Farmers in dire straits by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (June 10, 2017)
On June 6 five farmers were killed in police firing in two separate incidents in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. The police fired on large crowds of farmers demanding remunerative prices for their produce.
These incidents were a continuation of protracted protest demonstrations by farmers in neighbouring Maharashtra where frustrated and angry farmers have been dumping tonnes of unsold vegetables and fruits on highways and pouring tankerfulls of milk on roads.
The Maharashtra farmers have refused to sell their produce on unremunerative prices. They have also been demanding loan waivers which, they say, they cannot pay back because their work, farming, has become unprofitable. In several states parties had promised loan waiver to farmers in their election manifesto. Some are still committed to it.
At the time of writing this piece another farmer, heavily wounded in police firing, has breathed his last, bringing the official toll to six. This is only the tip of an iceberg submerged under the surface, invisible to most people, mainly because a large section of the media has kept itself busy with trivia.
Farmers’ suicides, indication of their economic desperation, has grown steadily over the years. Agricultural inputs (fertilisers, irrigation, pesticides and labour cost)have grown steadily over the years. Besides these there are one-time costs of buying tractors, harvesters, threshers and combines (as well as recurring costs of maintenance, replacements of machine parts, fuel costs etc.). Most of it is financed by banks at fixed interest rates.
Agriculture being so fragile, crop failures (because of several reasons) are common. Even one or two crop failures can ruin a farmer who is driven to suicide in desperation as the prospect of default on loan repayment makes life bleak. Their property, often mortgaged to banks in lieu of loans they have no escape route except death. At the IOS we have been constantly working on models of a probable interest-free economic system just to release people’s necks from the exploitative system of interest. We have held countless national and international seminars and symposia on the subject all over the country with the participation of top bankers, economists, entrepreneurs and finance expert, most of whom see some good reason to slowly introduce such an alternative system of banking and finance. One such leading expert is former RBI chairman Rghuram Rajan. We have published a large number of articles and books on the subject.
Because of media obsession with trivia this painful aspect of our national economic life has not been properly highlighted. In proportion to the high cost of farm inputs the prices of agricultural products are not remunerative. This has been the focus of the current wave of protests till the police attack on farmers in Maharashtra and the death of farmers in police firing in MP.
To have a quick glance at the figures I am presenting the following: according to the Crime Record Bureau, between 1995 and 2015, as many as 318,528 farmers committed suicide. That works out to one farmer committing suicide every half an hour over the period. On March 27, a bench of the Supreme Court led by the CJI Justice JS Khehar demanded from the government to come up with a policy to address the serious issue.
The Union government has announced to double farmers’ incomes by 2022, for which an annual growth rate of 14 per cent in agriculture is required, bu the growth rate in 2015-16 was only 1.2 per cent.
This is a serious challenge to the nation as a whole. The ruling party at Centre should shift its attention, effort and focus from divisive campaigns like cow vigilantism, love jihad and ghar wapsi to this serious issue. Sooner the better.