Massive countrywide preparations are on in almost all states to ensure the success of the September 27 Bharat Bandh call given by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), and supported by Left and other opposition political parties, all central trade unions, and numerous organisations of employees, teachers, traders, transporters, agricultural workers, women, youth and students. The Bharat Bandh has been called to coincide with the completion of ten months of the historic farmers’ struggle, and is directed at the anti-people and pro-corporate policies and also the communal and authoritarian conspiracies of the BJP-RSS regime led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
The Bharat Bandh call was given by the SKM National Convention at the Singhu border that was held on August 26-27, 2021. The 10 lakh-strong Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on September 5 reiterated that call and spread it far and wide.
Some of the main issues that are being highlighted in the Bharat Bandh campaign are: Repeal of the three Farm Laws and the four Labour Codes; withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill; central law to guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all agricultural produce at one and a half times the comprehensive cost of production (C2+50 per cent); an end to the privatisation drive aimed at selling off the public sector and the country to corporates for a pittance; halving the astronomical prices of diesel, petrol, gas and other essential commodities; doubling the days of work and wages in the MGNREGA, and extending this scheme to urban areas; and defending democracy, secularism and the Constitution against the attacks of the RSS-BJP.
Impressive state level joint conventions and press conferences have been held over the past two weeks to plan the Bharat Bandh in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. All constituents of the SKM and thousands of activists of other organisations have participated in these. Central and state leaders of the AIKS, CITU, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI have been in the forefront of organizing these joint conventions.
Besides, thousands of district, tehsil, city, town and village level meetings have been held to propagate the Bandh call. Lakhs and lakhs of leaflets have been distributed to the people. This has spread the message of the Bandh to millions of people across the country. The SKM has announced that the Bandh will be from 6 am to 4 pm, with only essential services excluded.
The Indian Workers Association (IWA) of Great Britain has organised a demonstration of solidarity with the farmers of India, outside India House in London at noon on September 25.
The SKM has also extended active support to the All India Strike of Scheme Workers on September 24, which will have the massive participation of Anganwadi, ASHA, MDM, NCLP, SSA and NHM workers. These workers are demanding regularisation of their services as Workers, with provision of minimum wages, in addition to stopping of privatisation of public sector units and services and withdrawal of the four Labour Codes. SKM recognises that these scheme workers delivering basic services of nutrition, healthcare, early childhood care and education in even remote parts of the country, who are mainly women, are being exploited and do not get even sustenance level allowances. These workers have been at the frontline of fighting the Covid pandemic at the risk to their own lives. SKM has greeted lakhs of these workers, and has expressed full solidarity to their historic all India strike planned for September 24.
NSO survey reveals bankruptcy of Modi regime
Two events last week once again revealed the sheer bankruptcy of the Modi regime vis a vis agriculture and farmers. One was the report of the 77th Round survey of the National Statistical Office (NSO). The second was the MSP declared by the central government for Rabi crops.
The Modi Government has been dangling the elusive goal of ‘Doubling Farmers’ Income’ for years. The deadline for the promise made in 2016, for doubling farmers’ income in six years by 2022, is just three months away. While refusing the farmers’ demand for legally guaranteeing remunerative MSP on all agricultural produce based on the C2 + 50 per cent formula, the Modi Government chose to do direct income transfers of a meagre Rs 500 a month for land-owning agricultural households. Even this was done as a pre-election stunt in 2019.
And now, the report card on the Modi government’s jumla is officially out. NSO’s 77th Round survey shows that over 50 per cent of the agricultural households are in debt, with the farmers’ debt increasing by 58 per cent over the last five years. Income from farming has decreased in real terms, with more agricultural income coming in the form of wages or non-farm business than from cultivation. This confirms an overall trend of turning farmers into agricultural labourers in India. It also confirms that the remunerative price route is the most direct route of improving farmer incomes in India.
The 77th Round survey of NSO on the Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households (data of 2019) clearly shows that the income from farming (crop production and livestock farming) on an average at Rs 5380 per month is not significantly higher than income for an agricultural household from other sources like wages and non-farm business (at Rs 4838 per month). This is despite the fact that 92.7 per cent of the agricultural households are engaged in crop production during the Kharif season. Net average receipts from crop production at Rs 3798 per month are in fact lower than wage income at Rs 4063 per month for these agricultural households in India in 2019. Way back in 2013, as per the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 70th Round survey, the net receipts from cultivation were Rs 3081 per month, whereas wages were Rs 2071 per month. This clearly shows the decline of farming in the past six years.
Moreover, in 15 states of the country, the net receipts from crop production are lesser than the national average of Rs 3798 per month, which in itself works out to a meagre income of around Rs 125 per agricultural household per day. It is clear that farmers of this country are being made into agricultural labourers when it comes to their main source of income.
MSP for Rabi crops cheats farmers, again
Last week the Central Government announced the MSP for Rabi crops with the usual rhetoric of ‘greatest ever increase in MSP’, ‘extraordinary favour to the farmers’, etc. However, the fact is that the government has actually reduced the MSP of Rabi crops in real terms. While the retail inflation stands at 6 per cent, the MSP of wheat and chana has been increased by 2 per cent and 2.5 per cent only. This means that in real terms, MSP of wheat and chana has been reduced by 4 per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively. The new MSP of Rs 2015 declared for wheat for 2022-23 is equivalent to Rs 1,901 when adjusted for inflation, which is Rs 74 less than Rs 1,975 declared for wheat for 2021-22. Similarly, the MSP of chana (gram) has been reduced from Rs 5,100 to Rs 4,934 in real terms. On the one hand, the farmers are facing the brunt of massively increased prices of diesel, petrol, fertilizers, other agricultural inputs and their daily necessities, and on the other hand, they are becoming poorer as their income is getting reduced.
The Government is also deceitfully misusing the term ‘Comprehensive Costs’ which has always been used to refer to the C2 Cost of Production. As pointed out by farmer organisations since 2018, the government is blatantly deceiving the farmers and the nation by using a lower cost measure (A2+FL) and claiming that it is providing MSP as 50 per cent above the comprehensive cost. For example, in 2021-22, the comprehensive cost of production (C2) for wheat was Rs 1467 which is 50 per cent higher than the lower cost (A2+FL) of Rs 960 used by the government.
Finally, without a Legal Guarantee for MSP, the MSP declared by the government will remain on paper for most of the farmers. Lakhs of farmers, particularly in states where the mandi (common market) system is weak, have to sell their crops below MSP. The legal guarantee for MSP has been the longstanding demand of the farmers, and one of the key demands of the SKM.
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in its statement condemned the callous manner in which the Narendra Modi-led BJP government announced the MSP for the Rabi Marketing Season, 2022-23 without following the C2+50 per cent formula or even taking into account increased costs of inputs and inflation. This statement said, “The increase in wheat prices is merely 2.03 percent from Rs 1,975 to Rs 2015 per quintal, the lowest increase in 12 years. The MSPs of other crops have a meagre nominal increase ranging from 2.14 per cent to 8.60 per cent, while in real terms in all crops the farmers will suffer huge losses. Besides, only a small section of farmers gets to sell their produce at MSP since there is no guaranteed procurement. In the absence of guaranteed procurement even this MSP is not ensured for farmers. This is precisely the reason why farmers are demanding MSP at C2+50 per cent as a legal right.”
Cynical corporate loot
Recently, apple farmers in Himachal Pradesh have led big protests against the government’s apathy towards their demands to ensure remunerative prices for apples, and against the open loot by corporates. This year Adani Agri Fresh has fixed the rate of A-grade premium apples at Rs 72 per Kg, against Rs 88 per Kg last year. Consequently, most of the farmers are making a loss. The apple farmers are joined by the farmers growing tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, cauliflower and other crops, who are demanding legal guarantee of MSP for all crops.
Lastly, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was recently busy inaugurating Amazon India’s Kisan Store. After crops and insurance, the government has also handed over fertilizers and seeds to the corporates. The urea that IFFCO sells at Rs 266.50 for a 45 kg bag, is now selling at Rs 199 a kg on Amazon! On Flipkart, the price of 450 grams of urea is written as Rs 130! This is shameless black marketing of fertilizers on a platform launched by the Agriculture Minister himself!
It is this cynical loot and exploitation by corporate communalism, represented by the Modi-Shah-Ambani-Adani corrupt combine, which is being valiantly combated by farmers for the last ten months, and will again be fought tooth and nail by the Bharat Bandh on September 27.
(The writer is all India president of the All India Kisan Sabha)