2019 Elections: Finally Recognising Farmer’s Issues?

by September 13, 2018 0 comments

Although farmers issues are being neglected for a long time, things may change in 2019. But, for that to happen, the competing alliances in elections need to take ownership of the issue.

 

The term ‘agrarian’ is no longer synonymous with just the rural anymore — it has spread across the larger society. It’s not just the rural economy but the entire Indian economy that is heavily dependent on the progress of the agricultural sector that accounts for around 17-18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also employs about half of the total workforce. It remains the main source of livelihood for over half of India’s population. It is also a fact that since 1995, nearly three lakh farmers have committed suicide owing to agrarian crisis. And successive Governments have claimed to have pushed India to the top as the world’s fastest growing economy. Nevertheless, they also had to face the flak for denying the existence of any crisis in the agrarian sector that led to enormous suffering to the farmers. Meanwhile, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has not published any data on farmer suicides for two years now.

Farmers across the country have been demanding debt relief and better remuneration for their produce. The year 2016 witnessed large-scale farmers’ protests. Demonstrations and protests were witnessed from parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh among others. To put it in perspective, in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, six farmers were killed in police firing last year; the Kisan Long March from Nasik to Mumbai saw the participation of 50,000 farmers; besides thousands of farmers across the country took part in the ‘gao bandh’ protests whereby supply of fruits, vegetables and dairy products were stopped to major cities.

The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 70th round of survey (January – December, 2013) suggested that a majority of the agricultural households, which possessed more than 0.40 hectare land, reported cultivation as their principal source of income. Among the agricultural households, having less than 0.01 hectare land, about 56 per cent reported wage/salary employment as their principal source of income and another 23 per cent reported livestock as their principal source of income. About four per cent of the estimated agricultural households in the country had MGNREGA job card during the survey period. About 52 percent of the agricultural households in the country were estimated to be indebted, including all kind of outstanding loans, irrespective of the purpose for which it was taken at the time of the survey. Among the major States, Andhra Pradesh had the highest levels of debt in the country (92.9 per cent) followed by Telangana (89.1 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (82.5 per cent). In rural India, about 60 per cent of the amount of outstanding loans taken by the agricultural households was taken from institutional sources, which included Government (2.1 per cent), cooperative society (14.8 per cent) and banks (42.9 per cent).

As per reports, agriculture and allied sector was growing at the rate of -0.2per cent in 2014-15, 1.1 per cent growth rate was reported in 2015-16 and 4.9 per cent was reported in 2016-17. No major contribution in the agricultural sector was reported during the four years of Narendra Modi Government. It took about 12 years and three Governments to implement the Swaminathan Commission Report, 2006, which opined that the farmers should get minimum support price (MSP) at 50 percent profit above the cost of production. The Modi Government alone took four years to implement the half-cooked recommendation.

Journalist P Sainath had concluded: “The 2011 Census signalled perhaps the greatest distress-driven migrations we’ve seen in independent India. And millions of poor fleeing the collapse of their livelihoods have moved out to other villages, rural towns, urban agglomerations, big cities — in search of jobs that are not there. Census 2011 logs nearly 15 million fewer farmers (main cultivators) than there were in 1991. And you now find many once-proud food producers working as domestic servants. The poor are now up for exploitation by both urban and rural elites.”

The average monthly income from raising crops and rearing animals increased from Rs 1,060 in 2003 to Rs 3,844 in 2013, according to the report, ‘Situational Assessment of Agricultural Households’ by NSSO, a compounded annual income growth rate of 13.7 per cent. In 2016-17, the sector was growing at a poor rate of 1.2 per cent, according to World Bank data.

Elections are just about numbers. Democratic politics is about sewing together a majority. Hence, the larger the group, the bigger is the ‘vote-bank’ and greater is its electoral clout. A social group that constitutes a majority can, therefore, dictate its terms in an electoral democracy. Or, so they say and teach in democratic theory. If we go by this orthodoxy, farmers should have unmatched electoral clout in India. However, election after election has bypassed farmers’ issues. This can change in 2019 if either of the competing alliances takes ownership of the issue.

(The writer is a student of Master of Laws at Delhi University, and is also a researcher at Swaraj Abhiyan)

 

Writer: Nilesh Jain

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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