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Kisan Incorporated

Posted by Ramoo on August 28, 2009


August 28th, 2009

By G.V. Ramanjaneyulu & Kavitha Kuruganti

Some recent developments in India’s agri-related laws might make former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s infamous dream of seeing “only 15 per cent of Indians in villages” come true much faster than anyone thought possible. Moves are afoot to ensure large-scale displacement of farmers and agricultural workers — the most blatant move is already underway in Andhra Pradesh, under Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. An experiment under the garb of “farmers cooperative” was approved by the state Cabinet recently, not very different from what his rival N. Chandrababu Naidu attempted some years ago. The arguments too are old: Small holdings lead to low productivity, low income, low investments and, this vicious cycle goes on.

This argument ignores the fact that more than 900 scientists from 110 countries have recently concluded an international process, called the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), pointing out that small-holding ecological farming is the way forward. We are also familiar with the subsidies that prop up intensive, large-scale models of farming elsewhere, despite claims of efficiency. Numerous studies have confirmed the inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per unit.

A study from Turkey shows that farms less than a hectare are 20 times more productive than farms that are over 10 hectares! But why should anyone be looking at such data when the sizes of land holdings and their alleged low productivity is used as an excuse to grab land?

This is what the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is proposing: Get farmers to pool their land into a cooperative/society/company. Farmers sell their land to the new entity in return for some shares, which will then take up all agricultural operations and pay dividends. Farmers can exit by selling their share to existing members and, if there are no takers, government will buy the shares at a pre-determined market price. Land cannot be obtained back. Though many questions remain unanswered — what will happen to the farmers and how will they take part in any decision-making? What will tenant farmers and agricultural workers do? Why will land not be returned to the farmers? — the state Cabinet has decided to take up a pilot project in 50 villages by investing Rs 5,000 crore and there are moves to introduce a new legislation along these lines.

To begin with, the entire reasoning that bashes small holdings is faulty. Two, an experiment taken up by Mr Naidu some years ago along these lines (“Kuppam Project”) failed in delivering the promised benefits and had environmental repercussions. Most importantly, this move will take away land permanently from farmers and is truly an exit mechanism.

Incidentally, it is in Andhra Pradesh that the world’s largest ecological farming project is unfolding, supported by the state’s rural development department, which is proving that farming can indeed be made viable through alternative technologies and people’s organisations.

This programme, yielding results on more than 20 lakh acres, all small and marginal holdings, has attracted great attention already. Is it by design that the state government chose to ignore such vastly successful models and set about “to make farming viable” through proven-to-have-failed models?

While this is happening in Andhra Pradesh, in neighbouring Tamil Nadu a bill was introduced in the Assembly and supposedly passed on a day when 30 bills were passed without much discussion. This new legislation, called Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Council Act 2009, is about setting up a council that will be empowered to inspect agricultural institutions, courses of study, examinations etcetera, all to ensure that standards are conformed to.

“At present, there is no law to provide for the regulation of agricultural practice… it’s been considered necessary to regulate agricultural practice and registration of agricultural practi-tioners…” states the object of the legislation. Sounds inane enough? However, the law says that no one can render agricultural services unless his/her name is registered in the “Tamil Nadu Agricultural Practitioners Register” with a formal agricultural qualification from Tamil Nadu (outsiders can register within 90 days of their entry!).
In a country which has always had a rich tradition of farming based on an oral and experiential knowledge and in a state where paddy productivity levels are recorded to have been up to 13 tonnes per hectare (in 1807 in Coimbatore) without qualified agriculture scientists, this move is an outright rejection of the vast untapped knowledge of our farm women and men.

Worse, in the name of regulating agricultural services, this seems to be a way of controlling the farmer-to-farmer spread of ecological farming in the state, which is led by farmers themselves, their networks and other civil society groups. Tamil Nadu is also the state where the anti-genetically modified protests against Tamil Nadu Agriculture University’s unthinking capitulation to agro-MNCs like Monsanto are running at a high-pitched level. A connection between the resistance movement and this new law cannot be ruled out.

This new regulation of “agriculture services” will effectively provide more and more markets for particular kinds of technologies at the expense of farmers, as the advisories will be driven by the mindsets that prevail in the agriculture education/ research system in the country and the commercial interests of the agri-services to be set up. This route of a “qualified” advisory system will obviously facilitate conflicting interests and help in improving exclusivity of “markets” by reducing competition, while ignoring the causes for the current agrarian crisis. While a law of this kind should regulate services provided by agricultural research and agri-business bodies to ensure accountability for their services, especially in relation to economic, environmental and social viability and sustainability of farming, it should not be used as a weapon to penalise farmers and civil society

groups which are trying to promote sustainable farming.

These two initiatives in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are not to be seen as isolated attempts to create more markets for agri-businesses, but as an orchestrated move towards an unwritten “exit policy” for farmers.

These two moves will set a bad precedent for the rest of the country.

Given that agriculture is contributing a lower and lower share in the country’s gross domestic product, its importance in the mainstream economic development model might be diminishing for many policymakers. However, this is a question of livelihood for millions of Indians — without ensuring access and control over basic productive resources and without moving towards sustainable production technologies, the current saga of agrarian distress, including suicides, will only increase.

Such legislations and programmes cannot be brought in without comprehensive debates and without the government clearly stating its vision for farming livelihoods and how they would be liable when things go wrong.

* Dr G.V. Ramanjaneyulu is the executive director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, and Kavitha Kuruganti is a trustee of Kheti Virasat Mission, Punjab.

Posted in Agri-Science, Agroecological farming, Andhra Pradesh, Govt. Initiatives, Land question, Opinion pieces | Leave a Comment »

Seed of the crisis

Posted by Ramoo on August 28, 2009

Kavitha Kuruganti

Monday, July 27, 2009 20:42 IST

The US and India are back at it again. This time around, it is not the spectre of a looming famine in Bihar that is expected to kill thousands through starvation but global hunger and malnutrition, for which India and USA will collaborate to provide leadership in agriculture to raise crop yields.

Never mind that India has record buffer stocks of food grains right now and still more people sleep hungry in India than ever before and that India ranks 66th on the Global Hunger Index for 88 countries.

Never mind that intensive agriculture models led to more farmers killing themselves than the projected numbers of starvation before the Green Revolution was ushered in or that Punjab for example, the seat of the Green Revolution in India, is reeling under a severe environmental health crisis quite closely connected to agricultural technologies deployed in the name of increasing yields.

The first time around, they said that they were trying to get away from the ship to mouth existence that is being imposed by the Americans on us through PL 480 food aid programmes — and whose help did they take to get away from the American intrusions? The Americans themselves!

It is interesting to see how American leaders make it a point to include agriculture into their agenda during their India visits. George W Bush decided to stop over at the agriculture university in Hyderabad and Hillary Clinton at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa. For a country which has only 1.9 per cent of its labour force working in agriculture and a mere 0.7 per cent of total GDP contributed by agriculture (2002), why this American interest in Indian agriculture?

The answer possibly lies in potential huge markets held in the seeds and food processing sectors. In India, this market is emerging in an impressive fashion. In the global seed market estimated at $30 bn, India already has a large market worth $1 bn. The domestic seed market, especially of hybrid seeds, is expected to grow at an impressive growth rate of 13 per cent at least. In the food processing and retail sector, the Indian urban food market is expected to form a major chunk of the $50-bn-mark retail market in India in the near future.

Clinton’s speech at Pusa Institute made a clear mention of seeds and food processing as the sectors where investment will go. Interestingly, the second green revolution in this country, with the help of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) is supposed to be ushered in under the guidance of corporations like Monsanto and Wal-Mart which are on the KIA board. How investment on food processing would increase productivity of our food grains is an unanswered question, of course.

There is also mention of “cutting edge technologies” to raise crop yields and Clinton affirmed with authority that crop productivity was the ‘root’ of the problem of world hunger.

No mention at all of food lands going for bio-fuels, no mention about food grains being used for cattle feed and building inefficient food chains, no mention of the shocking wastage of food in the developed world not at the grain level but of processed foods, which would have already consumed much energy in their processing and packaging.

Nor any mention of overflowing granaries in India continuing to mock at the poor in the country who cannot access such food.

While Clinton is reported to have avoided the use of “GM” as the frontier tec

hnology, given the vast controversy over it, our agriculture minister was more forthright. He opined that collaboration in frontier areas like biotechnology would make a significant contribution to the world!

What our leaders don’t seem to realise is that there are vast differences not just in conditions of farming in the USA and in India but in the very philosophies and outlook towards agriculture. India for instance opposes patents on life forms in international forums while the USA and its corporations seek to patent everything that they can.

The rigid patent regimes in the USA have led to hundreds of farmers sued and/or jailed for doing something that they have done for millennia — saving their seed! Who is India listening to, on world hunger and the way out?

It would be extremely unwise for our leaders to provide ready platforms and markets for profit-hungry US corporations in the name of food crisis, world hunger, second green revolution and climate change.

If the government is keen on tackling the food crisis, it would do well to evolve a deeper understanding of both food production and access related issues, take up a comprehensive analysis of the Green Revolution and then chart out an Indian course of action. In this hundredth year of “Hind Swaraj”, our modern day leaders would do well to revisit Gandhiji’s vision.

Posted in Agri-Science, Indo US Knowledge Initiative, Opinion pieces, Policies | Leave a Comment »

The dull days of White Gold

Posted by Ramoo on April 17, 2009

P Sainath , 08 Apr 2009

Across India, cotton growers make up the largest group of the over 180,000 farmers who committed suicide between 1997 and 2007. There’s nothing like an election to spur policy change, though, notes P Sainath.
08 April 2009 – They called it White Gold. In 1972, you could buy 15 grams of gold with what you earned from producing one quintal of cotton. In Vidarbha, for instance, you made Rs.340 for that quintal (long staple). And gold went at Rs.220 for 10 grams (Rs.330 for 15). True, the cotton growers were even then subsidising rich textile barons in Mumbai. They still do – a lot more, in fact. But ‘back then’ seems a lot better right now, relatively speaking.

By the 1990s, that trend had been reversed. From the 1970s to mid-1985, cotton was, as Vijay Jawandia calls it, “the poor man’s cloth.” Man-made fabric was all the rage. By the end of the 1980s, however, a growing bias towards natural fibre saw cotton emerge as the rich man’s cloth. All the big brand names were cashing in on cotton. Yet, cotton farmers in the poorer nations were doing worse. Corporations and traders were doing better. By the mid to late 1990s, obscene subsidies to cotton growers from the United States and the European Union were already pulling the prices downwards.

By 2005, you needed to sell five quintals of cotton to buy 15 grams of gold. By early 2008, gold was at Rs.12,125 for 10 grams, cotton at Rs. 2000 a quintal. You now needed to sell nine quintals of cotton to buy 15 grams of gold. The living standards of farmers in cotton-growing regions like Vidarbha had fallen sharply. Cotton prices and incomes were crashing, debt and cultivation costs soaring. The 2004 Lok Sabha polls saw a wave of farmer anger – and the BSP’s rise – bludgeon the Congress. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won 10 of the then 11 seats in Vidarbha.

But in the Maharashtra Assembly polls just months later, the Congress did better. It took 30 of the 66 seats from the region. True, Sonia Gandhi’s visit had a huge impact in this traditionally pro-Congress cotton belt. Turning down prime ministership further enhanced the respect she enjoyed there. But the Congress campaign captured voters with a single promise. It would raise the cotton prices – then Rs.2200 a quintal – to Rs.2700. That promise was to be betrayed just months after the polls – with terrible consequences.

In Maharashtra, cotton never received the support that sugarcane did. It was grown in poor regions by dryland farmers with far less political clout than the Pawars of western Maharashtra. As India embraced neo-liberal globalism, that clout waned further. On the one hand, cotton-growers were locked into the volatility of global prices. On the other, input costs were exploding. Local seed cost around Rs.9 a kilogram in 1991. By 2004, commercial seed had taken over and could cost as much as Rs.1,650 to Rs.1,800 for just 450 grams, thanks to Monsanto’s Bt cotton. State intervention later brought the price down to half that. But the damage had been done. And even today’s price of Rs.650-850 for less than half a kg is still many times higher than Rs.9 a kg. In Maharashtra, the State actively promoted the costly Bt seed, its own agency being a distributor. Huge sums also went to promoting it by using film stars as “brand ambassadors.”

Other inputs, fertilizer, pesticide, utilities like water and electricity, all saw a big rise in costs from the mid to late 1990s. Cotton covers about 5 per cent of cultivable area in India, but accounts for 55 per cent of all pesticides used. (That is in itself a huge problem with alarming long-term consequences for agriculture, environment and health as a whole.) With the massive spread of these, it is no surprise that most farmers taking their lives swallowed chemical pesticides to do so. They are so easy to access, perhaps far more so in this sector.

In Maharashtra, cotton has never received the support sugarcane has. It is grown in poor regions by dryland farmers with far less political clout than the Pawars of western Maharashtra.

Successive Indian governments did nothing to stop the dumping of subsidised U.S. cotton in this country. There are no duties on import of cotton today. India is the second biggest producer of what is one of the world’s most widely traded commodities. Yet between 1997-98 and 2004-05, we imported 115 lakh bales. That is, over three times the number we did in the preceding 25 years. This cheap imported cotton further devastated growers here. At the same time, like millions of other small farmers, they found bank loans harder and harder to access as rural credit shrank – by policy. Credit was increasingly diverted towards urban-metro consumption. Many farmers turned to moneylenders, ending up mired in debt.

While poor cotton farmers never developed much political and electoral clout, traders and textile barons did. Even if the barons were to pay a slightly better price – say an additional Rs.2 per metre of raw material went to the farmer – it would make a difference. It never happened.

By 2005, cotton prices collapsed. That’s when the Maharashtra government withdrew the Rs.500 per quintal “advance bonus” normally tagged on to the minimum support price (MSP) in the State. This saw the price plunging to Rs.1,700 a quintal. (Gold was at Rs.6,180 for ten grams.) Suicides in Vidarbha, already rising, shot up massively.

By September 2006, farmers in that region were killing themselves at the rate of one every six hours on average. The Vilasrao Deshmukh government had withdrawn the advance bonus in 2005 despite appeals from cotton growers, the National Commission for Farmers and many others. The next year, Vidarbha, indeed all of Maharashtra, recorded its worst rise in farm suicides ever. If the Deshmukh government could get away with that, it was because cotton had no strong lobby. Its electoral clout was feeble.

Across India, cotton growers make up the largest group of the over 180,000 farmers who committed suicide between 1997 and 2007. The cumulative impact of all these processes was crushing farmers locked into this model of production and into neo-liberal economics. In Vidarbha, for the first time ever, farmers grew more soybean than cotton as losses on the latter were killing them, literally.

There’s nothing like an election to spur policy change, though. In the run-up year to the polls, the Union government came through with its Rs.71,000 crore loan waiver for indebted farmers. In Maharashtra, the lion’s share of that waiver’s benefits went to just seven of the State’s 35 districts, none of them in the poor cotton-growing regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada. Most of them within the power base of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. And all this was about bank debt. Moneylender debt was not touched. Still, there was some relief.

The main loan waiver excluded those owning more than five acres. This penalised some of the poorest farmers. In unirrigated regions, even poor farmers tend to own more acres as productivity is so low. The government did respond to demands that dryland cultivators not be penalised for having more than five acres. After all, polls were now months away. The write-off that followed of Rs.20,000 for such farmers did help a significant group of growers in Vidarbha. And there was also some money that trickled down from even the awfully flawed packages.

Then came a healthy rise in cotton prices. The shifting of huge swathes of land in the U.S. to bio-fuel production pushed up prices last year. And a nearly 50 per cent rise in the MSP for cotton took the price to Rs.3,000 per quintal. In Vidarbha, it meant that about seven months of 2008 were the best period the region had seen in years. No basic problem had been resolved, but it brought some relief and reduced the stifling pressure. A pity it took so many deaths – and election year – for that to happen.

The rise in MSP to Rs.3,000 was also an admission of how disastrous the Deshmukh government’s torpedoing the price to Rs.1700 a quintal had been. And the removal of that Chief Minister also won the region’s approval.

To what extent this helps the Congress in these Lok Sabha polls is hard to gauge. There is the BSP factor that is very real and could mess up all bets. (It played a big role in 2004, too. In four seats, the BSP polled far more votes than the margin of defeat of Congress-NCP candidates.) But the Congress faces less hostility than it did three years ago. Whether it can play that to its advantage is another question. And the long-term future of White Gold here is an even bigger one.

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P. Sainath is the 2007 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts. He is one of the two recipients of the A.H. Boerma Award, 2001, granted for his contributions in changing the nature of the development debate on food, hunger and rural development in the Indian med

Posted in Opinion pieces, Vidharba Crisis | Leave a Comment »

At Farm’s hand

Posted by Ramoo on March 17, 2009

At farm’s hand

An assured income for farmers will make agriculture viable and ensure food security
In his budget speech finance minister Pranab Mukherjee claimed that agriculture, services, manufacturing along with trade and construction were drivers of the country’s growth in the past few years. But actually agriculture should not be slotted in the same bracket as manufacturing and services. Agricultural growth averaged 2.5 per cent in the past five years. This pales in comparison to the 10 per cent growth achieved by manufacturing and services in the same period.
Agriculture, in fact, touched a terrible low between 1997 and 2008 with 182,936 farmers committing suicide—according to government records. The returns from agriculture are paltry in comparison to other vocations. Let us consider some figures. Between 1997 and 2007, salaries of government employees increased by over 150 per cent—we are not even looking at the hikes proposed by the sixth pay commission and the earnings of our mlas increased by 500 per cent, but the farmer could manage only a 25 per cent increase in the prices of his produce. Prices of non-agricultural commodities, meanwhile, shot up by 300-600 per cent. The prices of agricultural inputs went up by 400 per cent.
This disparity has struck the farmer hard. The Arjun Sengupta committee on the unorganized sector reckons that an average Indian farmer’s monthly income is Rs 2,115 while his expenditure is Rs 2,770 every month.
Successive governments have tried to keep agricultural prices low to ensure cheap labour—the rationale being that cheap food will make labour cheap. But the farmer’s bill on other inputs has gone spiralling. The minimum support prices do not ensure a fair return to the farmer who has to spend a fortune on hybrid seeds, GM crops and new generation pesticides. And in any case, the government announces msps for only 33 agricultural commodities and intervenes in market operations only for rice and wheat. So farmers growing other crops are left to the mercy of markets.
The National Commission on Farmers has stated the government should ensure farmers earn a “minimum net income”, and also make sure that agricultural progress be measured by the increase in that income. It should appoint a statutory body—a Farmers Income Commission—to examine the real income of farmers every year across the state.
The government should ensure remunerative prices for agricultural produce. The prices for agricultural commodities should be based on the real cost of production and linked with inflation. msps should be announced before the beginning of each crop season and procurement must be timely.
Today agricultural workers don’t find employment and at the same time farmers cannot afford to pay for labour. The government should provide input subsidy in the form of labour wages (up to 100 days in a calendar year) to farmers to monetize family labour or to pay other farm labourers. This subsidy should include all agricultural operations from sowing to harvesting. It can be operationalized on similar lines as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or by extending the scheme to agricultural work. This will also help agricultural workers.
The net income of farmers can be increased by promoting post-harvest oerations at the village level. Agriculture-centered small scale industry can give the rural economy a boost
But these measures will only help partially. It is essential to provide direct cash payment to make up for the shortfall. All cultivators should be given fixed cash support to ensure them a fair living standard. This could be set at Rs 15,000 per family and revised every year by the commission.
If we consider the 9 crore farmer families in the country, the government’s annual expenditure on this support will come to Rs 1.35 lakh crores. If we add the labour wage support, the government’s subsidy bill will go up by another 1 lakh crores. But by spending Rs 2.35 lakh crores, the government can extricate more than 50 per cent of people from the below poverty line trap.

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G V Ramanjaneyulu is with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad. He can be reached at

Posted in Economix, Opinion pieces, Policies | 1 Comment »

Mass suicides by Indian farmers…shape of things to come

Posted by Ramoo on March 23, 2008

Arun Shrivastava CMC
The truth is slowly emerging. A Home Ministry report, monitoring deaths by suicide, says that roughly 100,000 farmers committed suicide over six years to 2003 in India. On 18th May 2006, Sharad Pawar, the Minister of Agriculture [MoA], Government of India, presented the data to the Upper House [Rajya Sabha] adding that investigations by state governments on agrarian distress show that the main “cause of suicide is indebtedness.” In the dehumanized statistical gimmickry, the utter devastation of the 100,000 households of dead farmers comprising women, children and elders was quietly buried under the soft thick carpet of the Indian Parliament.
India, with adequate rainfall, warm climate, enormous biological diversity, and excellent traditional agricultural practices, has no reason to face agrarian crisis and, given nature’s bounty, its farmers have no reason to commit suicide. This paper deals with how the rule of one British company and its buccaneers started a process in 1760 that continues to this day, ravaging the farmers of the sub-continent and how independent farmers everywhere are under threat of extinction.
Indian farmers before the “Company rule”
An average Indian peasant at the beginning of 19th century earned significantly more than his British counterpart and there was no substantial difference between the diets of a peasant and a rich landlord in India. Most significantly, there was a tradition to feed outsiders first, including beggars, before a family sat down to eat. The affluent households did not sell milk and milk products; they were distributed free within the community, a practice that continued right up to 1960s in many parts. The destruction of India’s agriculture and destitution of its farmers is a story of corporate greed and the utter ruthlessness of a small group of people in Europe and the United States who do not value human beings: whites, browns, yellow, or black. The sooner we realize this and take effective action, better will it be us and the farmers.
The genesis of agrarian distress
Agrarian distress starts with colonization of eastern India by a British company, the East India Company [EIC] around 1760, their system of extortionate land tax, combined with forcing farmers to grow cash crops [chiefly indigo and cotton] on the best lands and not paying appropriate price for the produce. They systematically destroyed a sustainable agriculture system that’d fed millions for over 6,000 years and then introduced money lenders and rack renters to trap farmers in debt.
The colonial system of land use led to frequent collapse of India’s farms resulting in food shortage, famine, mass deaths, destruction of fertile lands, and destruction of age-old symbiotic system of farming, animal husbandry, and forestry. While doing nothing to alleviate agrarian distress, the Colonial officials kept repeating, parrot-like, that there are too many Indians! Henry Waterfield’s paper on India’s population density and comparison with some of the regions/countries of Europe is most illuminating: whilst the population density of British Indian Empire was 165 per square mile in 1875, the density of Belgium was 447, England 422, Saxony 377, the Netherlands 291, Italy 237, German Empire 193, Prussia 180, and Switzerland 175. Only France, Denmark, Scotland, Portugal, Spain and Greece had lower population density as compared to India. [Henry Waterfield , (1875), Memorandum on the Census of British India 1871-72 , London , Eyre and Spottiswoode , p. 6;]
The British fixed the tax from land at fifty percent of the average gross produce and collected the tax in cash [rupee] that forced the farmers to first sell their produce, earn cash, and then pay tax. This was a unique experience for the Indian peasantry. The costs of maintaining cultural and religious institutions, healthcare facilities, schools, irrigation infrastructure, roads, serais [places where a person could halt at night, somewhat like Inns in England], etc., were extracted in addition to the land tax at least during the first eight decades [1780-1860]. No mercy was shown in matters of tax collection: if harvest was less than normal, the tax could be more than 100% of the value of produce. If price of crops collapsed because of bumper harvest, again the farmer lost to the tax collector.
Economic historians, like Dharampal, have calculated that, for example, in Madras presidency [present day Tamil Nadu state], from 1830s onward, around one-third of the most fertile land, probably larger in area than the available cultivable land in major counties of England, went out of cultivation by 1840 because, even with 100% produce sold for cash, land tax demand could not be met. The British called it “substantial ‘decay’ of revenue.”
[Dharampal. India Before British Rule and the Basis for India’s Resurgence. 1998. Gandhi Seva Sangh, Sevagram, Wardha, Maharashtra; It should be noted that Sevagram was established by Mahatma Gandhi.]
That substantial revenue decay did not stop their territorial expansion. John Stuart Mill wrote in 1858 that not a penny was spent by British tax payers for the conquest and control of India and the region from St. Helena on the west coast of Africa to Hong Kong in China. The resources, every single penny, were extorted from India’s farmers. India was an awesome cash cow to the company.
For Indian farmer to go hungry, or even remain undernourished, was a new experience, and they retaliated; the history of 1780-1858, is one long list of spontaneous uprisings throughout India.
Indian farmer again begin to feed the millions
The population of India was 238.4 million in 1900. The Colonialists said, “too many, can’t feed ’em all.” It went up to 252.1 million in 1911 and the colonialists said, “too many, can’t feed ’em all.” In 1947, when India became independent, India’s farmers could feed all of the 325 million. In 1991 there were over 844 million and the farmers fed them all; no famine and no collapse of agriculture as happened time and time again during the British period. Agrarian distress and consequent mass suicide since 1997 once again starts when India exposed its agriculture to foreign companies in 1991. It is again driving India’s farmers to hell and this time with full support of the Indian government, officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ag-scientific establishment. This time there is method in the madness.
Agrarian distress and the Warehousing Act
In 1945, economists of the Reserve Bank of India, in anticipation of India’s independence, studied farmers’ indebtedness and made four key recommendations:
(a) Farmers be provided with facilities for scientific storage of produce in proper warehouses to minimize post-harvest losses;
(b) Farmers be issued warehousing receipts against their stocks which could be used to borrow cash from normal banking channel, thereby eliminating dependence on private money-lenders who often charged a minimum of 60% interest;
(c) Each warehouse to have a trained technical team who would work closely with agriculture scientists, provide extension services including advice on seeds, fertilizers, and scientific storage of produce; and
(d) The warehouse superintendent would advice the farmers when to sell their produce in order to maximize revenue and prevent distress sale.
Whilst the recommendations were excellent, it was only nine years later, in 1956, that the Warehousing Act was passed by the Parliament. From 1956 to 1971, nearly every state constructed a number of warehouses. The technical people employed in these warehouses were generally competent and highly motivated; they worked with the farmers, helped them, and brought about a degree of stability within rural farming communities.
From 1971 onward the focus of warehousing corporations shifted. The scheme of warehousing receipt was allowed to fall into disuse for various reasons including corruption within warehousing corporations, and pressure from fertilizer and chemical companies to allocate more space for their products. It was a convenient arrangement: the companies got highly subsidized warehousing space and the warehousing corporations got assured income by way of rent with the added comfort of reduced paperwork and virtually no fieldwork with the farmers. Thus, an excellent strategy to pull farmers out of desperation was allowed to fail.
In 1966 the food situation was desperate following three consecutive draughts. The US Government refused to allow sale of wheat to India because of India’s refusal to fall in line with US policies in Asia.
On the advice of MS Swaminathan, the Government decided to make available fertilizer, pesticides and hybrid seeds to the farmers through these warehouses, at the same nominal rent which was actually meant for the farmers. This is still true in 2006. Thus, the many private and public sector seeds, fertilizer and chemical companies benefited a lot more than India’s peasants from the existing warehousing facilities. Also, the big farmers benefited.
The economics of farming in India: a simple illustration
The following analysis is based on agriculture practice in one of the largest regions [roughly 700 square kilometres] growing potato and onion and some vegetables. The region is south east of Patna and falls within the Gangetic plains. Potato crop is taken in three and half months, onion in about five and half around May. During rainy season the area gets inundated so people have stopped growing paddy. Most of the farmers have forgotten the rejuvenating role of paddy: the algae that grows on stagnant water is nature’s way of fixing nitrogen to the soil, a reason as Sir Albert Howard found why farmers of the Gangetic plains had been growing food, season after season, year after year, since hoary antiquity. It should be noted that when the British forced Indian peasants to grow cotton and indigo on lands that were best for paddy, they also destroyed the system of fertility recovery, which caused collapse of winter crops. But let us fast forward to 2004. I found that seeds accounted for 20% of input costs, chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) about 32%, diesel (to draw water out of the underground aquifers for irrigation) about 10%, and labour 38%. Give or take a few percentage points, this is the break-up of input costs, together for potato and onion crops and is broadly representative of the average costs of farmers in northern India.
With this input, the farmers take about 7 metric tonnes each of potato and onion per bigha (1.59 bigha in this area equals one acre). The five-year average ex-farm price for potato is about Rs 200 per quintal [1 quintal=100 kgs] and Rs 250 for onion. Wastage can be pegged anywhere between 10 to 40% on account of drying, rotting, and losses in transit (various government estimates). If the farmer is lucky, and responds to market prices intelligently, he can average about Rs 2000 per tonne for potato and onion. In other words, from two crops he can generate revenue of about Rs. 44,500 per year per acre [about US$ 1,000]. With input costs per acre of about Rs. 38,000, the ex-farm return is about 6,500 plus savings in labour costs that is achieved because the entire household works these farms. This calculation does not include post harvest losses due to rotting, drying, and spoilage during transportation nor does it include cost of borrowed capital.
The Rs 14,440 computed for labour costs if saved can give the household a net income of Rs 20,900 per acre per year, that is about the same if a family of six were living below the poverty line. Majority is small (below 2 hectare holding) and marginal (below 1 hectare) farmer. So, SMFs can generate a maximum income of about Rs. 50,160 per hectare (Rs 20,900 x 2.4 acre) (or US$ 1,114 per annum per hectare), excluding cost of capital. Rarely do farmers achieve this level of notional mean income.
If a farmer finances 50% of his input costs from borrowings, even at 36% (3% flat rate per month) interest he lands up in serious financial trouble. Many borrow 75-100% of their input costs sometimes at 40% rate of interest. Invariably at harvest time, when there is glut, prices crash. Small and marginal farmers do not have the resources to hire storage space and obtain better price at some future time. Distress sale further erodes a farmer’s financial viability. Those who store their surplus end up losing 10-20% stock due to spoilage and drying shrinkage neutralizing any gains through seasonal price fluctuation.
If the market price drops by 20%, even if the farmer has not borrowed money, he would be in loss to the tune of Rs 2,384 [US$ 53] per acre. Every third year or so, prices crash by as much as 30-50%, largely engineered by traders, leaving farmers deeply in debt. Therefore, the talk of helping farmers with greater access to market, a promise that has been repeated by every politician and every Agriculture Minister since 1947, is unlikely to resolve the problem of assured minimum income. As shown above, SMFs can’t benefit from market access; rather the market left to its own devices works against the interest of SMFs.
It demonstrates how conventional method of farming traps small and marginal farmers into debt, a system of farming that was promoted by Swaminathan, a Rockefeller plant. Swaminathan exploited the desperate food situation in 1966 to the hilt: without critical appraisal of our indigenous system of farming, he vigorously pushed industrial farming methods, trapping farmers into spiraling cost of production financed by debt. This is how small independent farmers in North America were destroyed, to be replaced by industrial farmers. This is how Indian farmers are being destroyed.
Despite the fact that 70% of India’s voters are SMFs living in 600,000 villages, and despite the fact that every politician ritually genuflects to these impoverished pissants at election time, not once the Government of India, or any state government of any political hue, has shown seriousness to pull them out of poverty, poor health, malnutrition, and illiteracy.
The failure of development programmes in India
Since 1951, India ostensibly started its Five Year Plans for “planned development” under the influence of Soviet Russia but surprisingly its agriculture policy was directly under control and influence of the Rockefellers, Ford Foundation and USAID. In every Five Year Plan, agriculture and rural development was top priority on paper but the ground reality is quite different.
. Older farmers remember that in 1960s, every agriculture extension officer would go around villages encouraging them to take the “free kit” containing hybrid seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Initially, output did rise phenomenally. For example the output of wheat went up by 500%, rice by 300%. But in the process many farmers stopped saving their seeds and became heavily dependent on purchased hybrids, a deliberate policy of deskilling farmers.
. Irrigation canals were dug up for the farmers, all over the country but many of these never got water; even after three or four decades majority is bone dry. Only few, those dug up in Punjab and Haryana, have water because the engineers diverted perennial Himalayan rivers. The irrigation departments of most states are now infamous more for their corruption and for harassing farmers than for constructing working canals.
. The Rural Electrification programme, started with much fanfare in 1970s, ostensibly for farmers, has failed. In villages after villages one sees electric poles and wires, some have existed for over three decades, but the people are still waiting for electricity. So farmers came to depend upon diesel engine to draw water from underground aquifers. As they drew more water, the water table dropped, requiring more diesel oil to pull water up. Forty years ago one could hit water six feet under ground and construct a perennial well about 12-15 feet deep. Today one would be lucky to get water at less than 120 feet.
. World’ largest supplementary nutrition programme run by the Indian government since 1974, with financial assistance of UN agencies [Food & Agriculture Organisation, UN-World Food Programme, UNICEF] and the World Bank, supposed to feed pregnant women, nursing mothers, adolescent girls and children under 6 years of age 25 days per month, operates for four or five in majority of distribution centres in the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh. The feed is often sold to local traders, which in turn ends up as cattle feed in factory farms or as raw material in food processing industry, or ends up in local grocery stores. The inter-generational cycle of malnutrition has been perfected to the level that the SMFs are walking skeletons in most places.
. The Adult literacy programme started in 1950s failed; thirty years later the number of illiterate adults actually doubled in India. In 1988 another “National Literacy Mission” was started but by 1993 it was tottering. Whilst many districts returned fudged figures, the Census 2001 actually reveals that majority of rural people in India is still illiterate. There are villages where not one woman is literate. The resources have been siphoned off but not one officer has been prosecuted. The farming community remains illiterate.
. Majority of farmers do not have access to safe drinking water. The drinking water programme now has provision for restoring traditional rainwater harvesting structures at community level but in majority of villages only water tank, electric pump to draw underground water and expensive pipes are being laid, benefiting manufacturers of these items. Underground aquifers are laced with leached pesticides rendering them unfit for consumption. Because there is no electricity and energy crisis is already reaching explosive proportion, many of these assets will soon become inoperable. Consequently water borne diseases and chemical poisoning are endemic in India and farmers suffer the most.
. Majority of villages do not have sanitation. There are districts where 93% rural households do not have a toilet. Under Total Sanitation Campaign of the Indian Government, toilets have been constructed with waste water draining out in the streets. Simple solutions like composting toilet system have been ignored. These toilets are actually the world’s biggest sanitation disaster in the making.
With few exceptions, the story is the same right across India.
A common strand in nearly all development programmes for rural India is that they neither benefit the people, nor the local communities. In fact, these programmes not merely cause colossal wastage of tax-payers money; they actually create conditions for slow death by ignorance and filth and diseases while large corporations profit.
So, all programmes seeking to alleviate rural poverty, educate the peasantry, and create rural infrastructure are made to fail but no officer and no politician can be held accountable for the failure. The administration operates with rules that ensure that persons in positions of authority can’t be held accountable, ever, for failure. There are indeed excellent officers and effective politicians, but they are invariably marginalized. There is a method at work which few can cope with in this country.
The machinations of the New World Order
Why is it that the elected leaders and the professional civil servants in the world’s largest democracy deliberately keep 70% of its people, the SMFs, in perpetual servile subjugation? Something very sinister is happening here in India, something as despicable as happened in the Soviet Union about 70 years ago and something that happened in the US over the last 100 years: utter decimation of the independent farmer.
According to John Coleman “One of the principal but little known operations of the Rockefeller Foundation has been its techniques for controlling world agriculture.”
Its director, Kenneth Wernimont, set up Rockefeller controlled agricultural programs throughout Mexico and Latin America. The independent farmer is a great threat to the World Order, because he produces for himself, and because his produce can be converted into Capital, which gives him independence. In Soviet Russia, the Bolsheviks believed they had attained total control over the people; they were dismayed to find their plans threatened by the stubborn independence of the small farmers, the Kulaks. Stalin ordered the OGPU to seize all food and animals of the Kulaks, and to starve them out.”
In the United States, the foundations are presently engaged in the same type of war of extermination against the American farmer… The Brookings Institution and other foundations originated the monetary programs implemented by the Federal Reserve System to destroy the American farmer, a replay of the Soviet tragedy in Russia, with one proviso that the farmer will be allowed to survive if he becomes a slave worker of the giant trusts.”
Dr. John Coleman, a former intelligence agent of British MI6
Dr John Coleman’s research sheds a new light that forces one to view the present agrarian crisis in a new perspective, possibly never explored before by the Indian intellectuals, whatever that term means, particularly those who claim to represent the civil society; the official intellectuals are anyway deadwoods, co-opted side-kicks of the Rockefellers.
First, the bankers, chiefly the Rockefellers, were responsible for destroying the independent farmer in the US and that story is being repeated in India: destroy the will of SMF in order to control 700+ millions Indians forever, condemned to perpetual slavery. This was started by the British colonialists who kept them perpetually hungry for 180 years. In free India the same policy is being continued by the co-opted Indian ruling elite by keeping SMFs illiterate, malnourished, and without any basic services like healthcare, sanitation, clean water, schools, and roads.
Second, the independent farmer is the greatest threat to the power of the ruling elite the world over because the farmer can produce for himself. He can’t starve. If all independent farmers produced only for personal consumption, the rest of the world can starve, the ruling elite can also starve [unless they eat Martian wheat or Plutonian meat], the square mile of Delhi, where the Indian ruling elite dwells will definitely starve, but not the farmers. If the independent farmer and the SMFs refused to sell their surplus to the food-MNCs, that decision can destroy the global US$3.2 trillion food racket and make people so healthy that it would in turn destroy the US$466 billion pharmaceutical industry as well. Oh no, too much money is involved. Hence, the elaborate charade of “farmer-friendly” government, an elaborate mechanism to steal tax-payers money in the name of “poor farmers,” brilliantly engineered by the Leftists and Socialists [chiefly Jawaharlal Nehru and his minions] since 1947. And all this money, running into trillions of rupees since 1947, has neither improved the lot of SMFs, nor helped create sustainable rural infrastructure. The money has simply evaporated and no questions are being asked.
Third, the independent farmers or SMF need capital for labour, inputs and knowledge. Knowledge (to reduce risk) and inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds are all controlled by big business and under tutelage of big business by government officials, including scientists of the Indian Agricultural bureaucracy. The money to buy these critical inputs is supplied by the bankers in the US/EC/Australia and New Zealand AND not supplied by the Indian banking system, now effectively under control of the World Bank and the IMF, which in turn is controlled by the plutocrats like Baring, Hambros, Lazard, Erlanger, Mirabauld, Fould, Mallett, Rothschild+Morgan, Schroeder, and of course the Rockefellers.
Fourth, the SMFs are under pressure in India to produce for Food-MNCs, like Pepsico and others. The name of PepsiCo comes up time and again when I meet SMFs in northern India. Their field staff has been offering “lucrative” deals for contract farming, a new concept in India. Started by the previous BJP Government, [Hindoo Nationalists, as the British Blabbering Corporation would have us believe, as if Hindooo Nationalists are siblings of the Taliban], the scheme seeks to rent land from SMFs to grow crops that these MNCs need for their food processing business. This will displace millions of SMFs from their farms and further erode India’s farming skills. Where will they go, how they will spend their time, how much these MNCs will pay them, whether they will pay them at all, and whether they will return the land to the rightful owners are questions that do not occupy the minds of Indian ruling elite. It has the machinations of East India Company written all over. And the same agenda, of the previous Hindooo Nationalist party is being perfected under the present “secular” government, great favourites of Fox, CNN and of course the Leftist BBC, ably supported by the Rightist and Centrist-leftists of India. So, all governments and all political parties are implementing the agenda of the Rockefellers and their ilk, through powerful food-MNCs; we are back in the 1760s, only the names have changed.
Fifth, backward and forward linkages of SMFs’ supply chain are now under control of the big business. Multinational seed companies have set up operations in India, some are frequently in the news for stealing local seeds [Monsanto and Syngenta]. They, along with illustrious names like Swaminathan, are responsible for the destruction of India’s bio-diversity. It should be noted that India had 100,000 rice varieties; today barely 50 are available. Farmers are now dependent upon these multinational seed companies and the first step they have taken is to push hybrid seeds, often stolen from indigenous people. To add icing to their thievery, these seed MNCs are now deliberately contaminating local seeds with genetically engineered ones. Local seeds in 39 countries are now contaminated with genetically engineered seeds as reported by Dr Mae Wan Ho of ISIS-UK.
“In his major expose, “The Great Gene Robbery”, Dr. Claude Alvares reveals how the US government stole genes from India through [active connivance of] scientists such as Dr. M S Swaminathan, who was once widely hailed as the father of the Green Revolution” and still influences decisions in India’s Agriculture Ministry. “Alvares describes the marginalization of the brilliant rice specialist, Dr. R H Richharia, who single-handedly fought to preserve a precious. national heritage [the rice seeds] – only to lose to the agents of the US.” [The Illustrated Weekly of India; pages 6-17, March 23-April 5, 1986]. This is not India-specific problem; farmers everywhere are fighting a losing battle in matters of seeds.
Similarly fertilizer and pesticides manufacturers now cover the whole of India, with local retail outlets selling potent poisons and the farmers use them without shoes, without facial masks, while women and children are sitting nearby. Recent reports by an NGO reveal that cotton farmers in Punjab state have high levels of pesticide residue in their blood. Incidences of cancer have soared; farmers are dying of pesticide poisoning.
There is no difference in the action of the thieves of East India Company [1760-1857], the looters of British India [1857-1947] and the co-opted Indian Government [since 1947].
Except that the form of extortion has changed
Each acre under onion and potato gives the MNCs sales worth US$523 in terms of seeds, diesel oil, fertilizers and pesticides, and gives a maximum of US$ 464, under ideal conditions, to the farmer.
Income of farmers [Per annum, per acre]
Farmers : US$ 144.00
Savings in labour : US$ 320.00 [If no bought-in labour cost is incurred]
Gross surplus : US$ 464.00 [excluding cost of capital]
Income for corporations [per annum, per acre]
Seeds : US$ 168.89
Diesel : US$ 84.45
Fertilizers and pesticides : US$ 270.23
Total to corporations : US$ 523.57
If the farmer is taking $464 to an acre, the social cost of $320 additional revenue is enormous: children remain out of school, women work a back-breaking 16-hour day, and the family barely scrapes through two meals a day, sometimes not even that. On the other hand, the environmental cost of $523 going to US and European multi-nationals, their distributors and retailers is also enormous: depleted water resources, poisoned land, dead soil, destroyed bio-diversity, contamination of natural seeds with genetically engineered ones, destruction of the habitat, contamination of natural water bodies, emergence of unknown diseases and widespread health problem including cancer, diabetes, immune disorders, etc.
Shape of things to come
The global food industry is worth 3.2 trillion US dollars and growing, possibly worth US$ 4 trillion. The food industry can maximize its profits only if it controls the farm workers and their land; that is the logic of food business.
US$ million % of total
Seeds 21,000 0.55%
Fertilizer 80,000 2.10%
Pesticide 35,400 0.93%
Food industry 3,200,000 84.16%
Pharmaceutical 466,000 12.26%
Total 3,802,400 100.00%
Table 1 shows that people purchased food worth US 3.2 trillion dollar on earth. In order to generate 3.2 trillion dollar worth of sales for the food industry, the farmers paid 21 billion dollars to the seeds industry, 80 billion dollars to the fertilizer industry, and 35.4 billion dollars to the pesticide industry. And each industry is a silent killer. When people got sick and debilitated, they paid an additional US$ 466 billion to the pharmaceutical industry to cope with the after effect of that food, remain sane and survive. The plutocrats who control the banks control seeds, fertilizers, and food industries and also control the pharmaceutical industry. Through well funded AID agencies and research foundations they promote spurious technologies and destroy sustainable indigenous systems. The Indian Government’s complicity is all over: [a] It has signed Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture [KIA] with mass murderer George Bush in Hyderabad [Match 2006] knowing fully well that the initiative seeks to slip in technologies destructive of India’s food security and indigenous farming methods; [b] there is a major attempt underway to de-regulate food safety in favour of transnational food corporations; [c] farmers in UP and Bihar have frequently complained of their inability to store seeds, which indicates that genetically engineered terminators are present in the market despite laws banning GM seeds; [d] the Genetic Engineering approvals committee [GEAC] of Ministry of Agriculture is nothing more than rubber stamping body; [e] western governments and the transnational food corporations under WTO are rewriting all rules covering all foods (Codex). All this will push the SMFs into debt and slavery. Today, nearly all systems that support health and longevity have been destroyed and people are forced to depend upon the corporations for their survival.from seeds to food and medicines and in this globalization without consent the survival of SMFs is not an issue.
The truth
A poor farmer of India today earns US$ 144 from his back-breaking effort: exactly 12 dollars per month. If the entire household works an acre, including children as young as five, they just might earn US$ 464 from their meager holdings, provided all factors are favourable, which rarely happens. But the corporations, their distributors and retailers extract US$ 523.57 from each acre worked whether the farmer earns even a dollar or not. The Rockefeller-engineered destruction of the independent farmers in the US is being repeated here in India.
The suicides of Indian farmers serves two purposes: one, it is reducing the population of India and reducing the pressure on natural resources for reasons that have been engineered by neo-conservative thinkers controlling Washington’s policy. World population must be reduced to 1750 level of 770 million if the planet is to survive in post oil era. This was known to a small group in the US back in 1974 and the plan for culling world population was set in motion by Henry Kissinger, endorsed by Jimmy Carter, furthered by Reagan, George Bush senior, Clinton, and now being expedited by baby George. And two, while the plutocrats implement their agenda through the co-opted Indian ruling elite, they’d extract as much profit as they can, while simultaneously killing as many on earth. Profit must be ensured, no matter how many die. And the Indian governments have been active co-conspirators in this agenda since 1947. Earlier it was Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi who ruled India for 34 years. Then Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi’s son, who ruled this hapless nation. Today, Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh, Chidambaram, Karat, Sitaram, and the entire Indian political and bureaucratic establishment is responsible for creating conditions for culling India’s population.
The tragedy of it all is that every person on this earth is under death sentence from depleted uranium contamination of the earth’s atmosphere: every person of every class, colour, creed, or religion. The ruling elite of Delhi are particularly vulnerable. They have been breathing depleted uranium contaminated air since 1991 and they are all under death sentence. How long they will lead a normal life before dying a painful, prolonged death is their problem, not mine. But they are as much responsible for the death of farmers as they would be for their own death and the death of an ancient civilization because they failed to read the writing on the wall.
World’s two greatest democracies are writing the epitaph of the independent farmers and their own people. The irony of it all is that gravestones for American farmers are actually produced in the stone quarries of India by surplus farm hands, while the wood for funeral pyres of India’s dead farmers are sourced by bribing forest officials here, directly or indirectly. The Illuminati rules, okay!

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Opinion pieces | 2 Comments »

"King" Bt cotton stumbles

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007…

On March 9th India celebrated the fact that, according to the latest figures released by Forbes magazine, more billionaires call it home than any other Asian nation, a honor held by Japan for the last two decades.

Being Indian that made me happy, but only so much. March also saw a spate of farmer suicides across the country, something that has been going on for a while in the nation’s rural villages, some worse affected than the others. In India, unfortunately, one becomes immune to the harsh disparities between the rich and the poor, but this contrast was a little too stark for me. The rich had just got richer and more numerous while desperate debt-ridden farmers were killing themselves by drinking the pesticides meant for their crops.

The official figure for the number of suicides in the past five years is about eleven thousand, and alarming as that is, the real figure, it seems, is much higher, closer to twenty thousand. Last July the Prime Minister toured the worst hit regions and announced a relief package of 37.5 billion rupees ($833 million). Out of this, about 22 billion rupees was to be spent on existing irrigation projects, but nine months later that has yet to happen. So the money meant for the farmers has yet to reach them and they continue to kill themselves in droves

The worst affected are the cotton growers, and the reasons for this are many – crop failure, lower price for their product, low import duty, drought, and lack of irrigation facilities – to name a few. But the main culprit, claim farm activist Kishore Tiwari, and others is a crop known as “Bt cotton.” The state government promoted this genetically modified and pricier (nearly double than the ordinary ones) cotton plant claiming that it would yield better results since it was resistant to pests (the “Bt” in the name refers to this attribute). The idea was that planting Bt cotton would reduce the need for harmful chemical pesticides. But that’s not what happened. Cotton crops were affected by disease every year. This sad state of affairs was pointed out back in 2002, but nothing was done. Hearing the promises of a higher return for their crop, many farmers had taken loans from private moneylenders at steep rates to buy seed and were devastated when the crop failed. But Monsanto, that international agriculture conglomerate that manufactured Bt cotton doubled it’s sales.

What happened next was typical: Panels of experts were set up, fingers pointed and causes explored. But all this was of little relief to the farmers who continue to live in wretched poverty even today, caught between the government, private Shylock-like money lenders, crop failure and drought. In one cotton growing state in Western India, Maharashtra; there was a suicide every six hours. As crops have continued to fail, year after year, farmers have no option but to borrow more money and fall deeper into the debt trap, a vicious circle that many are unable to break out of. In many cases, after they’re gone, their widows and children have no money even for their funerals – and they often inherit the debt.

It’s a desperate situation and no one seems to care. It grabs a headline every once in a while, politicians clash over it, committees are sent to the villages, but in the end, even if relief is allocated, it fails to reach the farmers, or to their widows who are left penniless and with no breadwinner for the family. Critics say that the government has not done enough, and more importantly, that it has contributed to the agrarian crisis by promoting a transgenic crop like Bt cotton, which has proved disastrous for the areas where it was grown.

At the crux of it, it’s the age-old scenario: A multinational company lobbies the government to switch to their technology, in the apparent interest of the masses. But in this case the government, for the vested interests of some, does not do it’s homework, it blindly implements a scheme; crops fail; farmers die; non-government agency advocates howl but – at the end – nothing happens.

The Indian government now reluctantly admits that the Bt cotton crop has failed. And some farmers, those who’ve survived, are giving up on cotton. But there are a variety of serious factors that still need to be looked into – higher prices for the produce and drought being two important ones. The ministry of agriculture on it’s website declares that: “Drought is a condition of moisture deficit sufficient to have an adverse effect on vegetation, animals and man over a sizable area.” It then goes on to add that drought is a management issue and can be avoided, it just fails to mention how this is all to be done. Needless to say, it does not even address the farmers’ issue.

How long this agrarian crisis will continue, is hard to say. The road looks long and hard for many Indian farmers. Even as I write this I wonder how many are contemplating suicide, driven to desperation, neck-deep in dept and abandoned by corrupt government officials. This, I say in sadness, is India too.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:07 PM | Print this article

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Opinion pieces, Policy issues, West Bengal | 1 Comment »

Vidharbha in flames

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007…

A local legislator attempted suicide in the legislative assembly, frustrated by all other methods to alert the state to the farmers suicides
In Vidarbha, Maharashtra
It was time for a reality check. In the safe confines of the legislative assembly, Maharashtra’s politicians witnessed a dose of the real world last week. Gulabrao Gavande, a Shiv Sena legislator, wanted them to wake up to the daily tragedy of the Vidarbha countryside. So, he rushed to the floor of the assembly and poured a bottle of kerosene on himself. Then, he opened a bottle of pesticide and was about to swallow it when other legislators rushed to stop him. Gavande was banned from attending the rest of the session.
His recklessness could have set the entire house on fire – literally. But his shocking suicide attempt ignited a fiery debate about the government’s neglect of the agricultural crisis in the underdeveloped Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise. Everyday, a few more deaths are reported in local newspapers. But so far the state has not addressed this alarming tragedy. A defensive chief minister promised to announce a ‘package’ for Vidarbha’s farmers, but was not willing to say anything more. The opposition too has no creative solutions to offer. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray rushed to Vidarbha and assured farmers his party’s muscle power to bash up moneylenders and bank officials who harass them.
Meanwhile, in his hospital bed, a visibly shaken Gavande told Frontline, “I don’t know what I was thinking when I did this. I’m very troubled seeing so many people kill themselves. Morchas and protests have had no effect on the government. I wanted to awaken the administration to this crisis.”
Gavande, a local MLA from Akola (and also a wrestler), has been brawling with powerful moneylenders who have been snatching land from farmers. “Moneylenders are taking advantage of people’s desperation. They won’t lend until the farmer signs a document handing over land ownership to them. Then, when the farmer can’t repay they take possession of the land. So farmers land worth Rs two lakh for a Rs 20,000 loan. Moneylenders have captured around 5000 acres of land in this way,” explains Gavande.
A son of the soil, Gavande uses the methods he knows best. “Only I have the strength to fight these thugs because I am a wrestler and have an akhada with me,” he smiles. “I told the villagers not to spare anyone who harasses them. Recently, when a moneylender told one farmer to sell his daughter but pay back the loan, the villagers of Dadham got together and flogged him to death.” In the last few months, the government has cracked down on moneylenders, arresting several of them. But that has also led to more distress since they are the only source of funds available to farmers. Since most of them have defaulted on bank loans, that option is not open to them anymore.
Mounting debts are just a symptom of the crisis in agriculture. The crux of the problem is profitability, not only for the cotton crop, but also for others like oranges, soya, wheat, jowar, chillies or paddy. “The prices of all products have risen dramatically over the years. Our input costs have also shot up. But for the last 10 years, the price we get for our crop has remained the same,” says Jitendra Tatte, a large cotton and orange farmer from Lehegaon in Amravati. Input costs for his 60-acre farm have drowned him in debt. The more he cultivates the more his losses. “Everyone is in the same distress. Some have committed suicide. The rest of us live in agony.”

At a cotton farm

Photo: Dionne Bunsha

Tatte rattles off several statistics to prove his point. “In the last ten years, the price of soya oil has increased from Rs 25 per litre to Rs 45. But have been selling soyabean at the same price of Rs 900 per quintal since then. How do you expect us to survive?” he asks. “Why doesn’t inflation apply to our produce? Why do farmers have to starve so that the rest of the country gets cheap food?”
This season, the Maharashtra government has accentuated their dilemma further by reducing the price at which it will procure cotton from approx. Rs 2,200 per quintal to Rs 1,700. The cost of cotton cultivation is Rs 2,200 per quintal, not including the farmer’s own labour and other expenses like bank interest. If the price falls, farmers will suffer major losses of Rs 500 per quintal, no matter how much they produce. This will lead to more distress and more suicides.
At a public meeting in Nagpur recently, deputy chief minister R.R. Patil justified this price fall by arguing, “Last year, the state suffered Rs 1,800 crore losses due to the procurement scheme. Yet, suicides were the highest. This means the money is not going to farmers, but to agents. We will find other ways to make sure the funds reach those who need it.”
“Reducing the price is not going to solve the glitches in the procurement system,” says Vijay Javandhia, farmers activist. “If the government is really interested in making the scheme work for farmers, they should pay the amount up front to farmers, not in installments, that too over a period of one year. And, they should stop deducting loan collections from the payments. Leave it to the banks to recover their loans.”
The procurement scheme is in the red because the international prices of cotton have fallen. Cultivators in western countries receive huge subsidies from their government. They can afford to sell their produce at much lower prices. The Indian government could protect its producers from imports and crashing international prices by hiking the import duty on cotton. At present, it is only 10 per cent, import duty on other products like sugar (60%), rice (80%) and second hand cars (180%) are much higher. “The government is willing to protect sugar farmers and foreign car manufacturers here but not cotton farmers,” says Javandhia.
Maharashtra’s 30 lakh cotton farmers are being told to innovate and diversify. But innovations only increase the burden of debt. And interest is high. Banks charge 12%. But interest for consumer loans are only 7% and a mere 4% to start a sugar factory. Moneylenders, now the main source of credit, charge between 60% to 120%. And, you risk losing your land.
Farm improvements cost Sudhir Tatte his life. He spent more than two lakhs rupees sinking tube wells and installing sprinklers and drip irrigation on his orange orchards and cotton fields in Lehegaon. But nothing seemed to work. The water table had fallen. Finally, he swallowed poison and killed himself in 1998. Seven years later, his family is still burdened by debt. They have given up on agriculture and leased out the fields to others.
Bt cotton is also being promoted as the solution. It costs around 12 times more than other seeds, and has failed to deliver results. “The dealer assured me that I would get 19 quintals per acre from Bt cotton. Not only were the seeds expensive but I also had to spray pesticide. Yet, I got the usual two or three quintals, but I spent so much more. I’m totally ruined,” said Surendra Zane, a farmer in Lehegaon.
“What other crops can we grow?” asks Jitendra Tatte. “The prices of all crops have remained stagnant. We have even experimented with growing herbs, but there is no market to sell them. Moreover, our choice is restricted to only a few crops since we don’t have irrigation.” Only 10 per cent of Vidarbha’s farmland has irrigation. It is difficult to even promote dairy farming as an alternative since it is too dry to grow fodder for livestock.
The chief minister is expected to announce the usual stop gap measures – loan or interest waivers, free power, compensation for families of suicide victims. But these are just band aids. The real issue of pricing and profitability has to be tackled to stop peasants from sliding down further. “Mine will be the last generation of farmers. I don’t want my son to be a farmer and suffer the way I have,” says Jitendra Tatte.
As Vijay Javandhia puts it, “In my next life, I would rather be a cow in Europe than a farmer in India. There, they get two dollars subsidy per day to feed their cattle. Here, our farmers slog in the fields and don’t even get one dollar.”
A Fate Worse Than Death
It seemed like a normal meagre meal for Dharmi Rathod when suddenly her husband Ramesh started vomiting. He had barely eaten anything. He was choking on the pesticide he swallowed. His friends rushed him to hospital, but he died there on 10th November 2005. Dharmi was left stunned… and without a single paisa with her.
Her village Bongavan in Yavatmal collected money for his funeral. They helped her with food and money. One month later, Dharmi is still reeling from the shock. “I have no idea how much he owed and how many loans he had taken. All I know is that the day before he died, bank officials had come to our hut.” For the last month, the trauma has taken its toll on Dharmi. She is constantly ill and has visited the hospital thrice.

Dharmi Rathod with her children

Photo: Dionne Bunsha

How does Dharmi manage to look after herself and her two children? “My son works as a farm hand every weekend. From that money, we go to the market,” she says. Even when Ramesh was alive, Dharmi and Ramesh both worked as farm labour earning Rs 20 and Rs 40 per day respectively. They could not survive only by tilling their four acre farm. This season, it will yield less than a quintal of cotton. And, Dharmi doesn’t know the first thing about managing a farm. Unable to cope, she has called her relatives to help her sort out her life.
Ramesh seems to have left Dharmi with a fate worse than death.
Frontline, Dec. 17 – 30, 2005 href=””> Also available here

Posted by DionneBunsha at 3/31/2007 05:11:00 PM

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Maharashtra, Opinion pieces, Vidharba Crisis | Leave a Comment »

Some issues on Nandigram

Posted by Ramoo on April 2, 2007

People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXI, No. 13, April 01, 2007

Brinda Karat

THE chief minister of West Bengal and the CPI(M) have expressed their deep distress and regret at the police firings and violence in Nandigram on March 14. Sympathisers, friends of the Left, democratic minded citizens have expressed their strong feelings on the issue. The matter is before the Kolkata High Court which has asked for more details. Once the investigation is over, action will no doubt be taken against those responsible for the excesses. The authorities have also registered FIRs on complaints of rape, made by four women several days after the reported incident. Urgent investigations are required and if found true, exemplary punishment must be meted out to those guilty. Till now two cases of rape have been confirmed by medical reports and both these are prior to the March 14 police action, the victims being CPI(M) supporters. The guilty must be brought to book and punished in these two cases also. 

This is not the only violence that the people of Nandigram have faced. Less known, their stories and tragedies ignored by the national media, around three thousand men, women and children of 12 villages of Nandigram, have been forcibly driven out of their homes and have been living in camps outside Nandigram since January 3 because they are known members or sympathisers of the CPI(M). Those killed or beaten by the police, those injured in hospital, those thousands displaced in camps are almost all poor, agricultural workers, marginal peasants or artisans, a substantial number of them are dalits. The CPI(M)’s opponents speak in terms of “their poor” and “our poor”. When representatives of the displaced sat on dharna in Kolkata, they were mocked at by Mamta Banerjee leader of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) who contemptuously brushed aside their suffering as ‘ CPI(M) drama.” The NGO activists and fact-finding teams who have been to Nandigram have not included the trauma of these families even as a footnote in their reports. This is not our understanding or approach. We stand in solidarity with the families of those killed and the injured in hospital just as we do with the displaced. 

It is necessary to normalise the situation. At present because of the continuing tension and refusal to allow the administration to function in the area, normal life is completely disrupted. Children have been the worst affected. In just one relief camp in Tekhali there are 67 children, 58 of whom have been forced to miss school for the last three months. Mid-day meal schemes have been stopped in 127 centres. 275 women’s self-help groups have stopped functioning. Poor people who have to move out of the area for livelihood purposes are afraid to do so. Who gains from this division of the poor, from their feelings of insecurity, loss of livelihood? Who are the forces responsible for the situation in Nandigram? There is a deep political game afoot in West Bengal which has many layers that need to be laid bare before the people.


It is said that the Nandigram mobilisation has been a great peaceful resistance movement. When I met the injured women in the PG Hospital in Kolkata and asked them the reason for the mobilisation on March 14 they said they had been told that the police were coming in to takeover their land. “We will never give up our land” they said. I asked them whether they had known that the chief minister had said no land is being taken. Their answer was revealing: “The BUPC has told us that the plan for land acquisition has already been made by the CPI(M) and that is why we have to guard our land day and night.” 

Why should the BUPC continue to run a campaign based on utter lies on the threat of land acquisition? Since January 9 the chief minister and government officials have been repeatedly stating that there will be no land acquisition in Nandigram since the farmers do not want it. Indeed he is the only chief minister in the country who has made such a categorical statement that a condition for land acquisition must be farmer consent. This has been a longstanding demand of all those including the CPI(M) who have been opposing the arbitrary takeover of land from farmers in different states. Normally when there is a struggle on a specific demand, in this case against land being taken over, if the demand is accepted it is claimed as a victory of the struggle and naturally the agitation is called off. 

In the huge farmers struggle in Ganganagar and other districts of Rajasthan where the CPI(M) plays an important role, police firing and violence under the BJP government between 2004 and 2006 has taken the lives of 17 farmers including one woman. The deafening silence against those killings of those who claim today to be the main defenders of farmer interests tells its own story. But the point to be made is that in the first phase of the agitation after the government was forced to agree to the demands concerning water sharing, the agitation was called off. Later when the BJP government reneged on its assurance the agitation resumed. It is precisely because the interests of farmers, the rural poor or the issue of saving the land is not the real agenda of the “resistance” in Nandigram that the chief minister’s statement was ignored. It is for this reason that the main parties in the committee, the Trinamool and the Congress have continuously boycotted the over 20 meetings called by the district administration to resolve the issue. The agenda is clearly only one, shared by all the disparate elements of the committee from the right to the extreme Left and including the various assorted foreign funded NGOs, namely, to reverse the massive mandate given to the CPI(M) in the last elections. It is a straight political battle, not to do with bhumi ucched (land displacement) but for CPI(M) “ucched.” 


There was nothing peaceful about the BUPC organised protest on January 3 and subsequently. That was the day a team from the central government was visiting the area as a village was going to be recognised as a “nirmal” district. Using that as a pretext the committee succeeded in whipping up a genuine fear among the local communities, created by the Haldia Development Authority notice that the team had come to finalise the takeover of their land. The fear and concern among a wide section of people in the area was used as a sanction for violence. Two gram panchayat offices were attacked and locked up. The two pradhans, Sameerun Bibi and Lakshman Mandal were driven out of the village. Houses of CPI(M) members and sympathisers were identified in an organised way and attacked. In one day, 34 homes were burnt, 41 houses were broken into and household goods smashed, 47 houses were looted. Thousands were driven out. Sobita Sumanta is one of the many displaced women who had come to meet the various authorities in Kolkata. Her husband Shankar Samanta was an elected gram panchayat member. On January 3 he had tried to reason with the leaders of the committee not to indulge in violence. He resisted attempts to drive out CPI(M) sympathisers from the villages. He paid the price for it. On January 7 he was burnt alive by an armed group of people. Kanika Mandal is also among the displaced. On January 3, her husband and two young sons were forced to flee from their home in Sonachura. She and her younger daughter Sunita, a bright student in Class 9 continued to live in the village under constant threat. On February 10, at around noon mother and daughter were working in the field. Sunita returned early to the house. When her mother came back she found her daughter killed. The medical report confirmed rape. She was warned not to follow up the case with the police. She fled the village and is now in the camp. Kakoli Giri was driven out of her village of Kalcharanpur along with her husband and children. On March 3, she went back to check on her belongings. She was surrounded by a group of men who gang raped her. Since she had not returned, her anxious son came in search of her. He found her lying unconscious and somehow brought her back to the camp. Her medical report has confirmed rape. Krishna, an activist of the AIDWA took her to meet the women’s commission. The women’s commission was prevented from following up the report. The police have been unable to follow the investigation leave alone arrest those responsible. Krishna herself received death threats for taking up the case and lives in fear. Earlier a police personnel had been lynched, and his body thrown into the river. Not a single person has been arrested for these murder and rapes. They have all taken shelter behind the “peaceful resistance.” 

The displaced women, each with a personal tragedy to narrate, are bitter when asked why they did not resist. We were unprepared, it was so unexpected, and they were fully prepared and armed. Do you think they drove us out with flowers, they ask, the men were armed with guns and axes. They say that all political activity in the area in opposition to the BUPC is banned literally with arms. On January 29 the CPI(M) and Kisan Sabha had organised a big rally in an area neighbouring Nandigram. The people in the two worst affected panchayats were warned not to attend the rally. But some still did. On the following day, 14 more families were driven out of their village for defying the dictat. There are approximately 7000 women who are members of the AIDWA in the affected area. Today almost one third of them, have been forced to leave their homes. The rest who are in the villages live in fear and terror sending out messages from time to time about their plight. Among those forcibly driven out are 13 panchayat members including women. What about their democratic and human rights? 

BUPC Dictats

After the successful forced displacement of thousands of CPI(M) families, the area was barricaded. Over 116 culverts, bridges and roads were broken and dug up. Four panchayat offices have been attacked. Government officials including teachers and employees have not been allowed to enter. Any other government would have immediately sent in its forces to ensure an end to this lawlessness. The West Bengal government refrained from doing so precisely because it believed that it was essential to start a political process. But this approach was rejected by the opposition. Since there are no elected members in some of the areas, no government officials accountable, there is a kind of dictatorship of the leaders of the BUPC who operate according to their will. Money is being reportedly collected from every household in the name of protection, every house has to send one person to “guard” the village and if they do not do so they have to pay a fine. There were 17 reported criminal offences in the area in this period with no action taken.

Evidence available and reported on some of the Bengali TV channels shows the meticulous planning of the BUPC preceding the incidents of March 14. Recorded conversations of organisers owing allegiance to the TMC clearly indicate the amount of money spent on procuring arms, bombs etc. The date of the administration’s plan to start rebuilding the roads and culverts and the police and administrative move to reestablish the government’s presence in the area was known to the organisers. The main concern expressed in the taped conversations is how to prevent the seizure of weapons by the police. Names of two TMC leaders are also mentioned. The taped conversations reveal that the planning included holding a puja in one area, and mobilising of women and children in school uniform to act as a shield for the armed men who attacked the police. There is also video footage available of the men lurking behind the women with guns. The utter cynicism and criminal callousness of those who deliberately used women and children as a shield while wielding arms is unprecedented. Of those killed, two died due to bomb injuries, one due to injury from a sharp weapon, and a few more due to gunshot injuries which were not police bullets. Who was throwing these bombs and wielding arms? There is a totally false campaign that the CPI(M) men went into the area along with the police. This is being linked to the arrests of ten men reportedly CPI(M) men, who were found in a brick kiln by the CBI team with arms and ammunition. No doubt the investigations will reveal their role and the reason for their presence in Tekhali. This incidentally is the area where a CPI(M) camp for displaced people is set up and which had been brutally attacked on January 5, leading to the deaths of several people. It was once again attacked on March 21 and the camp itself was sought to be burnt down but fortunately there were no casualties because many of the inmates were in Kolkata that day. But to link this up with a so-called joint operation of the police and the CPI(M) in Nandigram on March 14, is a deliberate canard to shield the role of the armed groups in the barricaded area.

No, there is little that is democratic or peaceful about the “resistance.” 

Political Gang-up 

There is a gang-up of political parties ranging from the BJP, the TMC, the Congress, the SUCI and the various naxal outfits. On March 17, the Maoists issued a statement calling for a Bangla bandh on March 20. The secretary of the CPI-Maoist, Soumen also wrote a letter to Mamta Banerjee published by some Bengali newspapers extending full support to her and assuring the backing of the Maoists for “the resistance struggle.” The letter states “We were there in Singur, we are there in Nandigram and we will stay. We will not leave the place.” Such statements should not be dismissed as rhetoric. The geographical location of this belt is crucial for the spread of the Maoists “liberated” belt stretching from areas of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa. Bengal is the big block and barrier in the Maoist thrust to the east. Already there are reports that the sea route through the Bay of Bengal is being used by the Maoists to come into Nandigram. Undoubtedly there are huge arms stockpiles in the area. Neither the CBI team or the local police has been able to go to any of these areas. In fact the police withdrawal from the area after the March 14 has further facilitated the entry of the Maoists.

Surprisingly, the High Court which made an unprecedented intervention ordering a CBI inquiry without so much as hearing the state government has not yet taken note of these developments. The plan of digging up roads and areas and preventing the entry of officials in different parts of Bengal has now been adopted as a strategy by the TMC. In a thinly attended meeting in Deganga on March 25, Mamta Banerjee has given a call to “create areas free from the CPI(M) and the government.” The implications of this are ominous. In the last few days Bengal has witnessed incidents when miscreants armed with bombs and pipeguns have attacked CPI(M) Party offices. Rumours to mislead the peasantry about land acquisition are deliberately spread. The Party has adopted a policy of utter restraint. The challenge will be met with a widespread political campaign approaching all sections of the people with the facts. 

But what however to be noted is the close coordination between the TMC and the group of NGOs functioning under different platforms, but united in the BUPC. In fact the NGOs and some nationally known figures and commentators have provided a cover of so-called impartiality to the reactionary political forces operating. In fact it is they who have more or less taken over the public face of the anti-CPI(M) campaign. 

Concerted Campaign of Misinformation

One part of the campaign is a number of highly exaggerated and sometimes self-contradictory reports from various sources about the incidents of March 14 and subsequent events. Wild allegations have been leveled at the Party from the killing of children, mass rape of women to massacre and burying of dead bodies. Three such investigation reports have been circulating on the net. The first of these is by a team of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights which claims to have been ‘deputed by the High Court.’ A perusal of the High Court order makes it clear that there is no such team deputed by the High Court. However the APDR are the petitioners in the High Court case. The second report is that of Medha Patkar and company called the All India fact-finding team report. The third is the CPI-ML team report that was led by its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. On the night of March 14 itself , wild rumours were circulating through SMS and e-mail by NGOs in different states about the violence against children. There is no doubt that the children of Nandigram’s affected areas have been severely traumatised by the violence since January 3 and the complete disruption of their routine. Everything must be done to help the children. But look at the “impartial” reports: The APDR report says ‘ Children were murdered indiscriminately, bodies have been thrown into the nearby Chuniburi river.’ The next sentence reads ‘Eight children of primary schools have been killed by the murderers and then all those children were buried in a particular place in the Bhangabhera area.’ The Patkar report says ” 35 children are missing… children from other villages are also missing. The parents apprehend that they are killed and their bodies abducted. Uniforms of two school children were found in nearby bushes. Incidents of children being killed and torn apart by pulling aside their two legs were also reported.” The ML report says: Women have recounted their children being torn apart…” Yet not a single report of a single missing child has been filed with the police. Why did not these leaders help the mothers register cases with the police? Even an ordinary citizen leave alone such internationally recognised eminent individuals would have considered it their bounden duty to file complaints of “children being torn apart.’ But they did not. Clearly such reports are concocted with the one aim to spread rumours and inflame passions. The situation of women is also highly coloured. The first reports of rape were revealed to the BJP team. The team said that after detailed interviews with women hospitalised, two women said that they were raped by unknown policemen. This was on March 17. The same day the “two women” becomes “women raped and molested” implying a large number of women were affected in the Patkar report but no fresh FIRs were filed. The ML report takes it further “there were gang rapes and brutal assaults of a sexual nature…” But did they meet any of the women? Their report reads “the women we spoke to spoke of six other rape victims who were not examined due to pressure from above.” A report from an NGO calling itself the Medical Service Centre (MSC) which has been the source of information for the media on the charge of “mass rapes” claimed that four of the women in the hospital said they themselves were rape victims. There are further charges made that on the night of March 14, after the firing, there was ” mass rape of the women.” The Patkar report says ” the police and cadres dragged people out and raped and molested the women inside..” The ML report links the rapes with the arrests of the alleged CPI(M) men from Tekhali. It reports the arrests thus ” The CBI sleuths who raided the brick kiln came across.. women’s underclothes.’

This utterly false reporting is reminiscent of the highly motivated campaign several decades ago when the Left front was in its infancy and under severe attack, an incident of a badly managed function in Rabindra Sarobar on April 6, 1969 became the focus of a vicious campaign that under the Left Front, goondas had a field day. A newspaper report of the time is illustrative that described “torn pieces of sarees and a good number of underclothes were found scattered all over the place.” A huge campaign started against the Left and the CPI(M) in particular. Fact finding committees were setup to defend “human rights and a League to be formed for defence as during the nazi regime.” 175 MPs from different parties issued a statement which spoke about “mass scale molestation of women, women being stripped, jumping into the lake to save their honour, several dead bodies of women have been recovered from the lake water..” and so on. The enquiry that was set up established conclusively that this was a huge fabrication. Yet another unfortunate case was that of Champala Sardar. Champala was used to concoct a totally fabricated case of rape against CPI(M) men by the TMC at the time of the 1993 panchayat elections. The CPI(M) men named by Champala were arrested. She was cruelly paraded at meeting after meeting by Mamata Banerjee as a symbol of CPI(M) criminality. The opposition campaign focussed on the issue. Later it was found that the case was fabricated and all the men were acquitted. Champala herself was abandoned soon after the elections were over. 

The plight of women in Nandigram causes deep concern to all those who have worked with women victims of violence. Police action may have involved cases of brutality which may not exclude those of a sexual nature. As has been stated earlier a proper investigation into the complaints is essential and action required against those guilty. But to exaggerate and concoct reports for narrow political ends is insulting to the dignity of the women. It also undermines the hard struggle by women’s organisations to give extra weightage to the statements of the women victims where medical evidence is not available. But if women are used as tools in a politically motivated campaign as in Nandigram by the BUPC it undermines the very credibility of the demand.

Political Context

The immediate aim of the TMC led campaign has been openly stated to be the next round of panchayat elections scheduled for May 2008. The Congress party in the state has even demanded president’s rule. A union minister from the state has made the most intemperate statements against the chief minister. The aim is to continuously provoke incidents in the name of saving the interests of farmers. The CPI(M) will have to face a combined onslaught of all these political forces in the state working in tandem with the ultra Left and being provided a cover by some self-serving NGOs. 

But the implications of the current campaign against the Party are not limited to Bengal alone. In the present national political situation the CPI(M) has been playing a crucial role in defence of the interests of the working classes and the rural poor putting forward a set of alternative policies. This stand has received wide recognition and caused much consternation to the neo-liberalisers. The BJP also knows that the CPI(M) is a big hindrance in what it considers its comeback trail which is why even though it does not have a single MLA in Bengal, it has focused its national campaign against the CPI(M). The cadre of the Party who are being villified today are those who have selflessly fought to defend secularism and the unity of the people and defended the interests of the working people. The effort is to demoralise the Party and villify it, to isolate it and thus weaken the only credible opposition to the exploitative policies of the ruling classes. It is also not a coincidence that US officials in India held an unprecedented meeting with a leader involved in the mobilisations of the minority community in Nandigram. The categorical position the CPI(M) has taken against the strategic partnership with the US being pushed by the Indian ruling classes and a section of the establishment, is reason enough for these interests to lend their support to the anti-CPI(M) platforms.

Some well intentioned commentators have called on the CPI(M) to introspect on the different issues that have arisen. That is a process which is an intrinsic part of the Party’s functioning at all levels. Appropriate lessons are drawn from the collective experience of critically analysing the Party’s work and policies with a view to addressing and removing weaknesses, lapses and gaps whenever and wherever they exist. The most widespread campaign is required throughout the country to explain not only to our friends but also to our critics and to the people in general the context of the Nandigram developments and to launch a strong united campaign to counter the highly motivated campaign against the CPI(M) and the government it heads in West Bengal.

Posted in Displacement, Land question, Opinion pieces, SEZs, West Bengal | 2 Comments »

Jantar Mantar Report-Booming India’s Suicidal Farmers

Posted by Ramoo on March 31, 2007…

Gathered in Delhi, the wretched of the countryside are full of complaints, accusations, and hope.

Mayank Austen Soofi

The onslaught of summers has started with the farmers holding Gandhian demonstrations in the historic Jantar Mantar – Delhi’s Tiananmen Square. They arrived in trains, traveling in unreserved compartments, from remote villages in the heartland provinces of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Gathered in the capital of their country, they are full of complaints, accusations, and hope. One common word being uttered by all the sad lips – Karza i.e. debt.

The farmers have to pay back loans taken several monsoons ago. But they have no money. During some years their insubstantial fields received too much rain that the standing crops were ruined. In other years there was too little that the crops could not grow. But the interest on the loans never stopped piling and now the wretched have to pay back more than was borrowed.

Mr. Valji Raghu, an 81-year-old farmer from the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh (see the pictures below), had borrowed Rs 15, 000 in 1992. He presently owes double that amount. Mr. Vaishya at 17 is younger and inherited the debt as legacy. Five years ago his late father had taken a loan of Rs 22, 000. Now the son needs to return Rs. 60, 000.

Sometimes, the combination of poverty, shame and distress adds up enough incentive to ponder with the easy possibilities of suicide, a phenomenon emerging as the biggest epidemic in the distraught countryside. Across the country, 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available.

Additionally, there is unrest regarding genetically modified seeds being peddled by American multinationals in the poor hinterlands. Such seeds are expensive and add nothing to the resources of an already debt-ridden farmer. Besides, in various places, the local government is forcibly, sometimes violently, evicting farmers from their ancestral lands to create China-style Special Economic Zones. In March 2006, 12 armed farmers were killed by the police in West Bengal’s Nandigram village when they protested against the takeover of their small farms.

Ms. Jhadki, an old woman from Madhya Pradesh participating in the Jantar Mantar demonstration, said, “We have no hope. We don’t know what to do? So we have come to Delhi. May be they will listen to us.”

Karza is not the only problem.” Mr. Veer Singh talked of his village in Jhabua. “We have no road and no clinic. Electricity is supplied only for four hours per day. Schools are there but poor people like us can’t afford them for our children.”

Don’t their elected representatives assist them? “They remain in Delhi and show their faces only during the time of elections.” Mr. Singh snorted.

“Look at Delhi.” Mr. Vaishya suddenly emerged from his silence. “What cars, what buildings, what gardens! Our sarkar (government) spend all the money here. We get nothing.”

However, despite their simmering rage, the farmers are optimistic. By holding demonstrations in the heart of the capital, they feel, their government will listen to them – at the least.

That is being unrealistic. The truth is that the Jantar Mantar agitation has been ignored by all including the so-called activist-driven media. More newsprint and primetime TV news was spent on a recent Fashion Week in Delhi and on popstar Shakira’s first-ever concert in Mumbai.

Even Sharad Pawar, the Union Agriculture Minister, is a much distracted man. As President of the lucrative Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), he has shown more concern on India’s debacle in the 2006 Cricket World Cup tournament than on suicides in the despairing countryside.

The farmers may be raising their voice, but they should know, sound waves do not travel in vacuum.

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Opinion pieces | Leave a Comment »

Meanwhile in Vidharbha 250 farm suicides

Posted by Ramoo on March 31, 2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

P. Sainath

There have been some 250 farm suicides in just the first three months of this year. Things could be a lot worse after June. And, as always, the farm suicides are a symptom of the crisis, not its cause.
FARM SUICIDES in Maharashtra rose by over 354 per cent between 1995 and 2003. That’s if the data of the National Crime Records Bureau are anything to go by. Strictly speaking they are not, being gross under-estimates. They draw from local machinery, which from region to region leaves out thousands from the lists of farm suicides. Yet, they still present a clear trend — a painful one. Even these twisted numbers show that farm suicides went up from 1,083 in 1995 to 3,836 eight years later.
For one thing, these figures are for all of Maharashtra. Which means if we were looking at just Vidharbha or Marathwada, the rise would be more horrendous. For another, these regions saw their greatest spurt in farm suicides after 2003 — where the last available NCRB data stops. The government of Maharashtra admits to 1,447 farm suicides in 2006 alone. And that’s in only six districts of Vidharbha. So just these six districts saw far more suicides in 2006 than the whole State did in 1995. That’s if we give credence to official readings of the data.
Events on the ground confirm the trend, if not the accuracy of the data. Nine women turned widows on International Women’s Day in Vidharbha. That’s how many farmers took their lives on March 8. The highest on a single day in the region’s recent history. Till two weeks later, when it happened again. There have been some 250 farm suicides in just the first three months of this year. Things could be a lot worse after June. And, as always, the farm suicides are a symptom of the crisis, not its cause. They are its outcome, not its engine.
Just months from now, Vidharbha could see its first 100 per cent Bt cotton season. Bt cotton accounted for over 60 per cent of acreage last season. As acreage under it rises, so do the risks taken by the farmer. The Maharashtra government admits Bt cotton has fared very poorly in rain-fed regions. And it’s clear that the seed companies might market much less of hybrid varieties in the coming season, if they do that at all. Why sell hybrid when there’s more money to be made in Bt cotton? So even as many, including the National Commission on Farmers, call for making Vidharbha “an organic farming zone,” the reverse process is in full swing. Even apart from its report, the NCF chairperson, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, pressed the government of Maharashtra on the notion of an organic zone. But the State’s own seed corporation is a major distributor for Bt cotton.
This gets more worrying when you look at the record of the last few years. The government began the last season’s harvest with boasts of a “record” 350 lakh quintal “bumper crop.” The claim was made by the State’s Minister of Marketing, Harshvardhan Patil. And this grand success was swiftly credited to Bt cotton in some media reports. As the run of events punctured these claims, the figure was scaled down more than once. This is further confirmed by how little of cotton the official agencies have procured. For all of them together, the figure has not crossed 70 lakh quintals. And private traders are believed to have picked up around 110 lakh quintals.
In short, less than 180 lakh quintals. And this in a time of distress when the numbers should have been much higher, when farmers would have been desperate to sell. It means production could not have topped 220 lakh quintals, and could well have been less. Consider that in the `non-Bt cotton year’ of 2003, procurement alone was over 210 lakh quintals. Production was far higher, at close to 250 lakh quintals.
This equation shows how high the risks are in the coming season. Vidharbha did better in a `non-Bt cotton year’ than during one in which more than 60 per cent of the acreage was under Bt cotton. The State government’s own report informs us that in preceding seasons too, “In rain-fed conditions, Bt cotton has not paid good returns.” And 97 per cent of cotton grown in Maharashtra is unirrigated. Here’s the nub: a poor monsoon could make the earlier crisis seasons look like the good old times.
There’s more irony to the vanished `bumper crop.’ It has in fact been so hard to find that cotton prices are better than we’ve seen in a long time. In some places, they are as high as Rs.2,400 a quintal. At Rs.1,500 a quintal, soybean too is getting a better deal than before. Well, go easy on the cheers. It means that most farmers will go back to these crops again. The present prices, though still not good enough for cotton, will prove tempting. True, some people have turned to other crops. And it would be a good thing, further, if even cotton growers reserved an acre of their lands for jowar. That would give their families some security. But this is not happening on any large scale.
When they return to cotton months from now, it will be to a Bt cotton-saturated season. Input prices will be higher. And yes, they will still use lots of pesticides. And the credit crunch will be far worse. Farmers are already figuring out the high cost of low interest loans. To begin with, very few had access to these six per cent interest loans. Those not repaying their sums by March 31 are out of the loop. Since not more than 20 per cent of them can do that, it means that farmers will be facing the old, higher rates again, very soon.
Since there has been no loan waiver, most will be unable to access the credit they need from the banks. So it’s back to the new loan sharks: the input dealers, the sellers of seed, the fake finance companies. The more this happens, the more the dealers will determine the inputs the farmers use. And, as an official report put it, for Bt cotton, “the yields have been unstable.” ( The Hindu , November 25, 2006). “When farmers invest heavily in purchasing seeds and other inputs, the net return has often been negative.”
What’s more, there is nothing to suggest that the present cotton prices will rule next season. Not a step has been taken towards a price stabilisation fund. That would have made a big difference. But it’s another NCF recce that bites the dust.
With things that serious, you’d expect a sense of urgency in the government. True, a handful of officers have on their own made efforts to study and measure the crisis. As a government — not a thing has changed. The Prime Minister’s package is a shambles. The Chief Minister’s efforts consist of contacting more Babas and Ammas for the spiritual salvation of the Vidharbha farmer. Salvation comes at a price. Which could translate into a number of these godmen being gifted prime pieces of real estate worth crores of rupees in due course. Their agents are already out scouting for the best locations, which they will then ask the government for. The business end of spirituality has always been deeply rooted in terra firma.
If anything in this mess occupies the government’s mind at all, it is the mounting numbers of suicides. These do not constitute the crisis in itself. But they are a great tragedy and bad publicity. And a huge embarrassment to the extent this government can experience that emotion at all. So the state get ever more creative.
The number of suicides in six Vidharbha districts gets worse. So how do we bring them down? By upping the `rejection rate’ of such suicides. Surely we are the only country in the world that has a category called `eligible suicides.’ (As distinct, say, from eligible bachelors or the like.) This term refers to those cases the state deems are `real’ farmers suicides. This means the affected families will get some compensation. It does not matter that the rest — the ineligible — are just as dead. Or that their families suffer no less.
One government report records that the “number of cases reported” in the six districts in 2002 was 105. In 2006, that number was 1,447. That’s an increase in farm suicides of over 1,300 per cent in cases reported in five years. But while 69 per cent of the cases in 2002 were found `eligible’ for compensation, just 40 per cent of last year’s cases were found `eligible.’ So more and more farmers are killing themselves. But fewer of these deaths will be counted as `farmers suicides.’ In 2006, this rejection rate rose sharply almost every month of the year. For instance, 60 suicides were found `not eligible’ in January last year. In October the same year, the rejected cases were 120. Ever growing numbers are rejected in this desperate bid to dilute the bad news.
Simply put, what’s rising fastest in Maharashtra is self-delusion. We could see big trouble from May-June onwards. Which could be terrible by Diwali time if the monsoon emulates the State and Central governments in its functioning.
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