BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY
NATIIONAL EXECUTIVE MEETING 7-9 SEPTEMBER, 2006
The Bharatiya Janata Party is deeply concerned over the multi-dimensional crisis afflicting agriculture and food security in India. On one hand, the crisis has eroded the farm-based livelihood of our small and marginal kisans, and landless mazdoors, who constitute the bulk of India’s rural population. On the other hand, it has put at risk the already vulnerable living condition of the poorest sections of our society (which include agriculture-dependent families) by endangering their right to food. This crisis is the cumulative result of the prolonged neglect of the agriculture sector and wrong policies pursued by successive Congress governments, including the incumbent Congress-led UPA government.
Agriculture is facing both internal and external challenges. The agrarian distress is spreading and the farmer indebtedness is rising. The government's response is inadequate.
The government has declared this year as the ‘Year of the Farmer’ and it also happens to be sixtieth anniversary of our independence. Our population is now 1.1 billion. Annual average of farm growth is at 1.3 pc. This is below the population growth, which is at 1.8 pc.
Any government’s priority should be to provide cheap credit facility, alternative source of income from activities like poultry and dairy, improved irrigation and crop insurance to the farmers.
Problem of farmers’ suicides and the so-called special package.
In the past two years, the Indian kisan has been hit the hardest by a steep rise of 30-40%, in the prices of diesel, fertilizers, pesticides and all other farm inputs. The prices of most agricultural products have either remained stagnant, or have been further depressed in real terms due to rising inflation on one hand and the wrong policies of the government on the other. For example, prices of domestically produced soya have crashed due to reduction in import duty on it. The token hike of Rs. 10 per quintal in MSP for wheat amount to mere 1.8 pc over the last years’ price, whereas inflation has more than doubled. This is nothing but a cruel joke on our kisans for which the UPA government deserves condemnation.
Let us not forget that the Congress Party has made farmers suicide as a major issue in 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
The most shocking and shameful manifestation of the crisis is the phenomenon of large-scale suicides by debt-ridden farmers, mostly in Congress-ruled states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala and Karnataka which was ruled by the Congress till recently. As many as 4,500 farmers have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh. In Maharashtra, the number is nearly 1,000. It is also clear that the phenomenon of farmers’ suicides is not limited to any single crop. It covers many crops, both food crops and cash crops.
No human being ends his or her life on account of the ordinary ups and downs in personal life. The ground swell of suicides is indicative of a simmering volcano. The agrarian crisis is compounded by the failure of the government's administrative mechanism in reaching out to the suffering farmers. The recurring cycle of droughts, cyclones, failed crops, lack of adequate, timely and affordable credit, exploitation by private moneylenders, non-remunerative prices, increase in input costs, growing pest menace, failing seeds, lack of necessary affordable insurance cover and un-assured supply of critical inputs such as water, power, seeds and fertilizers at affordable prices have culminated in to the farmer’s holocaust.
The UPA government’s response to the incidence of suicides by farmers has been insensitive to the point of being callous. It took Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh two years after assuming office to find time to visit Vidarbha, where most of the suicides in Maharashtra have taken place. He did so only after widespread outcry in political and media circles. The fact that suicides in Vidarbha have continued unabated even after his announcement of a relief and rehabilitation package shows both the gravity and entrenched nature of the problem. More than 100 farmers have committed suicide since the PM visited that place. The BJP takes strong exception to the fact that while the Prime Minister announced a financial package for Maharashtra, he has kept mum on similar demands from other states affected by farmers’ suicides.
The package to Vidarbha would have little or no impact on the crisis there, neither in the short term nor in the long term. The package should have included moratorium on both repayment and waiver of interest up to rupees one lakh.
Closer scrutiny reveals that major chunk of the amount is part of routine budgetary provision. The allocation of Rs 2177 Cr for irrigation is regular provision under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme, which would have come the regions way never the less. Besides the allocation is the combination of loan to the state government and subsidy. The allocation will increase the burden of the exchequer. The package gives Rs.2177 crore to 80 major and 442 minor irrigation projects in the six districts it covers. That is, it draws money from existing programmes.
The BJP demands that the government should come out with a national package not a notional package. Piece meal package will not help. There is a need for a comprehensive national package covering adequate timely rural credit, waiver of interest for all the affected farmers particularly those in rain-feed areas, re-schedulement of loans and sanction of fresh loans, to impress upon all the state governments to join National Comprehensive Income Insurance Scheme, making available of quality seeds for all the farmers, remunerative prices for farm produces, time bound action plan for completing the ongoing small and medium irrigation projects in the rain-fed areas, value addition, food processing units and thrust on the horticulture with adequate subsidy, providing backyard poultry and milch animals for small and medium farmers, providing information about prices and strengthening cold storage and rural godowns scheme initiated by the NDA government.
The Party demands the constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on farmers’ suicide to evolve such a much-needed holistic response to this multi-dimensional crisis.
The BJP urges upon the government to act fast on the five suggestions made by the National Commission on Farmers such as risk stabilizer fund, farmer-centric minimum support price and market intervention scheme and include them in the 11th five year plan.
The BJP suggests the government to go for massive investments in rural infrastructure like irrigation, drainage, road, flood control which are the real answers along with providing cheaper and timely credit.
The BJP also suggests to take measures for water harvesting, conservation, soil health enhancement in improving organic matter and micro nutrient content. Water harvesting should be made mandatory. The Gujarat government has issued soil health cards and other states also can do like wise. The Gujarat government has shown the way and therefore, the BJP calls upon all the state governments to take up this on priority.
While dealing with the farmer’s problems, it is also worth noting that several state like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa are facing flood situation while other states in the country like Assam, some parts of Andhra Pradesh are facing severe drought situation. The UPA Government’s response to these calamities is lukewarm and it displays clear discrimination in extending assistance towards the BJP and NDA ruled states. The BJP demands that adequate and timely assistance should be immediately extended to all states and that in matters of national calamity no discrimination should be shown for narrow political considerations.
Problem of rural credit
One of the important dimensions of the crisis is precarious state of rural credit. Official statistics show that only 52% of the rural families have access to institutional credit through commercial banks and cooperatives. The rest of the rural population has to depend on private money lenders, who lend at usurious rates and after mortgaging the meager assets of poor and marginal farmers. In fact, information about suicides by kisans shows that many of them were not very poor farmers. They too had to incur private debts, which they could not repay due to repeated crop failure, collapse in the prices of their produce, and other reasons. This shows that the protective nature of the rural credit system has either disappeared or dangerously worn thin.
The Reserve Bank of India’s target to banks is 18% credit to the agriculture. In the past three years the average credit is only 11 to 12%.
The BJP demands that the government must evolve a new system for extending personal loans to the farmers on the lines of salaried employees to meet personal and social expenditure.
BJP demands that no financial institution should be allowed to charge penal interest.
Problem of food security
While poverty in India is falling, food security (especially nutritional security, which determines the health-sustaining quality of the food) for the poor and those hovering near the poverty line is actually eroding. An estimated 20 crore people in India are underfed and 5 crore on the brink of starvation. According to recent surveys, 44% of households are deficient in calorie intake.
An inevitable outcome of this trend – an outcome which is as shocking as the incidence of farmers’ suicides -- is the death of large numbers of highly under-nourished children, especially tribal children, in many parts of the country, including in a relatively prosperous state like Maharashtra. What is even more shocking, however, is that the UPA government has refused to acknowledge this problem. The newly released draft of the Approach Paper for the Eleventh Plan, which has been prepared by the UPA government, does not once mention food and nutrition security.
World Trade Organisation
The stalemate in the World Trade Organisation on account of the agricultural subsidies given by the developed countries continues to hurt the interests of the Indian Farmer. Farm subsidies are continuing. Cheaper products of developed countries are invading the global market. There are no takers in the global market for the surpluses from the developing countries. Its dumping its surpluses in the domestic market depresses farm prices locally.
The problem of imports
The BJP strongly opposes the UPA government’s move to import 35 lakh tons of wheat with the ostensible aim of augmenting buffer stocks to ensure food security. Far from enhancing India’s food security, imports are actually a prescription for importing food dependency and food insecurity.
This imports were necessitated not because of any natural calamity but it is due to disastrous fiscal and economic policies coupled with corruption of UPA government. The reason is that government did not start procurement in time. The sharp drop in procurement is because the minimum support price offered by the government for wheat is lower than the market price for wheat. Private players cornered the wheat and rice by paying little extra price than the government offer. Government agencies were late and could not procure enough quantity resulting in depletion of stocks in FCI godowns.
Imports are not permanent answer since they destroy the base of domestic output. The government must have the interest of domestic producer uppermost in its mind. Import of edible oil, palm oil from Malaysia, tea and coffee from Sri Lanka, and spices from Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka are hurting the farmers’ interest. This is going to damage Indian agriculture. The plantation sector is the worst hit. This needs to be reviewed.
The BJP charges the UPA government with fattening the pockets of foreign grain companies at the expense of the livelihood of Indian kisans. This is evident from the fact that the government is paying nearly Rs 1000/- (US$21.3) per quintal for the imported wheat, while the domestic farmers have only been paid Rs. 650/- ($15). This government has even relaxed the food quality norms for foreign companies during import.
The government should give priority and impetus to organic farming. This will reduce the burden on the farmer on account of toxic agro-chemicals.
Medical Insurance for farmers
The government must consider medical insurance for small and medium farmers as also for farm labour at subsidised Insurance Premium.
Acquisition of Agricultural Land
The social and economic consequences of land acquisition on the farmer are adverse. He loses land, livelihood and employment. The land acquisition laws need to be reviewed to provide for actual market compensation, employment in projects for which land is acquired and also preferential allotment of developed plots for being partners in development.
Gender sensitive towards women working in the agricultural sector
The credit delivery system should be made gender sensitive as a large number of women work in the agricultural sector. Their number in tea gardens, fisheries, and cashew nut production is very large. The 11th Five Year Plan must consider social and economic measures in this area to safeguard their interests.
Strategy for home-grown food security
The BJP demands adoption of an effective home-grown food security strategy with the following components:
• A long-term strategy to achieve self-sufficiency in food production – in cereals, pulses, oilseeds, and other food items. The strategy should focus on significant increase in farm productivity, diversification of cropping pattern, increase in irrigation facilities, and value-addition through promotion of decentralized agri-business activities.
• The Mid-Term Appraisal of the Tenth Plan has noted that, from the point of agricultural production, the single most effective supply side constraint is that irrigation coverage still extends to only about 40 per cent of net sown area. Today there are large numbers of major and medium irrigation projects that have remained incomplete, many of them for more than 10 years. The BJP demands that all these incomplete irrigation projects be declared as National Projects to be completed with Central funding, or through public-private partnership, with a single executive authority as in the case of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), whose success in implementing the project to construct world-class highways in a time bound manner has been remarkable.
• The Public Distribution System in India is the largest distribution network of its kind in the world. However, it continues to be dogged by inefficiency, pilferage and corruption. In order that the benefits of the government’s food security programmes reach the needy, the BJP recommends exploration of the effectiveness of the Food Stamp Programme, covering all the eligible people, especially senior citizens, destitutes, disabled people, and all households in areas that are identified as housing chronically malnourished populations. (PSP is indeed one of the proposals in the Tenth Plan document.)
• The ‘Antyodaya Anna Yojana’ launched by the Vajpayee government in December 2000 continues to be the largest food security initiative in the world. It is a matter of concern that the UPA government has not expanded its coverage to all the needy people in the country. In a vast country like India, where the target group is very large, and where it is clearly important to focus on ensuring that the entire malnourished population is reached, a universal scheme is better than a narrowly targeted scheme.
• The universal mid-day meal programme should be implemented vigorously. In its implementation, cooperation of NGOs and religious establishments should be actively sought.
• The coverage of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act should be extended to all districts, with an effective food-for-work component.
• The BJP demands that the Indian Seed Act to be amended so as to enable to take action against the supplier when seeds supplied by him do not deliver the promised benefits.
• The BJP urges upon the Government not to delay further the proposed Interlinking of Rivers Project initiated by the NDA Government. This will be a long term solution for many of the problems.
• The BJP demands that interest rates on agricultural loans should be reviewed and gradually brought down. The Karnataka Government has subsidised interest rates above 4%. for a maximum of Rs 3 lakh loan. This experiment needs to be examined at the national level.
• The BJP urges the government to extend the Kisan Credit Cards for all eligible farmers.