In­dian farm­ers march against agrar­ian cri­sis

The Financial Daily - - NATIONAL -

Thou­sands of In­dian farm­ers marched to the par­lia­ment in the cap­i­tal, Delhi, to em­pha­size the height­en­ing agrar­ian cri­sis. They as­sem­bled de­mand­ing bet­ter crop prices, drought re­lief and loan waivers. In­dian agri­cul­ture has been de­stroyed by a di­min­ish­ing wa­ter ta­ble and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity for decades. This is the fourth such farm­ers' dis­sent in the pre­ced­ing year. Farm­ers are an im­por­tant sec­tion of the so­ci­ety in In­dia who forms an im­por­tant vot­ing coali­tion in the coun­try. Ex­perts are of the opin­ion that farm­ers dis­sat­is­fac­tion could hurt the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party in next year's gen­eral elec­tion.

One of their ma­jor de­mands is a unique spe­cial par­lia­men­tary ses­sion to dis­cuss solutions to the agrar­ian cri­sis, as well a full loan waiver and higher crop prices. 50 per­cent of In­dia's pop­u­la­tion works on farms, but farm­ing con­trib­utes only 15 per­cent to the In­dia's GDP. The farm­ers, as well as women, have come from dif­fer­ent parts of In­dia. In most states, gov­ern­ments have been less quick in pay­ing the farm­ers more for their crops. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment fixed the price for pro­duce and ac­quires crops from farm­ers to stim­u­late pro­duc­tion and guar­an­tee in­come sup­port. Most In­dian farm­ers fight with debt owed to banks and money lenders. About 300,000 farm­ers have killed them­selves since 1995. Daugh­ters, wives and other fam­ily mem­bers of farm­ers who seized their own lives over crop down­fall or in­creas­ing debt are also join­ing in the protest. Most of the pro­test­ers are also mem­bers of the farm­ers' wing of the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia. They as­sem­bled at a gi­gan­tic pub­lic ground that is of­ten used for po­lit­i­cal ral­lies. They started march­ing to­wards the par­lia­ment. Many young doc­tors and med­i­cal stu­dents joined the farm­ers to show sup­port and to pro­vide them with med­i­cal aid. Many lawyers, artists and teach­ers brought wa­ter and food, as well as pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial to protest on so­cial me­dia. The protest in Delhi is fresh by farm­ers in re­cent years. In March, thou­sands of farm­ers from the west­ern state of Ma­ha­rash­tra had walked 100 miles to Mumbai city in sup­port of iden­ti­cal de­mands. Last year, farm­ers from the south­ern state of Tamil Nadu dis­played hu­man skulls and held live mice in their mouths to in­vite no­tice to their dif­fi­cul­ties. Anum­ber of op­po­si­tion lead­ers, in­clud­ing Congress party pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Ke­jri­wal, ad­dressed the dis­tress­ing farm­ers. De­clin­ing gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in agri­cul­ture, re­search and ex­pen­di­ture led to a high de­pen­dence on pri­vate sources for in­puts, mar­kets and credit. Each year, mil­lions of small farm­ers en­dured due to mea­ger ir­ri­ga­tion fa­cil­i­ties that re­duces the yield and leads farm­ers into a fa­tal course of debt and sui­cides.

Some 50,000 peo­ple marched in the east­ern city of Kolkata in sol­i­dar­ity with farm­ers. In March, thou­sands of women farm­ers marched into Mumbai along­side their male fel­low in March, de­mand­ing of their rights over for­est and farm­land. Pro­test­ers stated im­ple­men­ta­tion of the his­toric 2006 For­est Rights Act , which was in­tended to wel­fare a fifth of In­dia's pop­u­la­tion, has been ham­pered by con­tra­dic­tory leg­is­la­tion and an ab­sence of po­lit­i­cal will.

In­dian states have re­duced a lot of pro­tec­tive clauses of the Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act of 2013 to quicken up ac­qui­si­tions for in­dus­try and in­fra­struc­ture. In­dia does not have a strong ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture and many of the coun­try's farm­land re­lies on an­nual mon­soon rains. Since the laws are not suf­fi­ciently ap­plied, there­fore farm­ers need greater stronger rights to In­dia. Farm­ers re­quire not only a ti­tle, but also uti­liza­tion, ten­ancy and bread and but­ter rights. The rights of farm­ers and na­tive peo­ple have snatched a doubt­ful high­light in assem­bly elec­tions in Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh states. Ex­perts say their un­hap­pi­ness could in­jure Prime Minister Modi's Hindu na­tion­al­ist party in the com­ing state elec­tions. The gov­ern­ment refers to push such as en­hanced ir­ri­ga­tion, crop in­sur­ance and elec­tronic trad­ing plat­forms as proof it has as­sisted ru­ral In­di­ans, who are about 70 per­cent of the 1.3 bil­lion pop­u­la­tions. The prime minister has pledged to twice as much their in­come by 2022 but farm­ers say noth­ing has trans­formed for them. In­dia's con­sti­tu­tions of 1950 ac­knowl­edge the right to prop­erty as a fun­da­men­tal right. But suc­ceed­ing laws de­serted that right and it were dis­carded in 1978. No ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party has since made restora­tion of the right to prop­erty a con­test is­sue.

Pak­istan's peas­antry dif­fi­cul­ties tor­ment­ing agri­cul­ture sec­tor are sim­i­lar to In­dia. Pak­istan in­dus­trial labour is safe­guarded to large ex­tent by laws fix­ing man­age­ment-em­ployee re­la­tions, com­pris­ing the In­dus­trial Re­la­tions Act, so­cial se­cu­rity, EOBI, Work­ers Wel­fare Fund, etc. Suf­fi­cient leg­is­la­tion or any un­der­stand­able safety net is avail­able to Pak­istan peas­antry. The ten­ant and land­less peas­antry lack credit for seeds, fer­til­izer and other in­puts. Ma­jor crop prices are reg­u­lated by gov­ern­ments. It is to be seen whether the gov­erned prices give the grower a liv­ing wage. In the event of lack of leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect their rights and ar­range­ments to fa­cil­i­tate cul­ti­va­tion, poor peas­ants fall to in­for­mal money-lend­ing ar­range­ments that are costly and lead to much hard­ship and even some­times catas­tro­phes. Pak­istan has a min­i­mum wage law, there is no work­ing mech­a­nism of this or any other ar­range­ment to guar­an­tee peas­ants get res­on­able wages for their labour. In Pak­istan agri­cul­tural sec­tor is the rapid rate of ur­ban­iza­tion and this is high­est in South Asia. There is huge mi­gra­tion to the cities for ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties, jobs, and the temp­ta­tions com­forts of a city lifestyle. Pak­istan must see the di­rec­tion in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor be­fore it reaches a cri­sis of In­dia's di­men­sions. Agri­cul­ture is the back­bone of Pak­istan econ­omy and it needs im­me­di­ate fo­cus be­fore an In­dia-like dis­as­ter falls

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