by Avinash Pandey
More than 3 lakh (300,000) suicides in thirty years and millions of other lives ruined, would qualify as a national disaster, forcing the Government to tackle it all guns blazing in any democracy.
Alas, it does not in the one that claims to be the largest democracy of them all-India. In fact it hardly gets registered even as a minor irritant. Barring the particularly bad months it caused a spurt in farm suicides. So, the phenomenon escaped the inside pages of the vernacular Dailies and reached the “English” National Press. The months are all well marked. From April to July, many Indian States face drought and from December and January occasional hailstorms destroy crops, and with them, hope.
The intermittent mention of the crisis in the media does not mean that the Authorities are unaware of it. Everyone knows about it, even the Judiciary. The Supreme Court of India had itself stressed the urgency of the issue this January 2017. They termed it “a sensitive matter of larger public interest and human rights which covers the entire country”. The Court had also asked the Government why there was no National Policy to deal with crop failures and in-debtedness? These are two entwined and recurring reasons for the farmers to kill themselves in droves. And this is why they asked for a Policy.
The response of the Authorities is all well-marked. So well in fact, that they seem to come from some stuffy, official manual. The Government will show urgency in mitigating the immediate trigger, will announce extreme steps, including, once, rushing a ‘water train’ to a drought hit area at times without a drop of water in it! Then they will wait for the rains, some new crisis affecting a new set of people or whatever else that can take the attention away from themselves.
Alas, mostly the strategy works. The outrage over the deaths and suicides of farmers dies down. For civil society, the media and the activists, India has many outrages to move on to. The Supreme Court, on its part, has many other sensitive matters of ‘larger public interest and human rights’ affecting the country in its entirety. The draft National Policy for Farmers has become forgotten in the process. Yes, if media reports and agriculture ministry’s own press releases are any indication, then the Government has not even started. NO consultations with the stake holders, State Governments and farmers. Nine months and thousands of farm suicides after the Supreme Court directive, there is still no draft of the Policy available for discussion.
But that does not end the crisis in the hinterlands. The crops keep failing. And besides, the Government keeps failing the farmers too. This year 2017 itself, most of the 14 Kharif crops sold for less than the MSPs announced by the State Governments across India. Then the MSPs announced that 7 of the crops are themselves below the production cost. This was alleged by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). The margin for the others ranged from 2% to 19 % as against a promised 50%.
As their plight hardly reaches the policy makers, thousands of farmers decided to come to them in person, in flesh and blood and with however much of energy remains in their often undernourished bodies. They called for a nationwide protest on 20 and 21 November 2017, culminating in Delhi. The farmers, belonging to 184 Farmers Organizations across India, had come to Delhi after a long march of more than 10,000 kilometers. It was organized by the umbrella organization–All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). The farmers had come together basically with two demands- freedom from debt and competitive, remunerative prices for farm produce. They held a Kisan Mukti Sansad (Farmers’ Freedom Parliament) and passed two bills encompassing their two demands.
Ironically, both the demands are in fact are what Bhartiya Janata Party, heading the current Government of India, promised to the farmers in its manifesto. In fact, during the Campaign Poll in 2014, the incumbent Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi himself promised at least a 50 % profit margin on the input cost for the ‘minimum support price’. This price was set by the Government Authorities for buying farm produce, of all agricultural commodities. Of course the promise then changed to ‘doubling farmers income’ by 2022, three years after his current term ends!
Cut now to the draft National Policy asked for by the Supreme Court in January 2017. The learned Judges had raised the same issues–compensation for crops, crop failures and indebtedness as being central to the farm crisis.
Merely pointing out these problems is not going to change anything on the ground. The Government is neither delivering on its own promises nor on the Supreme Court’s order. The Bills should have been passed by Government in the real Parliament. It did not. Perhaps it is time for the Court to take charge and order the Government for a time-bound Action Plan monitored by the Courts. It cannot continue to affirm the farmers killing themselves by suicide. After all, 3 lakh (300,000) is already too many!
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About the Author: Mr. Avinash Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to Food Programme, AHRC. He can be contacted at email@example.com