In India, majority of the citizens depend on agriculture, either directly or indirectly for their subsistence. In such a situation, it is important to keep the agricultural community satisfied.
Agrarian unrest and farmers' suicide is not new to the Indian economy. In addition to natural calamities like droughts and famines, the poor farmers had to deal with unscrupulous land owners. The landless tenants and sharecroppers under these zamindars suffered from insecurity of tenancy, apart from failure of rains and lack of adequate irrigation facilities.
The recent violence that has been spreading in our country, in parts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan is also a manifestation of the frustration of the farmers in reaction to the government's negligence of their problems.
History has been witness to the strong rebellions that have been organized in Naxalbari of WestBengal, in the 1960s-70s, as also in parts of Odisha and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. The surprising question regarding the recent peasant unrest is that why are the farmers rioting after a bumper crop?
But, according to the theories of Economics, prices fall after a bumper crop, which is terrible for farmers. That is precisely the reason why the farmers are rioting and many of them are committing suicides. According to statistics, there have been at least 20000 farmer suicides in the past two decades.
One of the major reasons of farmer suicides is their inability to pay back huge amounts of debt that they have taken. They owe these debts to the local money lenders who charge exorbitant rates of interest, which these peasants are unable to pay back.
The cumulating debt and the harassments by the rich money lenders ultimately lead them to commit suicide, to escape the atrocities. One important step that can be taken to solve this problem is to bring the small farmers under the purview of the organised banking sector of the country.
This can be done by setting up more nationalised banks and the cooperative banks in the rural areas to encourage more people to borrow from the organised sector, instead of going to the cutthroat money lenders. They should be given loans at a subsidised rate.
Another reason of crop failures is the lack of adequate water supply to the fields. Indian agriculture is still stuck in the Green Revolution era. It still uses the chemical fertilizers and intensive farming methods, which lead to lowering of ground water levels.
The pesticides and fertilizers seep into the deep soil, rendering the groundwater poisonous and hence, not fit for agriculture. This implies that there is a serious water crisis, with both, the water level and the water quality. Due to the fall in the quality of soil, farmers have to use an increased quantity of those harmful pesticides and fertilisers to maintain the same level of output.
In this front, the government can encourage the concept of sustainable growth. It can set up agricultural think- tanks and research organisations to develop new models of agricultural sustainability in the country.
A legitimate demand for the fixing of the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) to a higher level has been made by the protesters. It should be understood that the MSP is not a remunerative price but a floor price.
Therefore, it provides the minimum price that should be paid to a farmer to procure his produce. The sad reality is that in most states, the farmers are not aware of the existence of such a measure. Only the farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh know of such a provision.
In such a situation, the traders and the middlemen who procure the items from the ignorant farmers are successfully fooling them into trading with them at a nominal price. By the time the food items reach the markets, the consumers have to pay a high price.
It is seen that the traders and the middlemen make huge profits. There should be stringent measures to eliminate the middlemen from the market. The farmers should be made aware of the MSPs of the crops that they produce. At present the Government of India has set up the MSPs of 23 food crops. The farmers should be organised into a healthy Association, which should therefore include the isolated small landholders and sharecroppers, so that they do not stay in the dark about issues concerning them.
The demand of the farmers to waiver their loans might not go down well with the economy. As such, it is not an intelligent step to take in this situation, especially when the states themselves, where such protests are taking place, are reeling under huge debt burdens from the Central Government and various other organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The government should look at the issue empathetically, instead of politicising it.
- R. Malavika
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