might cost them upcoming elections.