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India: Massive farmers protest against pro-business agricutural policies

Press release from the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements

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27th February 2008 (New Delhi). Today more than 50,000 farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajsthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttranchal held a massive protest in front of the Parliament in New Delhi against the step motherly treatment to agriculture by the Government of India. Farmers are very agitated over the pro-corporate policies of the government which has led to massive distress in agriculture. The large scale farmers’ suicide and massive displacement from rural areas is a clear manifestation of this severe crisis.

A delegation of the farmers’ leaders met the Union Minister for Agriculture, Shri Sharad Pawar at the Krishi Bhawan during the protest. He assured farmer leaders that the government is seriously looking into their demands and asked them to him again on 4th March 2008 after the Budget is presented in the Parliament.

The memorandum submitted to Mr. Pawar is attached.

Yudhvir Singh (9868146405)
Rakesh Tikait (09219666799)

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To,
Shri Sharad Pawar
Honourable Agriculture Minister
Government of India,
New Delhi

Subject:  Memorandum on new developments in Doha negotiations as well as forthcoming Union Budget 2008-09

Dear Sir,

We, the farmers of India, are extremely agitated over the recent developments in the WTO Doha Round with the introduction of a revised negotiating draft on the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA). The recent draft once again established that the WTO/AoA is clearly inadequate in regulating subsidies of rich countries. It retains the imbalances between the interests of a majority of developing countries that are affected by the liberalization commitments, and the developed countries. The Indian government appears to be comfortable with the Crawford Falconer’s revised draft even though it failed in ensuring any reduction in US current agricultural subsidy level. Rather the US Farm Bill 2008 provides for a 286 billion US dollar agriculture subsidies for next five 5 years. Acceptance of the current draft as negotiating document on the AoA by the Indian government is a betrayal of our farming interest. We severely condemn India’s sudden shift in its previous position on WTO and warn the government to reject the new agriculture draft. We also demand for bringing back Quantitative Restriction’s (QR’s) and raising tariffs on import of food grain to protect the interest of the Indian farmers and the consumers. In view of the recent trend of signing bilateral and regional trade agreements, we would assert that the government must ensure against opening up of the agriculture market under the Free Trade Agreement (FTAs) that are being signed with the ASEAN, European Union, China and other countries.

The increased trade liberalisation has resulted in import of genetically engineered foods and seeds. For example your UPA government allowed import of processed food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and exempted it from regulatory approval. Several other imported foods have been found to be containing GMOs and are selling opening in Indian market without any regulation and testing. Your government has also permitted large-scale field trials of Bt Brinjal, the first GM food crop in India while several other GM crops are on the verge of being released for commercial cultivation. In order to protect our biological diversity, we demand a complete ban on commercial release as well as imports of all GM crops, foods and seeds in the country. Instead of promoting GMOs, the government must support ecological agriculture and provide incentives for growing toxic free foods through organic farming.

As you have acknowledged on several occasions that the Indian agriculture is passing through a terrible crisis and farmers in many parts are not managing to eke out a decent living from their land. Growing indebtedness in agriculture is driving thousands of farmers to commit suicide. A recent study by the Madras Institute of Development Studies on farmer suicides indicates that more than 150,000 farmers committed suicides between 1997 and 2005 and today one farmer is committing suicide every 32 minutes. Yet the crying call of the farmers as reflected through large scale farmers’ suicides has evoked no concrete response from your government. In the penultimate year of your government’s term of office, we demand that the Union Budget for 2008-2009 must provide for a complete waive off of all farmers debt and save their lives from committing suicide.

On the occasion of the new Budget, we would like to present some of our key demands which are as follows and would request for its inclusion in the forthcoming budget:

1. We also demand that any kind of loans given to farmers must be interest free. If the government can provide all sorts of soaps including loans at a minimal interest to industry under different schemes including Special Economic Zones (SEZ), why can’t an interest free loan should be given to farmers, who feed the nation and ensure food security of the country.

2. In view of the rising international price of wheat which is currently at Rs. 24/kg ($595 US dollar per ton), we demand a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs. 1500 per quintal (Rs. 15/- per kg) for wheat in 2008 and save a huge amount of foreign exchange which would otherwise be spent on wheat import. We also demand a hike in the minimum support price of other crops including paddy which should be fixed at Rs 1200 per quintal.

3. As a result of liberalisation and globalisation policies, the cost of living has increased; resulting in the increased cost of production but there is no corresponding increase in minimum support price for food grains which result in indebtedness of majority of our farmers, and force them towards suicides. In view of this we demand that the government must review the calculation of MSP which take into consideration the rent of the land, farmers wage as an skilled worker, farmers family labour besides the cost of inputs. For example, in calculating MSP the farmers’ wages are still calculated as of unskilled labour and the farmers and their family labour are not counted at all.

Moreover we also urge you that in fixing the supportive price (MSP) of every crop, the government must consider the fairly calculated total cost of production as well as add a profit of 50% on that amount to make MSP remunerative for farmers and affordable for consumers.

4. A majority of sugarcane farmers in India have yet not received their previous year dues from the sugar mills. We demand that all our last year dues must be paid by end of March 2008. The government must also ensure an interest at the rate of 14% on the farmers’ dues which the sugar barons have not paid last year.

We also demand that the government must ensure procurement of all the sugarcanes of every farmer in the current year and the payment must be on a regular basis.

5. On the occasion of the new budget, we would like to draw your kind attention on the anomaly in the current Crop Insurance Scheme where a block or tehsil (not even a village) is considered as a unit and unless a natural calamity hit the whole block or tehsil, farmers are not compensated. We therefore demand that under the Crop Insurance Scheme, each farmer and his/her crop should be considered as a unit. In case of natural calamity like drought, floods, fire, hailstorm or frost which destroys standing crop of a farmer or groups of farmers, they must get compensation.

The new budget must also have provision for an Emergency Fund to compensate farmers (who don’t have crop insurance) in case of a natural calamity like drought, floods, fire, hailstorm or frost.

6. Given the increasing agrarian distress, the government must have provisions in the new budget for promoting rural industries which would provide an alternate source of income to farmers.

The new budget must also have provisions to strengthen the National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes and guarantee 365 days of work to every landless farmers.

7. The forthcoming Budget must ensure increased public investment in Agriculture including strengthening of the extension department of Agriculture. The complete breakdown of the extension services of the agriculture department has resulted in farmers being completely dependent on the private agents or seed shops owner for any advice on agriculture practices.

8. The government must provide budgetary support for setting up seed banks to protect and conserve traditional seeds and germplasm.

9. The government expenditure on Education and Health in rural areas must be raised so that farmers can have proper health care system at an affordable rate.

10.The government must provide subsidies to farmers’ children for quality education and professional courses.

Today more than 60% of the Indian population is dependent on agriculture or agriculture related activities for their livelihood and survival. Agriculture which is a still the backbone of Indian economy needs proper protection and support and that could only be possible when agriculture will have a separate Budget, like the Railways Budget. We therefore demand that the UPA government must bring in a proposal in the Budget session of the Parliament to have a separate Budget for Agriculture from the financial year 2009-10.

The UPA government is also keen to bring in the 6th Pay Commission for nearly 42 lakh central government employees and two crore state government employees who would receive a salary bonanza which would cost the state exchequer more than Rs 100,000 crore a year. Since farm income over the years has declined and there is increasing destitution among farmers, therefore like everyone else, farmers also need an adequate monthly take-home package that takes care of their family needs and leaves them with a little surplus to sow the next crop. Probably the only way to ensure the economic viability of the farm sector is to enlarge the scope of the 6th Pay Commission to include farmers to provide a sustainable income support to farmer in the present high cost economy.

We would also urge the government to bring in a genuinely pro farmer policy – one that is reflective of the demands of farmers and not corporations, to stop farmers’ suicide and one that will make agriculture a viable occupation for our farmers and agricultural labour across India. The National Policy for Farmers 2007 is a broad comprehensive document without much substance and concrete programme to help the farmers and farming. Rather it advocates in favour of a corporate agriculture ignoring the reality that 80% of our farmers are surviving on subsistence farming.

We are therefore hoping that you will immediately take notice of our demands and take necessary actions.

Signed by
Mahender Singh Tikait, President, Bhartiya Kissan Union, India
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, State President, BKU Punjab
Jagdish Singh, State President, BKU Madhya Pradesh
Gurnam Singh, State President, BKU Haryana
S.S. Gill, State President, Himachal Pradesh
Chandrashekher Reddy, Karnataka Rajya Ryot Sangha, Karnataka
C. Sella Mutthu, President, Tamilanadu Farmers Association
Sanjay Choudhury, State President BKU Uttranchal
Rajpal Ponia, State President, BKU Rajasthan
Yudhvir Singh, Spokesman, Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements

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