Union Budget 2020: While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government aims to double farmers’ income by 2023, it might have actually done more harm than good, with farmers’ incomes plummeting further. With increasing farmer suicide rates and rising unemployment, there is an urgent need for the government to keep economically exploited and socially oppressed citizens at the centre of its policy-making rather than keeping the interest of a handful of corporates in mind, says Ashok Dhawale, National President, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). Among his many other suggestions for the upcoming budget are bridging the inequality gap and scrapping the recently proposed trinity of CAA-NRC-NPR. Edited excerpts of Ashok Dhawale’s conversation with Shaleen Agrawal:
Where are we with regard to the Prime Minister’s promise of doubling farmer incomes?
We are nowhere near that promise. On the contrary, farmer incomes are plummeting. In 2018, 10,349 farmers, including 821 women farmers, committed suicide due to indebtedness. In the same year, 12,936 youth committed suicide due to unemployment. A large number of them are from the rural areas. The growth rate in agriculture which was 6.5 per cent in 2017-18, has crashed to 0.1 per cent in 2018-19. In 1951, agriculture, in which 74 per cent of the population was engaged, contributed 55 per cent to the GDP. In 2018, agriculture, in which 44 per cent of the population was engaged, contributed only 17 per cent to the GDP. All these indicators show that agriculture and farmers are in deep crisis, which is only getting deeper. Hence, far from doubling farmer incomes, we will be lucky if farmer incomes have not halved in the last six years of the current Prime Minister’s rule.
Can something be done in the Budget to help us get there?
Today not only agriculture, but the entire economy in India is moving towards recession and stagflation. The cardinal reason for this is lack of demand, due to the crunch in the purchasing power of the people. The government has been showering huge loan waivers and tax waivers on the corporates at the expense of the people. This is aggravating inequalities and making things worse. We just saw the Oxfam report that one per cent of richest Indians hold more than four times the wealth held by 953 million people who make up 70 per cent of the country’s population. Also, the combined total wealth of 63 Indian billionaires is higher than the total union budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19 which was at Rs 24,42,200 crore.
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What we need, therefore, is a paradigm shift in this budget. Specifically, this budget must make provisions for the following: Complete one-time loan waiver for farmers; Provision for giving MSP to all crops at one and a half times the entire cost of production, as per the seminal recommendation of the National Commission on Farmers headed by Dr M S Swaminathan; revamping the crop insurance scheme so that it benefits farmers and not corporate insurance companies; expanding outlay for MNREGA in the rural areas and extending it to urban areas; a massive programme for building infrastructure; and comprehensive steps to combat the alarming rise in unemployment.
Is doubling of farmer incomes even possible? What is the more realistic goal?
Instead of dangling such jumlas as carrots, the immediate and elementary goal must be to ensure the right to life and livelihood of farmers and agricultural workers. This can be done only if the measures enumerated above are implemented stringently. If the agrarian crisis is first dealt with effectively, only then will farmer incomes grow.
Do you see signs of rural stress subsiding, especially given the encouraging farm season?
Our long experience shows that merely an encouraging farm season does not alleviate rural stress. I would like to underline that it is not just rural stress, but a full-blown agrarian crisis that we are witnessing for the last few years. In such a situation, the government must take a number of far-reaching measures to save farmers and agriculture, as briefly enumerated above.
What must the government do to alleviate farmer’s stress and rural stress?
It must first call a halt to its divisive policies as manifested in its trident of CAA-NRC-NPR. They are an attack on our Constitution, our democracy and our secularism. They have created massive social unrest, which can only ruin the economy further.
After that, the government needs to radically change its priorities. As Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar both said, it needs to keep the poor, the toiling millions, the economically exploited and the socially oppressed as the centerpiece of its agenda, and not just a few favoured corporate houses. With this paradigm shift, it must undertake the measures to deal with the agrarian crisis, some of which have been suggested above.
Do you think the government schemes have helped farmers over the last few years?
Frankly, no. Take two concrete examples. The PM Kisan Samman Yojana gives just Rs 6000 to a farmer family per year. This comes to a paltry sum of Rs 3.33 per person per day, if we take an average family of five members. Millions of farmers have not got even this pittance. It is widely accepted that the PM Fasal Bima Yojana has helped not farmers, but insurance companies. Several concrete examples of this can be given. What is truly required is a complete change in outlook and in policies.