Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had imposed a curfew in Mandsaur district on Tuesday, 6 June, as a precaution after six farmers were shot dead by the state police in the ongoing protests. In many districts, the internet was also shut down.
Farmers in MP & Maharashtra have been protesting since June 1, demanding loan waiver and fair price, among others. Today, Tamil Nadu farmers also joined the protest.
The CM’s move intensified the agitation in the state, with protesters in Mandsaur and the adjoining district of Neemuch defying the curfew and indulging in arson and violence on Wednesday, as reported by The Indian Express.
In an attempt to calm matters, CM Chouhan had increased the compensation from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore to the next of kin of each dead. He also held a meeting of his Krish Cabinet on Wednesday and announced more sops for the farmers, including a loan settlement of Rs 6000-crore to waive of interests of defaulters. He reiterated his decision to set up a Rs 1000-crore price stabilisation fund and said that tur, urad and moong would be purchased from the farmers between June 10 and June 30.
Farmers are the backbone of the country, and the rural economy is one of the essential components of India’s growth story. And yet our politicians are notorious for turning a blind eye to farmers’ plights and agrarian reforms.
Why is this so? After all, it is not as if there is no research or recommendations on these issues. On the contrary, solutions to most agrarian problems have been known for over a decade.
The Swaminathan Commission
In 2004, the central government appointed MS Swaminathan, “the father of the Green Revolution in India”, to head the National Commission on Farmers (NCF). Therefore, the NCF is also known as the Swaminathan Commission.
Between December 2004 and October 2006, the NCF submitted five reports on the status of agriculture, the possibility of agrarian reform, and the plight of Indian farmers. The Commission also focused on land reforms, irrigation, farm loans, food security, and employment.
The Commission stated: “The time has therefore come when we should focus more on the economic well-being of the women and men feeding the nation than just on production. … The time is opportune for revitalising our agricultural progress by making agrarian prosperity and food security and sovereignty the bottom line for government policies and priorities in agriculture and rural development … We are confident that if our hardworking farm women and men are assisted on the lines proposed in this draft policy statement, they will ensure a glorious destiny for the country in the field of agriculture and food security.”
The report’s findings were widely publicised and widely debated – but not widely implemented. Successive governments have been criticised for not implementing the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. It has been over a decade since the Commission submitted its final report – and most of its salient points have been ignored by our leaders.
Key findings and recommendations of the NCF
The Swaminathan Commission recommended on many aspects of the agrarian economy and rural life. These include rural employment, reform, land reform, farmer suicides, food security, agricultural productivity, farm loans, irrigation, farm infrastructure etc. Below are explained four of them.
To get a detailed, sufficient understanding of the reports, readers are advised to go through all the reports. Here are some relevant links:
The major causes of agrarian distress on farmers are:
- unfinished agenda in land reform,
- quantity and quality of water,
- technology fatigue,
- access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit,
- opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing, and
- adverse meteorological factors.
Need for land reforms
In 1991-92, the share of the bottom half of the rural households in the total land ownership was only 3% and the top 10% was as high as 54%. The Commission said progressive land reform should be implemented as soon as possible.
The NCF said, “The first and foremost task of the National Policy for Farmers would be in the area of land reform with particular reference to tenancy laws, land leasing, distribution of ceiling surplus land and wasteland, providing adequate access to common property and 5 wasteland resources, and the consolidation of holdings.”
Some of the main recommendations include:
- Distribute ceiling-surplus and waste lands;
- Prevent diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes;
- Ensure grazing rights and seasonal access to forests to tribals and pastoralists, and access to common property resources;
- Establish a National Land Use Advisory Service, which would have the capacity to link land use decisions with ecological meteorological and marketing factors on a location and season specific basis;
- Set up a mechanism to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer.
How farmer suicides can be prevented
- Provide affordable health insurance and revitalize primary healthcare centres. The National Rural Health Mission should be extended to suicide hotspot locations on priority basis.
- Set up State level Farmers’ Commission with representation of farmers for ensuring dynamic government response to farmers’ problems.
- Restructure microfinance policies to serve as Livelihood Finance, i.e. credit coupled with support services in the areas of technology, management and markets.
- Cover all crops by crop insurance with the village and not block as the unit for assessment.
- Provide for a Social Security net with provision for old age support and health insurance.
- Promote aquifer recharge and rainwater conservation. Decentralise water use planning and every village should aim at Jal Swaraj with Gram Sabhas serving as Pani Panchayats.
- Ensure availability of quality seed and other inputs at affordable costs and at the right time and place.
- Recommend low risk and low cost technologies which can help to provide maximum income to farmers because they cannot cope with the shock of crop failure, particularly those associated with high cost technologies like Bt cotton.
- Need for focused Market Intervention Schemes (MIS) in the case of life-saving crops such as cumin in arid areas. Have a Price Stabilisation Fund in place to protect the farmers from price fluctuations.
- Need swift action on import duties to protect farmers from international price.
- Set up Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) or Gyan Chaupals in the farmers’ distress hotspots. These can provide dynamic and demand driven information on all aspects of agricultural and nonfarm livelihoods and also serve as guidance centres.
- Public awareness campaigns to make people identify early signs of suicidal behavior.
The proportion of households below the poverty line was 28% in 2004-05 (close to 300 million people). However, in 1999-2000, the percentage of population consuming diets providing less than 2400 kcal (underlines definition of below poverty line) per capita per day was almost 77% of the rural population. Several studies have shown that the poverty is concentrated and food deprivation is acute in predominantly rural areas with limited resources such as rain-fed agricultural areas.
To ensure food security, the NCF recommends the following:
- Implement a universal public distribution system. The NCF pointed out that the total subsidy required for this would be one per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.
- Reorganise the delivery of nutrition support programmes on a life-cycle basis with the participation of Panchayats and local bodies.
- Eliminate micronutrient deficiency induced hidden hunger through an integrated food cum fortification approach.
- Promote the establishment of Community Food and Water Banks operated by Women Self-help Groups (SHG), based on the principle ‘Store Grain and Water everywhere’.
- Help small and marginal farmers to improve the productivity, quality and profitability of farm enterprises and organize a Rural Non-Farm Livelihood Initiative.
- Formulate a National Food Guarantee Act continuing the useful features of the Food for Work and Employment Guarantee programmes. By increasing demand for foodgrains as a result of increased consumption by the poor, the economic conditions essential for further agricultural progress can be created.
The Logical Indian take
Agriculture in India accounts for 50% of the workforce. Though it is an industry which has lost its GDP-share in the past decades, it remains the backbone of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
Farmers’ suicides in India rose by 42% in the last few years. Since 1995, over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide. At the same time, the number of farmers in India fell by 9 million, which makes the spike in suicides all the more alarming.
Maharashtra is the hotbed for farmers’ suicides, closely followed by Telangana and Karnataka. States are also accused of giving false information and covering up evidence, so actual numbers will be much higher.
8 in 10 farmer suicides are due to debts on loans from banks. On average, agricultural households make Rs 6426 and spend Rs 6223 every month. Farmers can barely feed their families; how can they repay loans? How can they invest effectively in agriculture to enhance their produce?
The Supreme Court has criticised the lack of a national policy to aid farmers. Human rights groups have criticised the lack of a national policy to aid farmers. Meanwhile, we are being oblivious to the plight of our farmers.
The government should take the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission seriously and implement the same as soon as possible on a national level so that the problems of our farmers are alleviated and the agricultural sector of the Indian economy can catch up with the other sectors.