For the past three years, farmers have been protesting across India, demanding favourable policies or concrete initiatives that would get them a fair price for their produce. The Kisan long march from Nasik to Mumbai in March 2019, the All India Kisan Sabha’s protest in Delhi and the Bhartiya Kisan Union rally in 2018, protest by farmers of Tamil Nadu in 2017
- For the past three years, farmers have been protesting across India, demanding favourable policies or concrete initiatives that would get them a fair price for their produce. The Kisan long march from Nasik to Mumbai in March 2019, the All India Kisan Sabha’s protest in Delhi and the Bhartiya Kisan Union rally in 2018, protest by farmers of Tamil Nadu in 2017
- India’s last national census conducted every decade — in 2011 recorded nearly 15 million fewer farmers than there were in 1991. It said that 2,040 farmers quit agriculture every 24 hours. Cultivation costs have risen manifold since the mid-1990s, but the farmers’ incomes have stagnated or declined. This is a major cause for their dissatisfaction causing them to protest or move to cities for better employment opportunities.
- Small land holdings, low prices, weather induced crop loss have pushed farmers into cyclical debt. They demand implementation of Swaminathan committee report and loan waiver
- Other Demands of Farmers: Increased minimum support prices (MSP), Cut in diesel prices, Reversal of NGT(National Green Tribunal) ban on ten-year-old diesel vehicles, Payment of pending sugarcane dues, the farmers are also demanding a special session of parliament dedicated to discussion around the agrarian distress. Coalition under the aegis of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) is also demanding that parliament pass two bills prepared by the AIKSCC – the freedom from indebtedness bill and a bill to guarantee remunerative MSP.
Recommendations of Swaminathan Committee
- National Commission on Farmers headed by Dr. M. S. Swaminathan submitted its report in 2006. One of the recommendations of Commission was that MSP should be at least 50 percent more than the weighted average cost of production.
- Formation of National Land Use Advisory Service which would link the land use decision with marketing and ecological meteorological factors on the basis of season and location. This would help in making the right of use of land in a given time or season.
- istribute ceiling-surplus and waste land among farmers: The share of the bottom half of the rural households in the total land ownership was only 3 per cent and the top 10 per cent was as high as 54 per cent. One of the demands of the agitating farmers today is that they should be made the owner of the land they have been tilling for years.
- To prevent diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes.
CRITICAL EVALUATION OF FARMER’S PROTEST IN INDIA
- Relevance of Agrarian Pressure Groups: Pressure groups are a sign of changing consciousness. The rise of peasants groups in India has been mainly due to abolition of Zamindari System, implementation of Panchayati Raj, land reform measures, Green Revolution Movement. They gained power since 1960s. In 1936, the All India Kisan Sabha was established and after 1942 the Communist Party of India acquired control over it.
Despite all India organizations, farmers remained one of the unorganized segments of the society; their problems did not get articulated sufficiently earlier. However today there is a shift. In 2017, around 184 farmer groups came together from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Telangana to take part in a ‘protest walk’, demanding higher prices for agricultural produce. Bhartiya Kisan Party (BKP) in western U.P, India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh are significant ones that are voicing the concerns of farmers. Their involvement has increased awareness among common people that it is not just vagaries of nature that push the farmers toward desperate measures but also structural flaws in governance system that causes farmer distress.
- Method of Protests: The pressure groups adopt different methods to realize their goals. These methods even include cordial rapport with the political party in power, to even resorting to agitational methods. Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements (ICCFM), a conglomeration of farmers groups such as BKU (Bhartiya Kisan Union) and the Karnataka Farmers Movement (KRRS) demanded that demands of farmers should be included in poll manifestos. Its charter of demands placed before the government included many important issues like criminal action against traders who violate the minimum support price (MSP), an additional income support of Rs 10,000 per acre per year per farmer to all farmers across the country along with pension of at least Rs 5,000 per month after the age of 60 etc.
Panchayats help in streamlining of farmers demand and thus play a vital role. In 2015 Land Acquisition & Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act 2011 was protested and Kisan Khet Mazdoor Mahapanchayat was organized. Complete moratorium on land acquisition across the country, especially acquisition of agricultural land for non-agrarian purposes by private parties was seeked. They advocated compulsory Panchayat consent before acquisition.
More extreme ways of protest are being witnessed as a latest trend in India. For eg in Tamil Nadu farmers resorted to use of skulls, snakes and rats symbolizing their fate due to drought.
- Is there need for farmer pressure groups in India: Farmers Pressure groups are now considered as an indispensable and helpful element of the democratic process. Declining water tables, falling soil fertility, erratic rain, extreme weather conditions and low agricultural profits have made farmers a vulnerable group and agriculture a gamble. Thus they need the support of other fellow beings in order to gain greater bargaining power; this gives rise to pressure groups that are based on common interests. For a long time these groups remained unnoticed, initially they were considered as harmful for the democratic process, but now their role in the political process has become very important.
Pressure groups differ according to the impact they are able to create. Today farmer pressure groups have become important and relevant as the industry pressure groups like CII (Confederation of Indian Industry), FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry), ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry). They also affect elections as seen in Bundhelkhand where local pressure groups drew up a 'Bundelkhand Water Manifesto' demanded political parties to address water scarcity in the region.
However it is argued that pressure groups often turn myopic in the pursuit of their goals. Their closeness to bureaucrats and politicians sometimes lead to conflict of interest which hurts the larger public interest. It is also argued that some pressure groups are well organized compared to others. The loosely organized ones are unable to put forth their demands as strongly as others like Safai karamchari Sangh, Senior Citizens Associations etc.
- Alternative Modes of Protests: In order to make themselves heard and pressurize the legislature and executive farmers have resorted to strikes and processions. However use of appeals, petitions, demonstrations, press releases, debates and organized discussions cannot be ignored. This helps in educating people and widening their vision about the issue. Use of gram sabhas, Jan Sunwai and mahapanchayats give lot of credibility to the demands of farmers and push the government to initiate reforms. This is also important so that pressure groups do not wither away after fulfillment of the demands. They need to work sustainably in the long run so that grievances and issues of farmers are always adequately represented
- Farmers protest in India is an indication of larger complex issue. Pressure groups play a vital role in generating awareness and reaching a consensus and sustainable solutions to farmer’s problems.
- NITI Aayog has suggested that all subsidies for agriculture, including fertilizer, electricity, crop insurance, irrigation and interest subvention be replaced by income transfer which will give them the freedom to choose the best crop. Also, it will help in lifting farmers out of poverty and prevent misuse of resources and leakages in the system. However first states have to be taken on board along with land records that will identify the beneficiaries. It has also suggested that supplementing the farm income is the best way forward.
- Loan waivers benefit only a small fraction of farmers thus Ministry of Agriculture must link allocations to states to reform measures undertaken by them in the farm sector. This will generate accountability and responsibility on part of states.
Pressure groups have enabled farmers to emerge as a socially conscious and politically active group. Critically Examine.