By Dr Soma Marla
There is a serious criticism on NCRB for not reporting the actual size of the reported data. The bureau releases statistics on suicides by farmers and agricultural labourers based on information provided by various state governments, which is often under-reported to save their image from prevailing distress in villages. Besides, state governments do not mention the reasons for the suicides.
Marginal and tenant farmers constitute 77 per cent of farming community. Also, about 21.06 million persons (that is31.01 per cent of the total rural employment) are farm workers and the rest 46.83 million (68.99 per cent) worked in non-agricultural establishments in Indian villages. A new development is observed in rural India since early 1990’s with the onset of neo-liberal economic reforms, when the income share from crop cultivation started dwindling for these sections.
Consequently, large number of poor farmers are joining the ranks of farm workers to substitute their income by working in others’ fields. A significant section of tenant as well as small and marginal have very little surplus and sell their entire produce in the market.
According to Prof Himanshu of Jawaharlal University, the current farm crisis experienced under Narendra Modi’s NDA strikingly mirrors similar to one during AB Vajipayee’s NDA government nearly two decades back. At that time drastic fall in rural investments and low crop MSPs led to a spate of farm suicides. In 2004, to provide some succor to rural poor MGNREGS was initiated by the UPA1 government with huge pressure from CPI and other left parties.
The prevailing distress can be attributed to lack of MSPs, ever escalating cost cultivation, on-availability of formal — government bank— credit. This income crisis is further compounded by reduction in employment days provided by MGNREGS in villages. Despite tall claims, the government has allocated only Rs 73,000 crore to this life-sustaining rural employment guarantee programme for the fiscal 2021-22 in the Union budget. This is substantially lower than the actual expenditure of Rs 1.11 lakh crore in the current fiscal year.
That’s why the allocated budget is exhausted by August and it is uncertain whether employment will be available till the end of this year. Apart from stagnating wages of agricultural workers for the last five years, the wages paid under MGNREGS are today lower than the minimum wages paid outside. Often long delays in cash payments of MGNREGS further aggravates the rural distress. MGNREGS wages need to be raised to Rs 400 to match the current high prices of essential commodities.
Apart from one-time loan waiver, strengthening of MGNREGS, public distribution system(PDS) should be widened to provide succor to the distressed rural poor.
One of the biggest hurdles for the women to get on with their lives is the outstanding debts left behind by the farmer, who has committed suicide out of distress.
Though the government’s claims of offering relief to the farmer widows, there is no mechanism or policy in place for the women to be freed from the outstanding debt made by the deceased farmer and certainly not there in the scheduled commercial banks, cooperative banks and Micro-Finance Institutions. A serious complaint of the women farmers is that the government is not recognising their husbands’ suicides as ‘farm suicides’ and therefore, not extending any support to the families. The women farmers have to repay all alone the outstanding debts. Another serious problem is that the land title is not transferred to her even after the husband’s suicide.
The recent three anti-farmer laws are part of the neo-liberal economic package being aggressively implemented by the present BJP government. They are enacted to appropriate the farm sector to domestic corporates and MNCs. That’s the reason why all sections of farming community from rich farmers down to farm labourers are united to rescue their livelihoods from the vicious jaws of corporates.
The crisis in agriculture is deep-rooted and is a result of an accumulation of distress over the last two decades. The current farmers’ agitation is a fallout of this prolonged crisis in villages. Agitating farmers should also put forward the demands of farm workers, marginal, tenant farmers as well. (IPA Service)