AIKSCC to organise farmers' march to Delhi from 28 Nov: Proposed agitation reflects neglect of agriculture over past decades

From 28 November to 30 November, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a coalition of about 200 farmers’ organisations from across India, is organising a farmers’ march to Delhi — the Kisan Mukti March.

The march demands that the two Kisan Mukti Bills — for guaranteed remunerative prices and for freedom from indebtedness — be debated and approved in Parliament. The AIKSCC will also be releasing a "Farmers’ Charter" describing the vision and demands of the farmers’ movements.

The agitation planned for the end of this month is a reflection of the present crisis in agriculture. When farming collapses, most of the village professions linked around it also collapse. Agriculture researchers such as Devendra Sharma point out that nearly 53 percent of the Indian population is dependent on agriculture for its income. P Sainath disputes this number, and goes on to say that in India, about 95 million people are main cultivators and form a mere 8 percent of the population.

 AIKSCC to organise farmers march to Delhi from 28 Nov: Proposed agitation reflects neglect of agriculture over past decades

Representational image. Reuters

The definition and the term used for a farmer in the census of India is "main cultivator" and is defined as someone who draws his or her income and sustenance through the act of farming, for more than six months in a year. If you go by the definition of "main cultivator", what percentage of the Indian population are farmers?

Sainath makes a distinction between the agriculturist and the agrarian society. Not everyone who is part of the agrarian society is a farmer. He breaks the myth that more than half of the Indian population are farmers, and goes on to say that more than half the population are connected to or dependent on agriculture. That doesn’t make all of them farmers.

This is where the farmers’ crisis begins, from understanding who is a farmer and what goes on in the world of a farmer, and why most of the farmers in India are starving. Between the 1991 and 2001 censuses, the population of main cultivators has declined by 15 million, and between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, the population of main cultivators fell by 7. 2 million. The number of farmers is shrinking dramatically.

Sainath points to the shrinking of the agrarian society, the weavers and the carpenters whose livelihoods are very much related to the livelihoods of a farmer. The average village carpenter is someone whose sustenance mostly comes in kind, or produce that comes from the village farmers, be it foodgrains or vegetables. But when the farmer goes bankrupt, so does the carpenter, the weaver, the potter and the various other professions that are linked to an agrarian economy.

Economist Utsa Patnaik first talked about the term "agrarian crisis", and how the country is entering one, in the year 1996. The reason we are in such a crisis isn’t natural disasters, floods or droughts but economic policies, which have been consistently anti-farmer.

The farmer’s universe is collapsing today, along with the village economy and the agrarian society. The Swaminathan Commission has highlighted the issues of the farmers from an agro-ecological point of view, and deals with various aspects like the credit crisis to crises of water, soil fertility, and administrative mechanisms. In the last 20 years, credit was taken away from the agrarian class and given to middle and upper-middle classes. For the financial year 2016-2017, in the outlay of NABARD for Maharashtra’s agriculture, nearly 53 percent of the state’s potential land-linked credit went to Mumbai and suburbs, to the agri-businesses set up in these areas.

Today, if a businessperson opens a cold storage in the middle of a metropolitan city, he or she would be eligible for an agricultural sector loan with an interest rate of 4 percent, because of how the definitions of priority sector lending and agricultural lending have been changed over the years. In this context, the role of institutional credit is falling and the role of the informal moneylender is increasing.

Sainath points to the inequality that exists on the water front when comes to sharing the resource with farmers. Water is being privatised at an alarming rate. With the creation of the borewell schemes, the groundwater is being depleted at an alarming rate today.

The policy on seeds has further pushed us into the agrarian crisis, and has increased the cost of cultivation, as a few corporations control the production of seeds. Till about 20 years ago, cotton farmers procured seeds from their own farms. But today, farmers are forced to buy seeds in the market, thereby increasing the cost of cultivation. However, this is not translating into better incomes.

This is where the Dilli Chalo march comes into the picture. The question for people who are not farmers and are not linked to the agrarian society is, why do we want this march? The protest gives a way for people to understand that the larger crisis of the society is linked to the agrarian crisis, and why there is a need to talk about the issues that plague the farmers’ world.

Being able to get decent and affordable food is the fight of middle-class, but for farmers, it is a fight for survival.

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Updated Date: Nov 19, 2018 21:05:36 IST