Farmers in India began 2022 with great hope but are ending it with greater despair. The year started with peace after the year-long historical farmers’ movement was called off in December 2021, but a year later December 2022 witnessed re-emergence of agitations of all hues of farmers’ union including RSS-BJP affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. The year saw the unfulfilled promise of “doubling farmers’ income by 2022” and also heard the lie of the Modi government in the Parliament of India in July that farmers income have more than doubled. Farmers are feeling cheated on promises, have started agitation again demanding remunerative prices for their produce in the midst of rising input cost, and decline in yield of both the summer Rabi crops and winter Kharif.
Let us recapture the background of the beginning of 2022 to understand the increased hope of farmers in India. They have been agitating since August 2020 when Modi government have got three farm bills passed in the Parliament of India seeking to bring corporate to farms. It was resisted tooth and nail, and ‘Dilli Chalo on November 26’ call of the joint platform of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) turned into sit in protest in three borders of Delhi. The demand was to scrape the three farm laws. It turned out to be historical movement of farmers in the country in which over 750 farmers had died. On November 19, 2021, on a televised address on the occasion of Guru Parb, PM Narendra Modi announced repeal of the three farm laws and by the end of the month it was actually repealed. SKM called off the agitation on December 11, 2021 on Modi government’s assurances in writing to consider the farmers’ demands. It had created great hope among the farmers in the beginning of the year 2022.
However, the farmers felt cheated since even a year after the promise, Modi government has been sitting over their demands which included legal guarantee on the MSP, which according to SKM, the government is not even ready to consider. Union government has rather offered government’s committee to decide on it, but SKM has rejected the offer seeing government’s unbending attitude on the issue. Their other demands include comprehensive loan waiver scheme, withdrawal of Electricity Amendment Bill 2022, comprehensive and effective crop insurance scheme, Rs5000 monthly pension to all marginal, small and medium farmers, withdrawal of false cases against agitating farmers and compensation to the families of those who lost their lives during agitation. From November 26, 2022, SKM has started the second leg of farmers agitation in continuance of the first phase that ended a year ago.
SKM had boycotted the high-powered expert panel constituted by the Supreme Court of India, since some of the members were known to have supported the government moves of farm sector reform. The committee released their findings on March 21, 2022 which said that 86 per cent of the farmers organization supported the farm laws.
However, the truth of the report has now questionable in the light of the agitation of farmers under the banner of RSS-BJP affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS). They organized Kisan Garjana Rally on December 19, 2022 in Delhi, and voiced their concern not only over the MSP, but has also demanded a rollback of GST on agricultural goods to lower input costs for agriculture. BKS has also threatened the government to intensify their protest. “Government will face trouble if demands are not met in time,” BKS has warned. BKS is also pushing the Centre to increase the financial support under PM-KISAN, and denial of permission to GM crops. It should be worth mentioning the Modi government has given permission for GM-Mustard against which the Supreme Court of India is hearing a case and has issued notices to all stakeholders including the Union Government.
All these are indicative of worsening the plight of farmers in the country. From the last week of November and in the entire month of December farmers have been seen agitating across the country, chiefly demanding remunerative price of their produce. Against the assurance given by PM Modi on February 28, 2016 for doubling of farmers income by 2022, farmers’ conditions deteriorated. Actual income of farmers decreased between 2015-16 to 2018-19, a parliamentary standing committee report released in March 2022 revealed. Perhaps, it led to a farmer’s suicides every two hours in 2021, as the National Crime Record Bureau data reveals.
In this grim situation the Union Budget 2022-23 has just escaped to mention the target of “doubling farmers’ income by 2022”. Another parliamentary standing committee report was released on December 20, 2022, which mentioned that the Union Government did not take any concrete step on it recommendation given in March 2022 “except merely stating that the recommendation of the committee has been noted.” It had recommended in its March report that government constitute a special team to figure out the reasons for falling farmers’ income … and take some course-corrective measures so that the “doubling of farmers income is not lost sight of.”It should also be noted that in mid-year in July, the Union Government had told in Parliament that farmers’ income had more than doubled, but did not provide any data, indicating it to be a lie.
Farmers income has clearly suffered in 2022, fist because of lower yield of Rabi crops due to heat wave conditions in March and April which led to wheat export ban in May. Thereafter, erratic weather conditions and floods also adversely impacted Kharif crops across the country. However, the advanced estimate of the Government has claimed a record foodgrain production in the country from 308.65 million tonnes in January 2022 to 315 million tonnes in December 2022, which if not exaggerated by the government, would prove to be the highest ever foodgrain production in the country.
The rise in prices of foodgrains and vegetables led to sharp increase in inflation due to steep hike in food inflation. Inflation remained well about tolerable limit of 6 per cent, and hovered around 7 per cent throughout the year. High costs have increased the agricultural input costs, while farmers are not getting corresponding high return. Large number of farmers are supplementing their incomes as labourers. Livestock has also suffered due to steep hike in fodder prices and lumpy skin disease and other ailments.
Modi government clearly needs to enhance support to farmers and farm sector in 2023, or else the farmers agitation that has already begun in December 2022, would roll over with greater intensity next year. (IPA Service)