Farmers' Nation-Wide Strike: Union And Agriculture Ministry Share Their Views
BW Businessworld talked to farmer's unions opposing & supporting the strikes; Pushpendra Singh, President from Rashtriya Kisan Shakti Sangh and Prabhakar Kelkar, Vice President of one of India’s biggest farmers’ organisations Bhartiya Kisan Sangh along with the ministry of agriculture's version
Amid the intense war of words between two mainstream political rivals in India, namely, BJP and Indian National Congress, the nation has witnessed one more farmer strike just before the anniversary of Mandasaur firing incident. Talking to media, the union home minister called the strike as organised effort by the Congress while Congress leader from Kamalnath has refuted the charges. Meanwhile, the said strike is said to have the support of 170 farmer unions in India from seven states. BW Businessworld talked to farmer's unions opposing & supporting these strikes; Pushpendra Singh, President from Rashtriya Kisan Shakti Sangh and Prabhakar Kelkar, Vice President of one of India’s biggest farmers’ organisations Bhartiya Kisan Sangh along with the ministry of agriculture's version. The edited excerpts:
Pushpendra Singh, President, Kisan Shakti Sangh
What are your plans with the current strike?
The reason for this All-India strike firstly is that the farmers are not getting remunerative prices for their produce. This government had promised in 2014 that they would ensure at least 50 per cent profit above the cost of the crops as per the Swaminathan Commission. In the last four years, they have not kept their promise. According to the data by CSO, the agricultural growth rate in the Rao government was 2.4 cent and in Vajpayee government, it increased to 2.9%. In the ten years of the UPA government, it further increased to 3.7 per cent but in the last four years, it has been just 1.9 cent. In the economic survey, they have admitted that the real income of the farmers has not increased in the last four years. So we are demanding that the government fulfils its promise of giving the farmer 1.5 times of the cost of the produce. Secondly, we are continuously running into losses mostly because of the two continuous drought years of 2014 and 2015. Also, demonetisation sucked the cash out of the economy and the prices of the crops crashed. GST has also negatively affected the farmer’s income.
What is the kind of impact that you’re trying to achieve with this strike?
This is a non-violent and peaceful protest. We are not going to do dharnas or resort to violent measures. We will simply remain in our homes, in our villages and not send our agricultural produce in the market. And simultaneously, we won't purchase any produce from the market. By this method, we are trying to lay our demands in front of the government.
How many organisations are supporting you in this cause?
Every organisation is supporting us. Social media has played a very important role in this. Nobody knows who made the initial call but once it was made it was supported by various farmer groups and it went viral on social media. Now everyone is with us. We are not against the consumer. The consumers in urban areas also suffer by paying very high prices. But the fact is these prices are not benefiting the farmers. They are not even getting 1/10th of the selling price. We want the government to ensure that the middlemen are controlled and at least 70 per cent of the price paid by the consumer reaches the farmer.
The government says that they are moving in the same direction. What are your thoughts about that?
FM Arun Jaitley promised to give the remuneration starting from the Kharif crops of Last year. Now, they're saying they’ll give it starting from this year. The kharif crops of this year have already been sown and will be harvested in Oct-Nov, just 5 months before the general elections. The government has been unclear about the costs that the farmers will receive. The farmers suspect that this has been an eyewash from the government.
Are you willing to negotiate with the government?
There is nothing to negotiate about. The government should fulfil their promise of giving 1.5 times of the cost of the produce to the farmers. Secondly, we have run into a huge farmer debt of around Rs 10 lakh Cr due to bad policy. We demand that ‘an absolute loan waiver should be given’.
Prabhakar Kelkar, VP, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh
Are you supporting this strike?
Not at all, this is some Bhartiya Kisan Mahasangh, which has nothing to do with Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and we have no involvement in this strike.
Why do you think this strike is on?
This is no season for huge sales in Mandi’s, most of the marginal farmers are waiting for the monsoon. In the meantime there are several issues related to farmers if anyone finds time convincing farmers’, they go with them in hope of at least some gain. Most of the farmers are very innocent, anyone can misguide them. As far as perishable commodities are concerned, let’s see how long these unions convince poor farmers to waste the produce of their hard work.
Why Madhya Pradesh farmers are so keen for strike?
It is clearly a politically motivated issue in MP, like Kedar Sirohi who is leading one such group in this strike. He (Kedar Sirohi) is willing to contest election from Indian National Congress. There are groups of Jaat farmers involved in protests but they may have other negotiation plans for reservation for them or some similar issues.
Which demands are justified?
Pension is motivated demand of left parties in India, it’s not farmers’ demand. Farmers’ are not employees of the government, it’s like giving pensions to people involved in trade. There are pension schemes for people after a certain age then why there is demand for a separate pension?
As far as MSP’s are concerned, this practice is a victim of poor management, if the government has promised then it must make sure the follow-up and actualisation of their decision is on ground. If it can’t it must not make such commitments.
What about Farm Loan Waiver?
No, we do not support loan waiver. I know that most of the small and marginal farmer’s pay their loans by whatever means. It is only those farmers who enjoy large properties and big four wheelers who push for loan waiver. If you don’t believe it, you must talk to small and marginal farmers.
What is your final take on this protest?
I will call it a politically motivated protest and I am sure it will get more intense with time, this is the effect of election season, but Bhartiya Kisan Sangh has nothing to do with this ‘Bhartiya Kisan Mahasangh’.
Initial Response from Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare
However, the sources from the agriculture ministry term it as being inspirational for some farmer bodies as they realise “the political trouble it can stimulate”. It is true that farmers’ issues are very sensitive in nature making it very difficult for any government to take a tough stand on it.