In India, farming has become an unprofitable business, because of rising in input costs, and the inability of the government to provide minimum support prices to the farmers, among others. Above that, the semi-private form of economic management adds to the distress of the farmers, which is why the government intervenes, to prevent from distress sale. The government has requested Public Sector Banks (PSBs) to give loans to farmers at the prescribed rates. It has to waive off or write-off substantially, the loans given to them.
The situation implies that agriculture in India is neither in the hands of private parties nor under the control of the government. The authorities prescribe minimum support prices for farmers, to enable them to negotiate the selling prices. In times of scarcity, farmers get handsome profits by selling the crops at higher rates than the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs). Now, the government has its own subsidiary, in the form of the FCI (Food Corporation of India), one of the biggest buyer of farmers’ produce. But the rates offered by it are not enough to compensate for the farmers’ cost of production. The farmers have to depend on the monsoon season for the crops. The supply chain is quite underdeveloped; storage plants are incapable of storing produces in long-term; less number of markets/mandis for the sale of produce, and insufficiency of storage facilities for perishable goods like vegetables and fruits. The MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act) absorbs most of the labour in its own area, thereby obstructing the mobility of labour during the harvesting seasons.
A particular method exists for ascertaining the Minimum Support Price. Once, Dr. MS Swaminathan, an eminent agricultural scientist, known for his role in the Green Revolution, suggested that farmers should get profit equal to 50% of the input cost. But, it would have been a burden on the exchequer. Therefore, by providing loans at lucrative interest rates, the banks, through their agents, try to draw the farmers. But, the situation worsens when they are unable to repay their loans in time. Farmer suicides have become the order of the day. Recently, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, waived off farmers’ loans in the State, which is believed to have triggered agitations in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. It is to be noted that the issue existed at the time of former governments as well.
The farmers’ agitation in the State of Maharashtra has grabbed national attention. The consequence of the same is a sharp increase in the prices of fruits, vegetables, milk, etc. The principal reason for the agitation is a demand for loan waivers to be given to the farmers by the government. The agitation started with a few farmers from the district of Ahmednagar protesting against the Government. At that time, the Government managed to settle the matter by promising to waive farmers’ loans, which were around 30,000 crore rupees. Some of the farmer groups were satisfied with the decision, while others still continued the agitation. The Opposition and the Shiv Sena have supported the agitation, while two prominent farmer groups, the Shetkari Sanghatana, (founded by renowned farmers’ leader, late Sharad Joshi) and the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, led by MP Raju Shetti, have now joined hands, which implies that the agitation might have a deep impact on the economy of Maharashtra. The Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, had insisted for talks with the farmers and asked political parties not to use the opportunity against the Government. But, it is not something new, as the farmers’ agitations for the waiver of loans have been around for a long time. Mr. Fadnavis insisted on a permanent solution to the same. The farmers’ demands included water to grow multiple crops, crop insurance against any kind of natural calamity, minimum assured income against any price fluctuations, among others. Having connections with political parties, the traders selling seeds and fertilizers used to exploit the interests of the farmers. Where PSBs are concerned, they are more inclined to provide loans to industrialists, in spite of high default rates. As of now, the reason they do not consider it favorable to provide loans to the farmers cannot be brought out. As a result, Co-operative banks, run by Societies, have gained importance.
Till now, political parties are unable to devise strategies to mitigate the situation. Now, the groups have reconstituted their State-level core committee, by including prominent farmers’ leaders such as Shetti, Raghunanthdada Patil, Vijay Jawandhia, Girdhar Patil and independent legislator, Bachchu Kadu. It is hoped that these groups provide significant inputs in devising methods to meet the farmers’ demands. According to the Congress spokesperson of Maharashtra, the BJP government’s plan to waive off the loans will benefit only 15 lakh farmers, instead of 89 lakhs, as stated by them.
In Madhya Pradesh, five peasants were shot during protests on the highways. The protests were done by dumping milk, vegetables on the roads. The Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, stated the role of external forces in instigating the protests; the State government is holding an inquiry regarding the same. Mr. Singh assured that the BJP government would not do anything to lose the confidence of the farmers in itself. Meanwhile, in Haryana, 100 farmers were booked for blocking a highway during a protest against the deaths.
Even though both the BJP and the Congress are busy claiming credit for the unprecedented increase in the agriculture produce in Madhya Pradesh, which is approximately 11%, the reason behind the same is the Narmada Dam project, and subsidies provided by various governments from time to time. But, the cost of production has been on a rise due to commercialization in the agriculture sector. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had a discussion with a single farmer association, the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, which, like the BJP, is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, Kisan Union, and three smaller farmer organizations insisted on continuing the protests till two demands were met, which were waiving of loans and remunerative prices for farm produce. Tamil Nadu farmers staged nude protests in front of the Prime Minister’s office to get an assurance on the drought relief package.
It can be inferred that there is a stalemate in the current situation. The political parties are trying to achieve their ends by taking advantage of the opportunity at hand. They are exploiting the interests of the farmers, them being the most vulnerable class in the country. Ours has always been an agriculturist nation. The Central government is required to draft a long term plan in order to remedy the situation. It is also to be understood that drafting a policy in a democratic country like India is not at all an easy job. The farmers need to cooperate with the authorities and not let themselves be used at the hands of middlemen or the political parties. The representation of the farmers is significant for the situation.