Love For Farmers, A Political Game!
Hyderabad: After five farmers were shot dead in Madhya Pradesh, the country’s attention turned to farmers’ plight. In a country where agriculture is considered its backbone, protests, agitations and suicides by farmers only highlight the gulf between the assurances of the governments on agriculture and their implementation.
The increasing costs of production and falling price of produce are only pushing the farmers more into debt traps. Lack of reasonable price to their produce is frustrating the farmers and forcing them to resort to agitations and even suicides.
The dramatic events that unfolded when Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was on his way to Mandsaur, and his statements that he came to console the victims’ families might score for him a few brownie points, but it certainly will not change the situation in Madhya Pradesh or anywhere in the country, as a vision is necessary to alleviate their problems. Not only in Madhya Pradesh, farmers are also protesting in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. But Rahul chose MP because the media glare is on the State.
The problems of the farmers are generally recognised by the political parties when elections are around. The Madhya Pradesh is going for election next year; hence all the opposition parties suddenly started focusing on the farmers’ plight.
The fact is, the UPA had constituted the National Commission of Farmers (NCF) under the chairmanship of Professor M S Swaminathan in November, 2004 submitted five reports – in December 2004. August 2005, December 2005 and April 2006. The final report was submitted in October, 2006. The Agriculture scientist made many suggestions to safeguard the interests of farmers, especially small farmers. But sincere efforts are not made by the then government to implement them.
The major recommendations he made included, distributing ceiling-surplus and waste lands; preventing diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes; setting up a mechanism to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer.
Most of the recommendations are grossly violated by the UPA. The hearts of UPA leaders are bleeding for farmers when sitting in opposition. The diversion of prime agriculture land and forest to corporate sector for non agricultural purposes is done without any remorse by the political class under the name of development. In Andhra Pradesh, capital city is being built on fertile agricultural lands without any regrets.
It has become a habit of political parties to use loan waiver as a tool to win votes, Professor Swaminathan suggested something which would not hurt the economy or the farmers. He in his report suggested that the outreach of the formal credit system to reach the really poor and needy should be expanded. This is important because 67.10 percent of the farmers are marginal farmers who don’t have access to institutional credit. These farmers raise loans from private lenders, fall into debt traps, either sell the land to the lender or commit suicide. But, the no government is addressing this problem.
Two more important suggestions on farm loans include – the interest for crop loans should be reduced to 4 percent with government support. Presently the interest rate is fixed at 7 percent, and government provides interest subvention by 3 percent for farmers who repay promptly, which is impossible for majority of them for various reasons.
Swaminathan suggested a moratorium on debt recovery, including loans from non-institutional sources, and waiver of interest on loans in distress hotspots and during calamities, till capability is restored. These suggestions would certainly help farmers and also the economy, instead of a blanket loan waiver which would only be a burden to the government. But, who is bothered?
The political parties are treating farmers like vote banks. Allowing MNC’s to sell seeds, chemicals and fertilizers and make farmers depend on them at any cost will not improve their plight.
The high yielding variety seeds naturally attract farmers but the excess production again leads to fall in prices and push the farmers into debt trap. A vicious circle indeed!
Earlier farmers never used to buy seeds as they would keep aside some produce for sowing, after the genetically modified high yielding varieties entered markets, they completely destroyed the indigenous seeds, soil leading to ecological imbalance in agricultural lands. The government which allowed shamelessly the MNCs which sell such seeds is now shedding crocodile tears.
The political parties when in government took a pro corporate stand, speaking about farmers problems when out of power, is nothing less than deception.
It is time that political parties should stop taking advantage of their situation and start doing something concrete to improve their lives.