Protests by farmers in Indian states in the recent past, pressing the government to offer them more help have tossed a simmering agrarian crisis into the spotlight. Sometimes these protests turn fatal, as witnessed in Madhya Pradesh, where five farmers were killed as the police fired on a group of protestors.
In Maharashtra, the protest staged by farmers in a peaceful manner over loan waivers, prices and land rights at Mumbai on March 12 has come to a happy ending, as the BJP government in the state has, as usual, showed them ‘lollipops’ of promises. But then, there is no guarantee that these ‘lollipops’ would be delivered to the farmers.
The unrest exposes the precarious state in which the country’s struggling farmers and impoverished landless agricultural labourers find themselves in. They were also hit last year by a drop in India’s agricultural exports due to an appreciating currency, falling global prices and restrictions on overseas shipments.
The distress has prompted thousands of farmers in the country to take to the streets and call for crop loan waivers and increased prices for their crops. Tens of thousands of farmers have killed themselves in the country due to their miserable living and financial conditions.
The outburst of discontent poses a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has promised to double farmers’ income over the next five years. There is a risk that the unrest could spread and intensify if no effective measures were put in place to resolve the issues.
Farmers’ protest in Maharashtra:
Around 50,000 farmers, including children, women and the elderly, have walked all the way from Nashik to Mumbai, covering around 180 kms, for their “Kisan long march”. On the way they skipped meals and slept in the open, to converge in Mumbai on March 12.
Azad Maidan in Mumbai turned into a sea of red as farmers carrying red flags gathered to press their demands. They were led by the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was responding to a discussion in the Assembly, initiated by Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, said his government was “sensitive and positive” towards the demands of farmers and the tribal.
The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Shiv Sena, which is part of the ruling alliance, have extended support to the farmers’ demands. Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray met the farmers.
As the procession teemed into Mumbai, Girish Mahajan, senior minister in the cabinet of Devendra Fadnavis, welcomed the march at Mulund in suburban Mumbai. “We are sad that farmers have come all the way to protest,” he said, adding that the government, which has met some earlier demands, will consider the fresh wish-list.
Meanwhile, a senior BJP minister, who pleaded anonymity, said “The demand for full loan waiver and implementation of the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission have come from two quarters—the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the other opposition parties in the state, prominently the NCP.” He said the CPM, the NCP, and the Congress had joined hands to lend logistical support to the march and thereby attempt political revival.
The BJP ministers assured the protesting farmers that disputes still pending over tribal farmers’ ownership of land would be settled within six months. They also said the government would expand the loan-waiver scheme to benefit all farmers.
In November last year, the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra had announced loan waiver for farmers after the state witnessed a 10-day long protest by farmers. Without mentioning figures or who would be eligible, he had promised that it would be the “biggest loan waiver in Maharashtra’s history”.
Last month, the state Governor, Vidyasagar Rao, told the state assembly that the government has transferred more than Rs 12,000 crore into bank accounts of more than 31 lakh farmers.
The farmers had said the government was yet to implement the waiver it had promised them last year. Furthermore, before coming into power at the Centre almost four years ago, the same BJP had made myriads of promises to the farmers, but none of them has been fulfilled so far. Then, how could the farmers believe the hollow promises made by the government.
Apart from the loan waivers, farmers said they wanted to be paid at least one-and-a-half times the cost of their crops. The government sets prices for farming in India and procures crops from farmers to incentivise production and ensure income support.
The farmers also want the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, which says farmers should be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production and the Minimum Support Price should be fixed keeping this in mind. They said the tribal farmers, who mainly cultivate in forests, to be allowed to own land.
Farmers’ leader Vijay Javandhia said “agricultural income has swiftly declined in the country. Income in cotton, grains and pulses is declining day by day. That’s why the rural economy is gradually running out of money.
Sakhubai, a 65-year-old woman farmer from Nashik, said: “We need our land and this is our prime demand. I have injured my feet due to excessive walking, but I will continue to protest until our demands are met.
Dharmraj Shinde, one of the organisers of the march, said “we are fighting for our land. The government should give us ownership because it’s our right as tribal people.
Another farmer leader Subhash Kalu Gangode says, “We want what we were promised. We are here to protest against the unfair policies adopted by the government of Maharashtra with respect to farmers.
For decades now, farming in India has been blighted by drought, depleting groundwater level, declining productivity and lack of modernisation.
More than half of India’s population works in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to the country’s GDP. Put simply, farms employ a lot of people but produce too little.
Crop failures also trigger farm suicides with alarming frequency. Farmers also struggle with surplus harvests because the country lacks adequate food storage and processing capacity. A former forest department official in Maharashtra, who was serving when the Forest Rights Act was introduced, said the very purpose of the Act was to let tribal and forest-dwelling communities own the forest-land they have been tilling. He said “Since this was the stated objective of the Act, large number of tribal and forest-dwellers were made aware of the provisions of the Act in Maharashtra by NGOs and activists. Maharashtra is ahead of other states in implementation of this Act due to this but there are thousands of pending claims and this is what the farmer march represented.
The protesting farmers were greeted by a welcoming committee of residents, students and others. Packets of biscuits, snacks and water were pressed into the tired hands. Many had come with boxes of footwear, moved by images of calloused, blistered and even bleeding feet.
In Vikhroli, a schoolboy was among those who distributed food packets to the protesters. Resident associations lined up along the Eastern Express Highway, like in a marathon, handing out water and snacks.
As the large contingent of farmers in red caps passed through their neigbourhood in Mulund, some residents showered flowers.
According to Talekar, the Mumbai roti-bank, of which the dabbawalas are an integral part, deploys GPS-tracked vans to collect excess food from eateries, hotels, public functions and households, so that it can be distributed to the poor and hungry people.
Meanwhile, city residents were also seen offering ‘Vada-pav’, other food items and water to farmers last night. A Mumbai resident also posted on social media a picture of food and water being distributed to farmers.
Subhash Talekar, the spokesperson of Mumbai Dabbawala Association, said, “We thought about helping the farmers with food as they are our food-providers and have come from remote parts of the state.”
“We asked our men working between Dadar and Colaba to collect food and deliver it to our farmer brothers at the Azad Maidan,” he said.
Key demands of the farmers
- An extension of the loan waiver scheme which they had announced last year.
- The implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which says that whatever land is cultivated by tribals to be vested in their names.
- Pension for poor farmers and agriculture workers.
- Immediate relief to farmers who lost nearly Rs 12,000 crore due to the pink ball worm attacks on Bt cottons in Marathwada and Vidarbha.
- Oppose land acquisition programmes for schemes like Bullet trains.
- Oppose major river linking projects which are creating problems.
Shed egos and accept farmers’ demands: Rahul
Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to shed their egos and accept the “just demands” of the thousands of farmers and tribals protesting in Mumbai. The mammoth farmers march to Mumbai is a “stunning example of people’s power”, Gandhi said on Twitter. The Congress, he added, stands with the farmers and tribals marching to protest against the apathy of the central and state governments. “I appeal to PM Modi and the CM to not stand on ego and to accept their just demands,” Gandhi tweeted.
The farmers’ protest in the heart of Mumbai may just be the beginning. For, leaders of farmers’ associations in several states are planning to hold similar marches in their respective states in the lead-up to a mega protest in the national capital in April. “The government’s anti-farmer stand needs to be challenged. We will hold a rally for the same in Guwahati very soon. Also, all state farmer heads are in close collaboration and we are planning to hold a big protest in New Delhi sometime in April. Farmers from all over India will be present in that rally. State farm heads are meeting in Guwahati this month itself,” said Akhil Gogoi, a Northeast-based farmer rights leader.
Farmers’ struggle in India has a long history of unheard demands and ignorance in revamping the agricultural sector.
More than 50,000 farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttaranchal held a massive protest in front of the Parliament in New Delhi against the step motherly treatment to agriculture by the Government of India, on February 27, 2008.
Farmers were agitated over the pro-corporate policies of the government which has led to massive distress in agriculture. The large scale farmers’ suicide and massive displacement from rural areas is a clear manifestation of this severe crisis.
Again in November last, under a common umbrella of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) around 184 farmer groups from different states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Telangana participated in the protest walk at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi.
Banners and flags of different organisations were waved, but what brought them together was a common demand a one-time complete waiver of farmer loans and fair prices for their produce. Yogendra Yadav, the national president of Swaraj India party, spearheaded the march.
“Every year the farmers of our country face a dual crisis, one is that they do not get a good produce, and when they do, they do not get fair prices for it. We are here for reminding the Narendra Modi government of their pre-poll promises made to the farmers,” said Yadav. He said the Swaminathan Committee had recommended some measures that the central government needs to take to avert the agrarian crisis in India. However, after 12 years since the recommendations were tabled, nothing has been done.
In Madhya Pradesh, the farmers’ agitation in June last had taken an ugly turn following the killing of six agitating farmers in police action. Properties worth crores were destroyed in arson and rioting.
Five of the six farmers who lost their lives in the agitation from June 1 to 10 were killed in police firing on June 6, while the sixth one, who was struck on the head with a baton, succumbed in a hospital three days later.
Following the police action the farmers went on rampage and indulged in large- scale arson and rioting which has resulted into loss of more than Rs 400 crore of properties. Besides the deaths of farmers, more than 100 police personnel sustained injuries in the violence, six of them are critical. As many as 197 buses, 127 government vehicles and scores of two wheelers were set on fire and a number of show-rooms were ransacked by the mob.
The farmers’ doubts linger, mostly because the Madhya Pradesh government is yet to fulfil many promises which the BJP had made in its 2013 assembly election manifesto. The promises include the constitution of a loan relief commission, provident fund scheme for farmers, cattle ambulances, agro-polytechnic colleges, distribution of land among the landless, loan advisory centres, and a regulatory authority to compensate for substandard seeds, amongst others.
The party had also promised to implement the Swaminathan Committee’s formula under which the MSP would be the total cost of production plus 50% of the weighted average. But, it didn’t happen.
Farmers’ suicides: From February 2016 to mid-February 2017, 1,982 farmers and farm labourers reportedly have committed suicide, whereas total 21,000 farmers have taken their lives in the past 16 years in the state. The National Crime Record Bureau, (NCRB), has recorded 11,000 farmer suicides in MP since 2008, many of them in Hoshangabad district.
Farmers agitate and call off stir on CM’s assurance in Mumbai
Farmers’ making a beeline to the metropolitan city like Mumbai demanding to have their loan and power bills waived and other demands rarely become a national headline. However, this was proved by the 12,000 odd farmers, who travelled all the way from Nashik to Mumbai in support of their demand. The state Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, had finally to bow to their demands and he had to send his emissaries to the agitating farmers to talk to them and inform them that their almost all the demands would be met by the state government. On hearing this, the farmers, who had gathered at Mantralaya, had to call off their agitation and peacefully left for their villages.
For more than a week, the farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra has grabbed the national headlines. In fact, the agitation affected the supply of vegetables, fruits and milk to the cities. Prices of these essential commodities went through the roof at several places, which made the farmers’ stir a prominent subject of discussion. For the past few months, the issue of farm loan waiver is being put forth by the farmers’ outfits, Opposition parties and even Shiv Sena, which is part of the Central and the state governments. The agitation was kicked off by a few groups of farmers from Ahmednagar district, who called for a strike from June 1, to seek attention of the government to their demands. The government managed to take the fizz out of this agitation, as it invited their representatives for talks and promised certain decisions — including [Rs30,000 crore] farm loan waiver for small and marginal farmers. Some of the representatives called off the agitation, while others chose to continue.
However, it is far from over as farmers’ agitation is an ongoing phenomenon i9n the state for quite some time. On one hand, the Opposition and the Shiv Sena have supported the agitation, on the other, two prominent farmers outfits, Shetkari Sanghatana (founded by renowned farmers’ leader late Sharad Joshi) and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, led by MP Raju Shetti, have now joined hands. The two organisations have significant following, which means their agitations will have a deeper impact. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis insisted the farmers were happy with the promise made by him and remarked the government will talk to real farmers and not those who are using farmers for political gains. His target is the Congress-NCP combine. The farmers want water to grow multiple crops, low interest loans, minimum assured income through protection against price fluctuations and crop insurance so they get adequate compensation in case of a crop failure owing to natural calamity.
Moreover, they want that their power bill must be subsidised.Normally, the middlemen or go-betweens who sell seeds and fertilisers and those who buy their produce exploit them. Often, these traders are hand in glove with politicians and local officials. Public sector banks have thousands of crores defaulted by industrialists, but they are not keen to give loans to farmers. Cooperative bank network is a better option for farmers in several parts, but it is flawed. As the farmers’ outfits organised Maharashtra bandh, there was a significant development.
Influential farmers leaders are now coming together. The outfits have reconstituted their state-level core committee by including prominent farmers’ leaders such as Shetti, Raghunanthdada Patil, Vijay Jawandhia, Girdhar Patil and independent legislator Bachchu Kadu. These leaders will now meet and chalk out a strategy to stage a sustained agitation to force the government to accept their demands. The farmers’ agitation was called off after a meeting between a 12-member farmers delegation and a committee of ministers appointed by the Devendra Fadnavis government in Mumbai. The government has reportedly accepted major demands of farmers and will implement it in next six months. Earlier, thousands of farmers from across Maharashtra, who started on a ‘Long March’ from Nashik, descended in south Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to press for their demands of unconditional loan waiver, and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years. The movement is spearheaded by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s All India Kisan Sabha.
Fadnavis said that his government had agreed to almost all the demands of the farmers who participated in the “long march” that culminated here today. He said that the government would set up a committee to hand over ownership of land, currently notified as forests, to Adivasi farmers tilling them. It was one of the primary demands of the farmers and tribals who participated in the ‘long march’. “A meeting was held with farmers and Adivasi representatives in the Vidhan Bhavan (Legislative Complex). We have agreed to set up a committee to allot such land to Adivasis, provided they submit proof that they have been tilling it. The proof document should be from before 2005. We have accepted almost all their demands,” Fadnavis told reporters outside the state assembly.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate a three-day ‘Krishi Unnati Mela’ starting 16 March with a focus on doubling farmers’ income. The fair will be held at the Pusa campus in Delhi.Modi will also give away Krishi Karman Awards to states and progressive farmers who have made outstanding contribution in the field of agriculture. According to people aware of the matter, Modi will visit the theme pavilion and address farmers on 17 March. After Mumbai, it was the turn of the Odisha assembly to face protests by farmers as thousands of them launched a dharna in front of it on Monday. The farmers are demanding a hike in the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy to Rs5,000 per quintal. They are also seeking a pension of Rs5,000 per month for the state’s 36 lakh farmers. There is no pension for farmers at present in the state. In a major victory for the farmers, who trekked 180km from Nashik to here over six days under the blazing sun, some even barefooted, the state’s revenue minister, Chandrakant Patil, said their “all demands” were being accepted. However, a moot question remains unanswered if the farmers will get their due or it will just be remembered as a political gimmick as the government doesn’t want any stone to be unturned at a time when general elections to a few state assemblies and the general elections were round the corner in next year. Second most important thing being that who was the final beneficiary of the farmers’ agitation. It needs to be looked into. Again, the ongoing farmers’ suicides cases has turned to be a menace and one can only hope that it will be curbed.
Tamil Nadu Farmers Protest
The severe 2016 drought and the Hydro-Carbon project’s implementation in Tamil Nadu had frustrated Tamil farmers who started innovative protests in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.
Seeing their crops started to be charred, the farmers started to die of heart attacks and attempting suicides. The Tamil Nadu government requested Rs 40,000 crore relief fund, whereas the Central Govt approved a financial assistance of just Rs 2,014 crore, which didn’t satisfy the needs of the farmers of Tamil Nadu.
They did some innovative protesting methods like half shaving their beards and hairs, eating the flesh of rats and snake etc. Taking the bizarreness of their protests up a notch, the farmers at Jantar Mantar have vowed to consume their urine on April 22, 2017. If the Centre still doesn’t pay attention, they will eat human faeces the next day. On the 22nd day protest, the TN High Court ordered gave judgement for the case filed by Ayyakannu for waiving farmers’ loan in cooperative banks. The judgement was given according to the wishes of farmers to waive all farmers’ loans in cooperative banks.
Rajasthan farmers bury themselves in mud
About 650 women in October last year have buried themselves neck-deep in the ground to oppose the Jaipur Development Authority’s (JDA) move to acquire land in their village, marked Diwali and performed puja at the demonstration site, continuing their protest against the Rajasthan government.
The farmers of Nindar village, located on the outskirts of Jaipur, are protesting against the acquisition of over 1,300 bighas of land for a housing project claiming that the compensation offered was not enough. As their demonstration entered its 19th day over 1,000 protesters celebrated Diwali and performed Govardhan puja at the protest site. The land in Nindar village, around 20 km from Jaipur, is part of the 333 hectares the Rajasthan government had earmarked in 2010 for a housing project.
The farmers are protesting against the rate of compensation the government is offering. Again in February 2018, Rajasthan farmers staged a massive protest on Jaipur-Sikar highway to press for fulfilment of their demands, including complete loan waiver and implementation of the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission.
The National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) in 2015, reported excessive rate of farmer suicides due to economic distress, drought, less production, lack of remunerative prices, inadequate credit from institutions, bankruptcy, rising cost of inputs. High-yield seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, deterioration of soil quality due to exceeding use of chemicals, higher use of expensive machinery, scissors crisis enunciated as increasing cost of inputs without increase in prices have only increased the farmers’ burden.
Policies like demonetisation, which had voluminous objectives from vanishing counterfeit money to making India a “cashless economy” and transcend “digitalisation” that devastated the agrarian sector.
According to a blueprint released by the agriculture ministry in September last, raising crop production, reducing cultivation costs and post-harvest losses, and reform of agriculture markets are among the focus areas of the central government.
The Narendra Modi government boasts it’s allocating more budgetary funds towards the agricultural sector than the previous UPA regime. Modi also promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. But will that even happen?
Not just farmers’ protest, today, we are entrapped in a malevolent milieu, which highlights jingoism, hatred, bigotry, antagonism and intolerance. Innumerable protests protests by BHU students demanding greater autonomy for them, especially girls, protests against cow vigilantes killing Muslims in the name of cow protection, killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore, who was also a hardcore critique of Hindutva ideology and protests against attacks on Christians over alleged forceful conversion — have seen in the recent past.
*Views expressed are author’s own.