NDA warned as rural distress worsens, farmer unrest spurts -Rajnish Sharma and Sayantan Bera

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published Published on Sep 9, 2015   modified Modified on Sep 9, 2015

Low support price, land acquisition bill, short supply of fertilizers among triggers for clashes, shows analysis

New Delhi:
Security agencies have warned the government of growing farmer unrest across the country as rural distress worsens.

There has been a spurt in clashes among farmers and government agencies, particularly in states such as Maharashtra, which is facing acute rural distress. Till June end, 74 incidents were reported nationwide, twice the number recorded in 2014.

Maharashtra topped the list with 17 incidents, followed by 12 in Haryana, eight in Bihar, seven in West Bengal, six in Punjab and five each in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

“The fact that the farmer-related clashes with the establishment have doubled in the first six months of this year points towards a grim agrarian situation in the country. The spiralling figure of farmer unrest across the country is indeed cause for concern,’’ said a senior home ministry official on condition of anonymity.

According to an home ministry analysis done on the basis of feedback received from police reports from the states, there are four major reasons for the unrest. The main reason is said to be the low minimum support price (MSP), which is decided by the government with a view to providing a cushion to the farming community from any sharp drop in prices of agricultural produce.

The contentious land acquisitionbillwas identified as another trigger for confrontation. In fact, due to stiff resistance across the political spectrum and the agricultural community, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat radio address on 30 August signalled the government’s retreat by announcing the decision to allow the land ordinance to lapse.

The other two noticeable reasons that contributed to the spiralling graph of violent agitation by farmers are the right to fair compensation and inadequate supply of seeds and fertilizers.

“The agitations by farmers in Punjab, Haryana and parts of western Uttar Pradesh were largely linked to the supply of fertilizers, particularly urea,’’ the home ministry official added.

The ministry has directed the police to closely monitor any development that can potentially snowball into a major agitation by farmer organizations.

Statistics show that till June this year, one person died while nine were injured during clashes, as against one death and 82 injuries to agitating farmers in all of 2014.

In an indication that the agitations were far more violent this year, the clashes also resulted in injuries to 26 police personnel. No policemen were injured last year.

There is no doubt that farmers are unhappy and angry, but the home ministry data can only be an underestimation of that discontent, said Himanshu, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Mint’s special series, Fractured Farms, captured the challenge of growing rural distress.

While two back-to-back sub-par monsoons have squeezed the farmer, additional challenges have surfaced with more farmers embracing investment-heavy commercial farming without adequate cover to deal with downside risks—such as pest attacks or a collapse in global commodity prices.

The trigger in Maharashtra was possibly the dues pending from sugar mills and growing indebtedness, but nothing speaks louder than the growing number of farmer suicides, said Vijay Jawandhia, an activist with Shetkari Sangathana, a farmer’s group in the state.

In the drought-hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra, for instance, over 600 farmers have committed suicide this year, according to data collected by the state government.

The changes proposed in the land acquisition bill were a key concern among farmers, said Dharmendra Malik, spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, a farmers union that led protests at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. “While the government retracted on the land bill, it is yet to ensure that farmers get remunerative prices for crops,” he added.

Also, the National Democratic Alliance, or NDA, government went back on its electoral promise to implement an important recommendation of the M.S. Swaminathan Commission (constituted in 2004, it gave its recommendations in 2006) to fix the MSP at 50% over the weighted average cost of cultivation.

“This led to major discontent among farmers. Compensation for crop damage due to unseasonal rains and unpaid dues to sugarcane farmers were other major points of protest,” said Malik.

Weather woes have, in fact, accentuated farm distress across the country for the second year running.

Last year, deficit rains affected the production of the rain-fed kharif crop. Farmers’ hopes of making good the losses were dashed as unseasonal rains in March and April this year wreaked havoc just ahead of the winter harvest.

The grim statistics—a dip of 4.7% in foodgrain production and the agricultural growth rate plummeting to 0.2% in 2014-15—are indicative of the distress. Worse, the situation is set to worsen with the monsoon deficit widening to 14% of the long-period average this year, and most rain-deficit regions like Maharashtra, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Telangana facing their second straight year of drought.

“Despite the drought-like situation this year, the government is yet to act. Farmers have few options with jobs scarce and rural wages stagnant,” Himanshu said, adding, “with most farmer unions in the country in a defunct state and farmers lacking a political voice, the overall number of clashes is an underestimation of the anger among farmers.”

Livemint.com, 9 September, 2015, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/xz0h8A6X0eRZ1WCpMUXUOK/NDA-warned-as-rural-distress-worsens-farmer-unrest-spurts.html

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