A wilful negligence

Governments have not acted on recommendations of committees on farmer welfare

Written by Colin Gonsalves | Published: November 23, 2017 12:05 am
Tamil Nadu farmers protest, Farmer suicide, farmer loans How many rats must the protesting Tamil Nadu farmers at Jantar Mantar eat before the government acts? (PTI/File)

How many more farmers must die before the prime minister condescends to take notice? How many rats must the protesting Tamil Nadu farmers at Jantar Mantar eat before the government acts? How many more fake farm loan waiver schemes will be announced before the cabinet realises that farmers cannot be fooled anymore? Despite 300,000 farmers taking their lives over the past two decades, this government is unmoved.

The central government constituted a series of high-powered committees on farmers’ suicides. They made explicit recommendations. The Ramesh Chand Committee Report of March 2015 said the Minimum Support Price (MSP) should be calculated by computing farm labour at the skilled wage rate, calculating land rent at the actual rent without any ceiling, calculating interest on working capital by including a factor relating to borrowing from non-institutional sources, calculating interest on working capital for the whole and not half the crop season, by including in the cost of cultivation post-harvest costs and by including the rate of inflation. If this is done, the MSP would rise by over 50 per cent.

It also recommended that the government correct all instances where the MSP is lower than the cost of production. It drew attention to the recommendations of the National Farmers Commission headed by M.S. Swaminathan that had made a similar recommendation decades ago. Not only has the MSP not been scientifically revised, but farmers have been forced to sell below the MSP across India.

The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) was launched with fanfare to provide crop insurance to nine crore agricultural households. The Centre for Science and Environment reported that only 20 per cent of the eligible farmers were covered and most farmers had no idea about the scheme. Rs 13,240 crore of government money found its way into the bank accounts of private insurance companies that more often than not refused to pay, making a variety of excuses.

This insurance scheme does not cover tenant farmers even though they constitute 50 per cent of farmers’ suicides in Andhra Pradesh and other states. They should be registered and given documents such as the Loan Eligibility Cards as in AP and the Bhoomiheen Kisan Credit Card or the Certificate of Cultivator so that get crop insurance, crop loss relief and other benefits. The insurance schemes does not cover women farmers even though the National Farmers’ Commission recommended decades ago that their names be included in the column of cultivators and concessions on registrations and stamp duty be granted to women to incentivise land transfers to them. M.S. Swaminathan had even drafted a Women Farmers Entitlements Bill, 2011 which was revised by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch. No one in government took notice.

Many expert committees have recommended urgent steps to reduce rural indebtedness to contain the intensification of the debt burden which has risen alarmingly. For this, the RBI guidelines that require 18 per cent of Adjusted Net Bank Credit (ANBC) to be set aside for agriculture, and 8 per cent of this exclusively for small and marginal holders, must be followed. Instead, the government allowed big industrial houses to corner capital meant for poor farmers by amending the RBI definition of “agriculture” and “allied activities” to allow for large agri-businesses.

The central government-appointed Task Force on Organic and Non-Chemical Farming recommended in 2016 that all states should substitute chemical fertilisers with bio inputs in at least 10 per cent of the net cultivated area (up from 1 per cent today) and provide high-quality organic seeds to farmers by 2025. Similar recommendations were made by the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates headed by Murli Manohar Joshi. However, GM food giants like Monsanto have a more powerful lobby of MPs than organic farmers.

Finally, trade policies have destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of farmers. At times of high production, import policies have been tweaked to allow for cheap imports, decimating the farm economy. All over the world, governments subsidise and take care of their farmers. Here we push them to suicide.

The writer is a senior advocate, Supreme Court of India, and founder of Human Rights Law Network

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    manish agrawal
    Nov 24, 2017 at 8:39 am
    Dear Colin Gonsalves, who have nicely put the issue. You must be praised to dig out such brutal reality of India. I want to know that have you visited the farmland personally? what is the scenario ? and according to you how this issue can be solved. ?
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      manish agrawal
      Nov 24, 2017 at 8:42 am
      Sorry typing mistake in first line who you
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      manish agrawal
      Nov 24, 2017 at 8:33 am
      I am leaving in an urban area. I cannot what is the real truth. But one thing which I can say it is become a complex problem as it not given due attention in the past. And vested interest took the matter for their interest. Now the time has come someone has to clean all this mess-up. But the question is how and who can do this. Here also one thing is clear he must be an unbiased person with utmost dignity, respect and most important he must be directly related to the farming profession. Here I cannot talk about the solution what can be done. But most important is the willpower to solve this issue. If the strong determination, with a sincere will power, the ways will find it way to solve the problem. Hurdles will come, but the bar of the determination should be high enough to deal with it, because it the matter of the unseen mother who feeds all of us.
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        goforbarney
        Nov 24, 2017 at 2:31 am
        farmers who are they ??? sorry error 404 not found.. most imp topic how bhansali can make movie and disturb our so called public sentiment .. 60 child died in gorakpur due to lack of oxygen airpollution killing million of India premature deaths but we are discussiong bhansali and padmavati .. ARE WE DOOMED ALREADY .. who to blame ?? public media ?? all political parties are same be it bjp aap SP bsp all are Suckers .. literally...and we keep debating in favour of political parties and their leaders rather than confronting all and each of them together . we choose to slave and loyal to them
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        1. R
          Raja
          Nov 24, 2017 at 12:49 am
          Whatever party is in power, MNCs are able to get our governments to favour their business interests: 1. Forcing us to eat tons of pesticides and dangerous GM products and 2. Pushing farmers to suicide. MNCs are out to "prove" agriculture by small farmers is not viable, before our Governments will invite them to take over agriculture and "save" India. "Promotion" of farmers' suicide is part of this plot. Government allowing castrated (GM) seeds into India is a clear step to make our agriculture unviable. We force farmers to buy seed year after from MNCs! Farmers' suicide is a great sign of hope for MNCs. They expect our farmers to abanden agriculture soon. We don't learn from African countries where MNCs took over agriculture and created mass poverty. Thanks Gonzalves for your alert. Great is your commitment to save fellow citizens neglected by govts. be they migrant workers at ASIAN Games or the dying farmers today. Let's Save Farmers. Let's Save Farming from MNCs take over.
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            Bhupendra kumar mishra
            Nov 23, 2017 at 11:50 pm
            Upto what time people will curse the Congress government, we have given bjp a full majority, now its their time to act without giving excuse of the past, after all the writer has given fruitful information and condemned previous government by highlighting ms swaminathan commission report, then please give your argument in favour or opposition, not just calling one by his caste or saying about some agenda...... Blindly following something is not justified
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