The country is facing a nationwide farmer agitation once again.
The 10-day protest that started on June 1, carried out by 104 farmer organizations led by the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh against the anti-farmer policies and violation of promises by the Central Government is gaining strength every day. Farmers in the states of Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir and Karnataka have decided not to release supplies of milk, fruits and vegetables for 10 days. The distribution of milk and vegetables in Delhi and other major north Indian cities has already been significantly affected. Instead of facing the complex issue with seriousness and initiating the talks for resolving the matter, unfortunately the Centre has been trying to ridicule and trivialize it. Union Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh is of the view that the protests going on in more than eight states was a ploy to grab media attention. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh prefers to rubbish the agitation as a Congress-sponsored one. However, the protest which also kindled memories of the six farmers killed in the police firing in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh last year, is becoming more widespread in a way creating a huge crisis for the central government. It has been decided to observe June 6, the anniversary of Mandsaur police firing, as nationwide Farmer Martyrs’ day (Shaheed Shahadat). The farmer organizations have also called for a nationwide bandh across 22 states on June 10 which is the last day of the protest.
Most of the farmer demands are already old - ensure a fair price for farm produce, waive off loans and implement the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission. The demands such as to make land available to the farmers and for the governments, officials and bank employees to adopt an empathetic behavior towards them are at least 25-years old. Not only have these demands not been resolved, the central and state governments are not ready to even consider them with seriousness. The M S Swaminathan Commission report appointed by the Centre to resolve farmer crisis was submitted on October 4, 2006. Even after 11 years, the farmers are still protesting in the streets with their demands spilling milk, dumping vegetables on the road and walking barefoot, and for the government to display the will power to implement those demands. What a pity that the suicides of more than 3 lakh farmers have not compelled the Indian government for any rethink! The fact that Kisan Sabha which organised the long march to Mumbai from Nasik in March last year has also joined the new farmer protests, is the latest testament of the fact that the government’s love for farmers confined to budget announcements and election rallies will not come to fruition. They have been compelled to take to the streets once again because the Maharashtra government had failed to fulfil the promises. As per the 2011 national census, in 20 years 1.5 crore farmers - 2040 people daily - have left farming and entered other employment sectors. The phenomenon by which farmers who own small plots are turned into landless farmer employees, has gained momentum.
It was after the implementation of globalization that agriculture expenditure went up without corresponding rise in income. Over the last two decades, distribution of agricultural loans has increased, but its benefits went not to the farmers but the produce traders. And for those who received them, the loans turned out to be their suicide notifications. In our country, which stands fourth in the world in the number of billionaires, the average income of a farmer is below Rs 6,500 per month. Even as the purchasing power of 90 per cent of the farmers marked a fall, the increase in income of Mukesh Ambadi was 17 billion dollars – a figure higher than the amount spent on labour protection scheme for two crore people in a year. Within a span of six years, the number of billionaires rose from 55 to 121. In World Bank reports, India may be surging in prosperity. But the homes of farmers, who form the majority of our population, are in starvation. Their farms are empty, and their social standard is below even the produce they harvest. It is this frustration that develops into a national agitation. There is no way other than to address it wisely - and without ridicule. The Central Government should be prepared to convene a parliament session exclusively to discuss farmers' problems.