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Wait Till 2022

PM Modi, and the Farmers

Sankara Narayanan

Narendra Modi, while addressing the drought-hit farmers in a rally at Bargarh in western Odisha on Feb 21, lambasted the opposition parties, foreign-funded NGOs, chemical industries and a few other enemies that were conspiring to destabilize his govt. He said that they could not digest a tea seller ruling the country and the action taken by his government against corruption and introduction of neem-coated urea had disturbed the apple cart and hence all the venom pouring.

Farmers assembled in the rally are least interested to hear his problems. They want to know what his immediate plans are to solve their problems like farm suicides, debt burden, parched land and the much tom-tomed Minimum Support Price. He talked everything else under the sun except the daunting issues haunting the farmers.

He advised them to focus on fisheries, animal husbandry, honey bee keeping and timber farming. He is neither a head master nor are the farmers elementary school kids to listen these sagacious advices from a non-farmer. He assured them by 2022 their income will be doubled. Today they are killing themselves because of the severe drought and damaged crops. And he asks them to wait till 2022. This is nothing but pouring oil into the fire.

He underscored the initiative of his government on irrigation, crop insurance and soil health card. To add insult to injury, he said Start-Up India scheme could be used for the development of the farm sector. He also said, "Odisha is bestowed with enough water resources and has the potential to feed the entire nation. We are giving thrust to farm sector to adopt second Green Revolution. Odisha should take the lead".

Modi said farmers can change their fate for themselves with the slew of welfare schemes launched by the Centre. This is easily the unkindest cut. A PM in the 21st century talks about the 'fate'! He stops short of asking the farmers to conduct yagnas to change their fate. If they can by themselves change their fate, what is the necessity of a rally?

Soil health card and Start-Up India to the aid of farmers are too irrelevant to deserve any response. Well, it is Feb and the rains are 4 treacherous months away. People and cattle are starving for water. How to rescue the farm families for the next 7 or 8 months should have been his top priority. But he sprinkles the dream of 2022. Should the cattle, farmers and agricultural workers eat air and manage to keep the body and soul moving till 2022? Why the 2022 or 2030 formulae are not applicable for Make in India-Seths?

Devinder Sharma in an article published by the Deccan Herald, January 02, 2016 called the bluff of new crop insurance scheme. The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY) was termed 'path-breaking' by the corporate media. And the government megaphones went to town tom-toming it a 'game changer'. But the devil lies in the details.

PMFBY is certainly a big bonanza for the insurance companies. But it is yet another bakwas if one sees from the point of view of the farmers.

In 2015, the insurance companies earned a premium of Rs 1,500 from the farmers, and in addition got a premium subsidy of Rs 5,500 crore from the Centre as well as from the States. In total, insurance companies got around Rs 7,000 crore.

Under the new PMFBY scheme, which will come into effect from April, the direct premium amount from farmers is expected to increase to Rs 2,000 crore. In addition, the Centre will provide Rs 8,800-crore, with the States expected to provide another Rs 8,800 crore. This totals to Rs 19,600 crore. From Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 19,600 crore is quite a significant jump for any business. If not for farmers, certainly it is path-breaking for the insurance companies.

But the basic fault lies with the way the average crop loss is worked out. In the past, the average loss computed in a block or taluka was considered while assessing the crop loss suffered by a farmer. In the PMFBY too, a revenue village or a village panchayat has been taken as the unit of insurance. It means that irrespective of what the loss an individual fanner suffers from hailstorm or strong winds etc, the compensation he will get will be based on the average loss in crop production in a village. This is primarily the reason why farmers were never enthused to take up crop insurance.

After all, if a house in a residential colony catches fire, the owner gets the claim he filed for. Why shouldn't the same methodology work in the farming sector? After all, 60 percent of the total insurance is done in 50 risk prone districts across the country. Given that 11 insurance companies are into the business, there is no reason why these companies cannot be directed to assess loss on a per unit farm basis? Why are the insurance companies not being directed to pay the insurance claim based on each farm is baffling indeed.

Modi recently went to Sikkim to congratulate the people for making it a totally organic state. Back in mainland, he and his Environment Minister did everything to introduce GMO commercial trials for a dozen food crops for the first time in India. This brazen attempt was taken surreptitiously brushing aside the moratorium imposed by an expert committee appointed by the apex court and the unanimous recommendation of a Parliamentary Standing Committee against GM crop trials. On the same line, he advocates the Second Green Revolution in Odlsha. So much of love and affection towards agri-business companies.

Modi Government is not the first to give thrust for Green Revolution in Odisha. UPA-II government provided budgetary allotment for implementing this grey revolution in eastern states while providing relief to Punjab and Haryana farmers to come out of the horrors of first Green Revolution. Except the eastern states, all other zones adopted the grey revolution and turned the land, water, air, food and bodies poisonous.

While the unchecked use of chemical fertilizer produced new form of pests and herbs unknown to Indian farmers, more and more pesticides and herbicides were liberally sprayed to make the agri-business companies richer duly damaging the environment and health. Application of chemical fertilizer made the land thirsty and more and more water was sucked to quench the thirst resulting in the water table dangerously going down to touch the fossil water level.

In Punjab and Haryana, the granary of India, cancer is a gift from the First Green Revolution. A train running from Punjab's Bhatinda to Bikaneer in Rajasthan, called by local Punjabis as cancer express, carries scores of cancer patients all through the year. Cancer, vision loss, grey hair, disability etc did not spare even the school children. Punjab's ecosystem is full of poisons today.

Fossil water is unfit for drinking and cultivation. Agriculture, animal husbandry and vegetable production nosedived. A few areas of Punjab are now importing vegetables and dairy products. Village after village are ready to sell the land and move out as agriculture is dead along with their health, livelihood and culture.

The field lost its fertility and more and more chemical fertilizers and pest killers were necessitated. Input cost galloped and the productivity dwindled. Punjab, the cradle of Green Revolution, alone supplies 40% of food grains to national buffer. Several studies indicate an average debt burden of Rs 2.30 lakh among each larger farm household and Rs 1.35 lakh among each marginal farm household. An average farmer has a debt of Rs 50,200 per acre. 80% of farm labour households are under debt. No wonder farm suicides haunt the cradle of Green Revolution.

Three Ds (Debt, Disease and Drug) are nightmarish in Punjab's countryside. Recent disturbances over a religious issue basically emanate from the farm crisis. These being the gifts of the First Green Revolution to Punjabis, PM Modi advocates Second Green Revolution to Odisha farmers. Maybe he is not taking revenge on them for not voting BJP in 2014.

Farmers not only suffer during the vagaries of nature, pest attack etc. They suffer even after a bumper harvest if price crashes. Out of the 4 lakh farmers committed suicide between 1995 till date, quite a few of them perished due to the price crash. Pundits and rulers only asked them to increase productivity without caring for the farmers who dumped their produce in garbage or on roads when price crashed.

Modi during the campaign for 2014 Lok Sabha election gave an attractive promise to the farmers in meeting after meeting. BJP listed this promise in the election manifesto also. "MSP as recommended by the Swaminathan Committee (basic cost plus 50% profit) will be implemented for a dozen crops , if BJP is voted to power", was the promise. Farmers wilting under misery treated this promise as God-sent and voted predominantly in favour of Modi.

But after capturing power, Modi never cared to implement this promise. He did not utter a single word during his 20 months rule about this most important promise given to the farmers. To add Insult to injury, he instructed the state government to stop the bonus payments (varying from Rs 150 to 200 per quintal) that were made over and above the MSP fixed by the centre. When the godowns were overflowing last year, the state governments were instructed to delay the procurement. That forced many farmers to sell the produce to private agencies at the price dictated by the buyers.

The union government's additional solicitor general in Feb 2015 made a startling statement in the apex court that 50% profit would distort the market. The farm associations were so much agitated that the BJP state Chief Ministers were scared of meeting farmers. Modi is yet to open his mouth on this outright treachery. Instead, he tries lo sell jumlas like soil health card, fisheries, animal husbandry, honey bee keeping, timber farming, crop insurance, Jandhan Yojna, neem-coated urea, Start-Up India. Some farmers might be undereducated. But they are not stupids to fall prey to these nautankis.

Modi deliberately gave this promise knowing fully well this cannot be implemented because of the restrictions imposed by the WTO regulations. The farmers under stress are seething in rage. Gujarat PRI election results and Patel-Maratha-Kapu-Jat agitations are ominous signs. WTO or no WTO, promise on MSP is a sword of Damocles hanging on Modi's head.

The public investment on agriculture was drastically cut when Manmohanomics was introduced in 1991. Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globallsation regimes that followed since 1991 dealt a death blow to the farmers. The beneficiaries have been the organized sections. Farm suicide started in the year 1995. It goes un-abated even today. When India was shining, there was darkness in farm homes. That only brought down the Vajpayee's government in 2004. How many people cared to look at this farm misery? How many candles were lighted by the nationalists and patriots to condole their deaths? Who cared about those unfortunate families who lost their bread earners?

Agricultural sector still employs two thirds of India's workforce. And it feeds 100% of the population at a subsidized rate. Nowhere in the world one can see the strange spectacle of the poorest subsidizing the food and raw material expenses of the affordable sections. In the union budget, the share of agriculture is a whopping ONE %. While calculating the MSP, Rs 60 is considered as the daily wage of a farm worker. While the government is almost losing sleep over the huge unpaid loans of corporate fat cats, is there anyone in this government or Niti Ayog to think about the farm loans?

PSU banks lend 12% of its credit to agriculture sector. If purchase of vehicles and education-heath-marriage-house building loans are removed, hardly 6% of the credit goes to agriculture proper, the institutional credit is almost non-existent for vast majority of the farmers. They borrow at interest rates varying from 200 to 300%. Why won't they commit suicide? What is the action taken by Modl government to set right this anomaly? What was the percentage of budget allotment for agriculture in Arun Jaitley's budgets?

75% of the rural households earn a monthly average income of Rs 6400. Per capita monthly income works out to Rs 1280. If you one raises the bar to a monthly household income of Rs 10000,90% of them fail to reach that target. Yet quite a few of media pundits are grumbling why the hell the agriculturists are not taxed.

These were all the legacy of Congress, the chief destroyer of Indian agriculture. The agri-killing Congress and NDA-I regimes ensured the affordable sections flourishing at the cost of farm sector. Barring shouting and useless cosmetics, Modi has not done anything worthwhile to improve the lot of the farmers.

Meanwhile, the educated sections, eat comfortably at the cost of 880 million rural people. Modi asks them to wait till 2022 to double their income. Cruelty has its limits.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 39, Apr 3 - 9, 2016