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A vote of no confidence from the farmers

There is enough evidence to show that the government has failed farmers and agricultural labourers in a big way

As the Lok Sabha debates the vote of no confidence today, representatives of farmers from across the country will be marching outside Parliament under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of 201 farmer organisations. Farmers have already passed a vote of no confidence against this government. Far from helping the farmers, this government has actually harmed them in their hour of crisis. This is a strong indictment, backed by solid evidence.

Here, it is not conclusive to give data on sluggish agricultural growth during this regime. Agricultural production suffered due to consecutive droughts for which it is unfair to blame the government. Nor can we use the data on farmer suicides to make a conclusive argument, as this government has tinkered so much, both with the definition of the term and data collection on it, that the data has been made unusable. Further, in any case, the data on farmer suicides has not been released for 15 months now.

Ten arguments

Here are ten concrete, evidence-based, arguments on why the farmers of India express their vote of no confidence against this government.

 

First, this government has failed to act on any of its major election promises in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s manifesto promised nothing short of “highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers income and rural development”. The government’s own Economic Survey 2018 has already conceded that farmers’ real income has “remained stagnant”, recording a 1.9% growth over four years. The concrete promise of higher public investment in agriculture did not materialise; in fact, it has declined in terms of its share of GDP.

The new farm insurance scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, has consumed thrice as much money as earlier schemes without either increasing the proportion of farmers who benefited from it, or giving a fair claim to the farmers. The promise of “welfare measures” — for farmers above 60, small farmers and farm labourers — was forgotten. The National Land Use Policy was never enacted. The Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act was not reformed. We don’t even have a ‘promises vs. delivery’ report card yet.

The MSP promise

Second, the Narendra Modi government actually reneged on its biggest promise of ensuring “50% profit over the cost of production” to the farmers. In February 2015, it filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court refusing to implement this promise on the ground that it will “distort” the agricultural market. As pressure from farmer organisations mounted, the government shifted the goalpost in the 2018 Budget by changing the definition of cost of production for the purpose of calculating the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

 

Third, not only did the government not fulfil its promise of “cost+50%” as MSP, it did not even maintain the routine annual increase in MSP. It began this by stopping the bonus over the MSPs announced by State governments. Over the nearly five-year period, the percentage increase in MSP by this government has actually been lower than the hike by both the previous governments.

Even this government’s much-publicised recent hike in MSP this year is lower than the year-on-year increase announced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2008-09. The Modi government’s failure to implement the MSP that it announced forced the farmers into distress sale of Kharif and Rabi crops, amounting to at least ₹50,000 crore, in 2017-18.

Fourth, this government is guilty of perhaps the most lackadaisical response to nationwide droughts in 2014-15 and 2015-16. The central government’s response was limited to a revision in the eligibility cap for compensation and a routine raise in the compensation amount but also included cuts in contribution to States from the National Disaster Relief Fund. Despite repeated push from the Supreme Court, the government did not take any proactive steps in terms of either declaration of drought, improvement in ration delivery, or response to drinking water crisis specified in its own Manual for Drought Management. The Supreme Court had to reprimand the central government.

Choking the MGNREGS

Fifth, the Modi government’s lack of political will in implementing the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has hit the rural poor in general and farm labourers in particular. After making a determined but unsuccessful attempt to dismantle the MGNREGS, the Modi government has choked this programme of adequate and timely funds and reneged on its legal obligation to provide timely wages and compensation for delayed payments.

Sixth, from imposing Minimum Export Price on potatoes in 2014 to importing sugar from Pakistan, this government has followed anti-farmer trade policies. Farm exports were systematically discouraged, leading to a decline in agricultural exports from $43 billion on 2013-14 to $33 billion in 2016-17. At the same time, import of lentil, chana, wheat, sugar and milk powder was allowed that led to a crash in crop prices.

Seventh, the Modi government’s ill-advised and shoddily implemented policy of demonetisation dealt a severe blow to agricultural markets, especially to fruit and vegetable markets, just when the farmers were recovering from the consecutive droughts. A sudden shrinking of cash led to demand contraction and fall in prices, whose effects are being felt even now.

Eighth, the government’s crude attempt to regulate livestock market by imposing ban on livestock movement and its protection to those guilty of lynching the suspected “cow smugglers” has disrupted livestock economic cycle, leading to loss of income on the one hand and aggravation of the widespread problem of animals destroying crops on the other.

Ninth, for the adivasi farmer, this is surely the most insensitive government. In a series of moves, this government has diluted the Forest Rights Act and various other environmental and forest conservation laws substantially in order to help the transfer of common land and water resources from the adivasis to industry.

And finally, the Modi government made not one but four attempts to bring an ordinance so as to nullify the historic Land Acquisition Act of 2013 and take away the few concessions that farmers had won after 120 years. Further, the government has effectively bypassed this law in the land acquisitions done by central agencies like the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and has also allowed State governments to nullify the provisions benefitting the land-owning farmers.

Notwithstanding its recent attempts at damage control, this government has justly acquired the reputation of being the most anti-farmer government in the history of independent India. Whatever the fate of the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha, the Modi government would find it hard to win a vote of confidence brought by the farmers.

Yogendra Yadav is national president, Swaraj India. Avik Saha is the national convener of Jai Kisan Andolan

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Printable version | Mar 19, 2020 8:07:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-vote-of-no-confidence-from-the-farmers/article24464628.ece

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