Millions of Indian farmers confront daunting challenges every sowing season. Sowing expenses are the first hurdle. The next is seeds germination. The usual experience is that only 35 per cent seeds grow well. Protecting crops from pests is another challenge. The farmer then waits for timely rains. However, climate change has devastated the seasonal pattern, causing untimely heavy downpour and hailstorms. Each and every day presents uncertainty to the farmer, who succumbs to vagaries of the market. Simply put, these are reasons why agriculture is a death trap for the Indian farmer.
The sense of penury, deprivation and humiliation affects the entire family. Arbaz Nabilal Aatar, a Class IX student in Bavi village in Maharashtra, wanted a school bag and enrolment in a hostel. His father reassured him, pointing out funds from either crop insurance or Rs 10,000 relief announced by the government. Arbaz wasn’t convinced. He hanged himself on June 20.
Even after two announcements of loan waiver and immediate relief by Maharashtra, nationalised or cooperative banks have not started disbursements. Cooperation minister Chandrakant Patil said: “In principle’ agreed to give ‘complete’ loan waiver to farmers based on ‘certain criteria”. Complex norms in the Government Resolution for immediate relief created utter confusion. So farmers will have to manage somehow the timing of sowing either from personal network or from moneylender.
Maharashtra has topped in farmer suicides the last 12 years. On the average, more than 10 farmers take their lives every day. In 2014, 2,568 farmers committed suicide, followed by 3,228 farmers in 2015 and about 3,552 farmers in 2016. Between January and May this year, 1,129 farmers have chosen different ways to end their lives.
In Marathwada the number of suicides has increased. Despite bumper crops in 2016-17, farmers were penury-stricken, leading to a spurt in suicides in Usmanabad and Yawatmal. Alarmed by rising suicides in Marathwada, the state government asked Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to conduct a survey in Usmanabad. Total suicides there from 2011 to 2016 were 408. TISS study, ‘Farmers Suicide in Usmanabad: Causes & remedies’, concludes that indebtedness is the main cause of farmers’ suicide. Sudden crop failure, drought and bore-well failure add to the economic fragility. The illness of family members and the burden of educational expenses are other significant causes. Most victims belonged to age 30-59, were less than matriculates and had an annual income less than Rs 60,000. TISS findings show that causes are primarily economic and can be addressed through effective steps.
Micro and macro-level problems make agriculture a fatal profession. Farmers in Japan, Singapore, Europe and USA enjoy huge financial and scientific support from their governments. However, what do our governments, parties and bureaucrats imply? “Farming is injurious to health and leads to physical as well as psychological distress. Death is the final arbiter.”
The Centre could mitigate the farmer distress by restricting imports by imposing higher import duties. The import of cheap grains undermines market prices, which discourages local farmers.
Says Farmers’ Coordination Committee coordinator Vijay Jawandhiya :“Market prices of cereals, pulse, oil seeds and spices had crashed. Last year pigeon pea fetched Rs 2,000 a quintal. Farmers responded and produced 74 per cent more as per the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ‘grow more to arrest the import of pulse’ by harvesting a massive 221 lakh tonnes”. Just before harvesting in December 2016, the Centre imported 63 lakh tonnes pigeon pea from Myanmar and market prices dropped to Rs 2,700- Rs 3,500 a quintal. The MSP for pigeon pea is `5,050 a quintal, but Maharashtra government stopped the purchase of pigeon pea. Soya bean prices dropped from Rs 4,000 a quintal to Rs 2,500. Farmers lost their patience and blocked streets in Maharashtra followed by MP and Punjab.
Farmers demand the implementation of recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers and payment of 50 per cent over and above the cost of the crop (C2) as the minimum support price. BJP government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that C2+50 percent cannot be given as it would result in price distortions in agricultural markets.
BJP president Amit Shah says, ‘It is not feasible”. Mr Jawandhiya asks, “How can you afford to hike the salary of government employees as per Seventh Pay Commission, reserving Rs 70,000 crore? An Indian farmer must get what a Class IV employee gets after the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission- Rs 18, 000 a month”.
The architect of Green Revolution and NCF report, Prof M.S. Swaminathan, says: “If the Farmers’ Commission report had been acted upon, it would have changed lives of farmers and farming in India... There seems to be an interest in maintaining power differentials between the rural and urban and between farmers and service providers”.
During Green Revolution, the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri accorded respect and dignity to both the soldier and the farmer (Jay Jawan Jay Kisan) in 1965. Now soldiers are admired and farmers are demeaned. Isn’t the message now, ‘Die Kisan?’
(Author is a writer based in Latur, which was the epicentre of farm crisis in Maharashtra last year firstname.lastname@example.org)...