THERE is a sudden spurt of farmers’ suicides in Andhra Pradesh after the categorical announcement of state chief minister in the state assembly on December 16 that whatever relief package that has been announced by the government is, by far, the best in the country and that the same will not be improved. The package involved payment of input subsidy at Rs 2400 per acre of paddy besides interest waiver on kharif loans.
As has been reported in these columns, farmers in many districts of the state lost their ready-to-be-harvested crops due to unseasonal rainfall. Paddy has been affected in about 20 lakh hectares. Cotton, vegetables, orchards and few other crops have also been damaged in quite a few lakhs of hectares but the plight of paddy farmers, especially of tenant farmers (mostly belonging to BC and SC community), is the worst. They do not get any benefit from interest waiver and reschedule of loans as they have not been sanctioned any loan.
The number of farmer deaths, according to information of AP Rythu Sangham, has spurted to 275 between December 16, 2010 (the date on which the chief minister made the announcement) and January 1, 2011, at a daily average of over 16 farmers either committing suicide or dying of heart attack. The spate of suicides is continuing unabated. This spurt in suicides is a manifestation of only the tip of the severe problems facing the peasantry. The rot in the economy of farm dependent population is much wider and deeper.
Successive heavy rains and floods during the season, specially during the first week of December, when the paddy crop is either in the midst of harvest or about to be harvested, has caused enormous loss. Input subsidy announced by the government is too meagre, with all cultivation expenses going up. Farmers have been demanding payment of input subsidy at Rs 10,000 per acre. The harvested paddy is discoloured and is of poor quality. Farmers were not getting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) even for normal crop, and therefore it is not surprising that rain/flood damaged paddy is being purchased by the traders at a heavy discount. Though the chief minister in his relief package announced that damaged paddy (up to 20 per cent damage) will be purchased at MSP and that many purchase centres will be opened for this purpose, the reality is that the actual purchase by these centres from the farmers has been very nominal. Most of these affected farmers have raised their crops with heavy borrowing, mostly from private lenders with usury interest. Tenants had to bear land rent additionally, ranging from Rs 8000 to Rs 20,000 per acre depending upon crop and region. Now, the point to be considered is why there is such a sudden spurt of suicides and what does it portend?
OUTCOME OF LPG POLICIES
The implementation of liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation (LPG) policies in manifest form during the last two decades has debilitated the farmers and made them totally debt-dependent for cultivation and even maintenance of family. Debt relief measures announced by the central and state governments in this period have not provided relief because loan waivers covered only debts of public finance institutions, which is only 20-32 per cent of the accumulated debt. The rest is from private sources at usury interest. With no alternative livelihood, such farmers are forced to continue in subsistence farming despite the fact of farming becoming increasingly unviable (slave production). While the richer sections of the farmers left farming due to its uneconomic farming, it is the weaker sections belonging to BCs and SCs who are continuing in farming, by taking such farmers lands on informal lease. With no access to institutional finance, these tenant farmers are forced to resort to private borrowing. This is also manifesting in the fast expansion of tenant farming in the state, and more so in the coastal delta region. Such farmers are not even able to recover the full costs in spite of themselves participating in farm operations.
The tenant farmers have not been receiving any help from the government as their tenancy is not on record. They also do not receive any input subsidy in case of natural calamity losses. It is becoming clear that such farmers have not believed the chief minister, from their past experience, even when he announced that tenants will also be paid input subsidy. It is these and other landowning small farmers, who are facing unbearable distress, who are now resorting to suicides.
FIRE FIGHTING NATURE OF GOVT ACTIONS
It is not that the governments have not been doing anything during LPG period to address farmers’ distress, even if it was driven to meet electoral requirements. It has been spending thousands of crores of rupees to support farm operations, which are not keeping pace with increasing costs. Both the centre and AP state governments have spent over Rs 13,000 and Rs 5,000 crore, respectively, towards debt waiver. But these amounts have not benefited all farmers, especially the small and tenant farmers. Moreover, such ad hoc measures have not addressed the core issues confronted by the farmers. These actions of the government are only knee jerk reactions, designed more to meet electoral requirements rather than solve or address farmers' problems in their totality. The intensification of farmers’ distress, as at present, only establishes the fact that the actions so far taken by the government are only of fire fighting nature, that too without using enough water to douse the fire.
The real intention of the government agenda – of corporatising and globalising agriculture – has become clear from the refusal of the central government to implement Swaminathan’s 'National Commission on Farmers' report or from the refusal of the Andhra Pradesh state government to implement Professor Jayathi Ghosh’s 'Farmers Welfare Commission', both appointed by respective governments. Even the disastrous experience of LPG policies for well over 25 years on the livelihood of farm dependent population is not making the ruling parties to have a rethink about the farm policies being pursued. They are continuing with their agenda of corporatising and globalising Indian agriculture, unmindful of what it entails to the farm dependent population and to the nation’s fragile democracy and sovereignty. The lackadaisical response of the governments at the centre and in the state to the present spurt of suicides in Andhra Pradesh confirms the same.
WORST YET TO COME
The worst is yet to come with the impact from the legislations being enacted – Seed Bill, Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill, Protection of Public Funded Research Patents Bill etc – and various other measures being contemplated by the govvernment. The FTA agreements either already made or under negotiation, FDI in multibrand retail trade, total withdrawal of fertilizer subsidies, which is high on the agenda of economic reforms plan, privatisation of extension service etc will together complete the vicious encirclement of farmers, who are already in severe distress. These will hasten corporatisation of agriculture and take away whatever little rights and land that farmers have at present. This will be accomplished through virtualisation, eliminating tilling farmers altogether from farming, the dream of liberalisers.
Under corporate farming, with virtualised rights and real obligations, all choices of farmers simply vanish, except as those decided by corporate managements, who lack credibility. Under contract farming, debt-dependent cultivation, foisting corporate centric technology and price/ market operations are the instruments of subjugation, which make farm dependent population totally subservient to corporate needs and greed. This forces the farm dependent population to live only with obligations / duties to work to live, with only virtual rights and assets, akin to slaves. With corporate mergers and acquisitions, associated farm dependent population becomes a saleable commodity, even without their knowledge leave alone consent. This completes the definition of ‘slaves’ and slave mode of production in agriculture in the 21st century under globalisation. This should never be allowed to occur. This will also have devastating consequences to our democratic functioning and sovereignty, however imperfect they are at present. Farm dependent population, food security and nation’s democracy and sovereignty need to be saved from these disastrous consequences through mass mobilisation and pro-active action plan, lest our posterity will not forgive us.