India’s Agrarian Crisis Deepens: Endless Wait of Pro-Farmer Policies

Sourav Mukherjee

In November 2004, the National Commission on farmers was constituted headed by professor MS Swaminathan, to examine the causes of farmers’ distress which plagued our country post neoliberal economic reforms brought in by Manmohan Singh in the early 90s and recommend ways to resolve it. The commission submitted 5 reports from 2004 to 2007 to the government. Not for a single time a debate took place in the Parliament on those reports, leave alone implementation of any annexure from any of the five reports.

Between 1995 and 2015, 3,10,000 farmers committed suicide according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In recent years, agrarian distress has turned worse. Today agrarian distress across the country is just not a grave crisis anymore but a humanitarian one. Farm incomes have been squeezed by slower output growth & higher costs under Modi government. There are a slew of new problems resulting directly from govt policies. The prevailing situation is so scary that the Modi government has even not published the NCRB data of farmer suicides for the last two years. Add to that the livestock rearing, which had saved farmers from penury and accounts for nearly a third of agricultural value added, is under threat from cow vigilantes who are allowed to run riots.

In 2014, the BJP came to the power getting huge number of votes promising implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations especially the one on minimum support price (MSP). Within a year in 2015, the same government filed affidavits in courts and gave an RTI reply saying, Swaminathan recommendations cannot be implemented and termed it not feasible. In 2016, the agriculture minister, Radha Mohan Singh, said that they have never made such a promise. During last year’s Union budget speech in the Parliament, Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley yet again promised to provide 50% over cost of production as MSP to the farmers. Despite this announcement, the government had actually provided significantly lower margins over costs for most crops than the UPA regime.

No government in the past has been pro farmer. Landlessness of Indian farmers has never been addressed. Let’s be very clear, mere debt waver can never be the long term solution to the prevailing deep agrarian crisis. Steps like legal guarantee of MSP at cost of production + 50% with procurement support for all agricultural product has to be ensured. Monthly pension to all agricultural workers, poor and middle peasants have to be implemented. All farmers must be covered by a comprehensive pro-farmer crop insurance scheme for all crops. Special focus on women farmers must be kept by providing subsidised loans and financial subsidies. When will pro farmer policies like these and many more be implemented? Wait is on.

We have sat and watched and remained silent all these years on the agrarian crisis, but hopeful it is only a matter of time. It is a matter of time before the apathy of successive governments will be taken to task by the people of India. People will question anti farmer policies and force the government of the day to act which would end the plight of Indian farmers. This will include those individuals who today find gratification in worshipping a political demigod and could see no wrong in him. This will also include the fence sitters who avoid exhibiting their dissent on public platform for the cause. It is only a natural progression of history. Regret is that things are not lined up for those much needed positive changes now or by the looks of it in the near future. As a nation we might have to wait painstakingly a bit more than usual.

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