'The policy is to consolidate farming into the hands of a few and to take away the food security of the country.'
'Once food is in the hands of 15 chosen corporate houses, you will get food, but at a price that they determine.'
A delegation of farmers' organisations, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, recently requested President Ram Nath Kovind to convene a special session of Parliament immediately to discuss India's agrarian crisis.
The farmers' leaders urged the Rashtrapati to address the crisis of farm debts and guaranteed remunerative minimum support prices for farm products.
Jan Kisan Andolan National Convenor Avik Saha, a member of the delegation that met President Kovind, tells Rediff.com/Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee said farmers will decide the future of India in tbhe 2019 elections. Is there any indication to that?
The agrarian crisis covers two-thirds of the country and unless the ruling party (the Bharatiya Janata Party) pays serious attention and stop showing off through posters and campaigns, it is going to be an issue.
How much the Opposition will be able to make it (the agrarian crisis) an issue is the question in our minds.
Other than offering an antidote and not really a cure, it (the Opposition parties) has not come out with anything substantial.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee requested President Kovind to call a special session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis. Is the situation that serious?
Yes, it is.
For decades, farmers have not been getting the price promised to them.
It is called minimum support price.
I stress the word minimum.
When for years together you do not get it, you are pushed into a debt trap. And then debt release becomes a political flag.
Many common people who are not related to farming have asked this question -- why do farmers ask for debt relief and they keep getting it?
What is happening?
Are farmers becoming beggars?
The point is that debt relief without a proper remunerative price leads to a recurrent phenomenon.
You keep impoverishing a person and keep making him indebted. Then you keep levying his debt so it is a cycle.
This has to stop.
What needs to be understood is the relative disparity in income, thanks to many earlier efforts.
Farmers had started seeing better days. And then suddenly there is a big drop.
Were there better days before?
For the last 20 years there have been policy initiatives like e-NAM (the National Agriculture Market is a pan-India electronic trading portal which networks existing Agricultural Produce Market Committee -- APMC -- markets to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities), better agricultural market surveys and better places to sell products.
These initiatives together with policy support and subsidies etc saw farmers of certain crops see better days.
In fact, the biggest protests you saw last year were from relatively prosperous farming areas.
Mandsaur (in Madhya Pradesh) -- which is recognised as eye of the storm -- has lot of cash crops and relative prosperous farmers.
They were left in the lurch. They saw the minimum support price crash sometimes to 50 per cent.
They didn't know whom to blame and what to do.
It would be wrong to identify a particular period as a good period (for agriculture).
In the last 70 years the country has been moving upwards.
There has been progress and some amount of prosperity, and farmers were not excluded from that.
I would say from the mid 1990s a lot of farmers started collapsing.
That is the time farmers' suicides started.
Farmers' suicides are not a 100-year-old phenomenon, but 20 years old.
In 20 years, 350,000 farmers have committed suicide.
That should tell you there is a problem.
People living in India's cities find it difficult to understand why farmers need a MSP from the government when there are no buyers for their farm products?
Why should the government buy when there is no demand for that particular farm good in the market?
It is a very important question and I hope everybody in the country understands.
It is very simple.
Minimum support price is not something that the government is giving the farmers at all.
Minimum support price is about the government regulating the price.
Now the government is not supposed to give that price.
Neither do the farmers want the government to become the biggest purchasers.
The minimum support price is a regulated price at which the farmers and the traders must transact.
The law says look this is the price that farmers must get and if the traders want to pay more then it's a bonus.
But what is happening is that the government has announced the regulated price and not regulating the market.
Therefore, the farmers are demanding the (right) price from the government.
It is actually called an agriculture regulated market.
The farmer is compelled to bring his products to that market. Traders are registered in that market.
They must operate within this parameter of law and price boundary.
They (the traders) don't (follow it) and the government does nothing.
So the farmers' demand is that the government must intervene.
Farmers are not saying that the government should buy all the products.
It is impossible for the government to buy the entire agriculture produce of the country.
Why should the government do it?
And what will the government do with that product?
Why do farmers not sell their produce in cities like Mumbai where there is a demand? Why must they sell only in regulated markets?
Farmers cannot do that.
They will be arrested. They cannot sell (elsewhere).
If you are a farmer, all regulated markets have a command area.
So whatever you produce, you have to bring that to the command area and sell it.
That is the law. That is the Agricultural Marketing Act.
But it is dictatorial. When I can sell my talent to different companies, why can't farmers sell their products in an open market?
Just look at the MSP. Let's take an example of pulses.
Farmers gets around Rs 30 a kilo and we in the cities buy it at Rs 80 a kilo.
See the difference between the MSP and the MRP that is in the city.
Garlic farmers in Rajasthan are committing suicide because there are no buyers and in Mumbai we pay Rs 120 for a kilo of garlic.
India has the largest link of intermediaries and there are some very big intermediaries.
Don't blame the sabziwallah (vegetable vendor) in your market. He is a very small intermediary.
There are huge intermediaries who are shopping off profit.
MSP is an issue that not only affect farmers, but also consumers.
Even if 50 per cent of the MRP that we pay go to the farmers, they will be more than happy.
Tell me, how much it would cost to transport garlic from any part of India to Mumbai?
How much should be the profit of that person who brings it to Mumbai?
Do the math and you will find out that someone is pilfering in very large quantity.
What farmers need to know is why is the government standing by and watching all this pilferage?
Does the government have no duty?
What needs to be changed to tackle the agrarian crisis?
That is what the AIKSCC has been doing.
Instead of merely protesting and shouting, they have formulated excellent laws which has gone through the whole country and received suggestions from everyone concerned with the subject.
We have received inputs from 21 political parties and have now been presented that to Parliament.
The Minimum Remunerative Price Guarantee Act says look this is the mechanism by which you must not only guarantee the price, (but) you must ensure intervention and ensure procurement.
What happens is in any market the government says okay I will buy 10 percent of the crop.
The traders are the first point of contact with the farmers in these agriculture markets.
These are called assembly markets. A trader versus farmer market.
Then there are terminal markets, which is trader versus trader.
The Mumbai market or the Delhi Azad Mandi market is a terminal market where traders deal with traders.
If you come to the assembly market, the government's job is to be present and outlaw any transaction below the MSP and have the muscle to ensure that it is enforced.
Due to a fall in international prices or any other reason, when the market collapses the government must shore it up.
This is food, not nylon or steel or fibre.
This is something we all need. The government's primary duty is food security.
This is where the government needs to pay attention, but it pays least attention.
What could Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's government have done?
He could have simply implemented his own manifesto.
These are not demands, but promises he made.
Modi could have gone to the BJP manifesto, gone to the agricultural sector page and formulated a policy to implement that.
Sincere efforts to implement policy would have shown results.
There was no effort to implement, only to divert the attention into mimicry.
If I show you a McDonald's poster, stating in it that the outlet is 1 km away and tell you to keep walking, you go by my word and start walking.
You will walk and walk.
After a point of time you will realise that McDonald's is nowhere near, then you will collapse and say I cannot walk anymore.
But Prime Minister Modi speaks all the time about farmers' issues and schemes. Do you think the bureaucracy is a problem?
I am not ready to accept that it is a bureaucratic failure.
I am going to blame the policy's intention.
The policy's intention is not to ensure that a large number of farmers have retail capacity.
The policy is to consolidate farming into the hands of a few and to take away the food security of the country.
Modi has nothing against farmers so long as they work for any corporate. And that corporate must produce that food.
You must have asked how come Reliance Fresh sells vegetables at a profit in air conditioned showrooms and your own local sabziwallah, who you know for the last 20 years, sells food for years, wearing the same tattered clothes, selling the same vegetables?
What is the secret in this business model?
The answer is Reliance Fresh was building a front end as a cash burn business. Now they want to get into the back end and complete the chain.
It is called vertical integration.
Food is a never ending business.
Once food is in the hands of 15 chosen corporate houses, you will get food, but at a price that they determine.
Please elaborate this for our readers.
Today, food prices can be managed because there are crores of producers.
It is impossible to rig the market.
There are too many players in the market.
So when someone wants to rig a market, what does he do?
He cuts out multiple players and limits the game to a few players.
This is called cartelisation.
I am not naming any corporate house, but let us say there are 10 big corporate houses who are capable of investing thousands of crores of rupees in a business called food manufacturing and retailing.
These corporate houses have now influenced a government into ensuring that small farmers -- even a medium farmer -- finds it impossible to find profit in farming.
He sells the land and comes to the city to become a building guard or a rickshaw-wallah or something like that.
These lands in the hands of corporate houses will be consolidated into farming factories.
Thousands of hectares producing bhindi (ladyfinger) or dals (pulses) -- that chain will be from the field to the retail showroom.
The price will be determined by these corporate producers.
Now there will be only 10 of them.
When they determine the price, even it is 50 per cent of the food, you have to buy from them.
That is the policy direction.
Cut out small farmers and multiple players, consolidate (farming) into a few hands and ensure food which is a never ending business becomes profitable for a chosen few.
What can the government do when there is a surplus of food and the prices of farm commodities crash?
That is the second policy plan of the government.
Friends of the government have said either hand over food production to us and if you can't, then hand over food imports to us.
At this time when chana prices have crashed, the government has gone ahead and imported chana.
Now there is a glut in sugar.
Sugar mills are not paying farmers because they are saying we have unsold stock. The government has gone to import sugar from Pakistan.
Just peel off the layers and you will see who are the importers importing sugar from Pakistan.