Post Hong Kong negotiations; farmers groups skeptical of India’s position

21st March 2006, New Delhi

The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movement, an affiliate of the La Via Campesina in South Asia organized a massive rally near the Indian Parliament in New Delhi on 21st March protesting against the import of wheat and urging the government not to compromise agriculture for other gains at the WTO negotiations. In a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, they condemned the Government and its trade negotiators for hurrying up completion of Doha Development Round (DDA) and sticking to 30th April deadline to conclude negotiating modalities in agriculture. They also blamed the Minister of Commerce, Mr. Kamal Nath, for “using” the developing countries in order to save the institutional failure of WTO in Hong Kong. In their memorandum, they demanded that the Government must keep agriculture and food out of the World Trade Organisation.

In Delhi more than 50,000 farmers have gathered from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttranchal, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country. Reacting to reports of last G6 meeting in London, Mr. Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kissan Union said, “it is matter of deep concern that Indian negotiators indulge into double talk, they meet US and EU in closed door meetings and trade off Indian farmers interest for trifle gains in Mode 4 in GATS, while in public they boast to protect Indian farmers interest in WTO”. The contradiction was evident when chief Indian negotiator, Mr. Gopal Pillai, at a meeting on G20 called by Via Campesina in Hong Kong in December said that, “No deal is better than a bad deal” and we all know what happened in Hong Kong. In public meeting our trade negotiators present a different perspective which is meant only for public consumption and it does not match with their actions inside the green rooms. Ironically, the Indian negotiators reported to be showing tough poster on the ongoing agricultural negotiations, but ultimately they would compromise our interest by accepting drastic cut in agricultural tariff in order to provide increased market access to developed countries in exchange for concessions in Mode 1 and Mode 4” said Mr. Yudhvir Singh.

Mr. Sunilam of Madhya Pradesh Kisan Sanghrash Samiti criticized the Indian government move to accept tariff cut on agricultural items on the pretext that there is wide gap between bound tariff and applied tariff. But the truth is there are several products where there is absolutely no water between applied tariff and bound tariff, for example, soyabean oil (45 percent), apples (50 percent), milk powder (60 percent), rice (70 percent) etc. “Any further cut of import duty would be disastrous for the Indian farmers and would lead to an epidemic of farmers’ suicide”, said Mr. Sunilam.

The farmers also criticized the government decision to import 500,000 tonnes of wheat at 0% import duty at a time when our farmers already started harvesting wheat. Addressing the Rally, India’s former Prime Minister, Mr. V. P. Singh said, “why Indian Government decided to import five lakh tonnes of wheat when there was no shortage in our country. Rather than initiating steps to make Indian farmers prosperous, the Government is concerned about Australian farmers as it purchased wheat from them at a staggering rate of Rs. 950 per quintal, while it would purchase wheat at a support price rate of Rs. 650 per quintal in India. Why does the Government not give our farmers the same price as Australian farmers?” “The United Progressive Alliance Government’s agricultural policies were driving farmers to suicide. The Government’s decision to import cotton was responsible for starvation in Madhya Pradesh. Farmers were groaning under debt and their land was being appropriated in the name of market economy”, he added. Mr. Ajit Singh of Rashtriya Lok Dal said that “the present government polices were making Indian agriculture unprofitable”.

Reacting on the Indo US deal as well as the Wheat import at the cost of Indian farmers, the veteran farmer leader, Mr. Mahendra Singh Tikait said, “there was no need to import wheat since, according to reports, the wheat harvest was on target. Why the Indian government has renounced its ‘managerial role’ to become a ‘trader’ and are signing deals against the interest of our farmers and our agriculture”.

At the end of the rally, more than 10,000 farmers were courted arrest and refused to move away from the Parliament Street Police Station until the senior member of the Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, Mr. Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, met them around midnight. He assured farmers that the government would look into their demands and also promised to discuss their concerns with the Prime Minister. He also assured them that the PM would call them soon for a meeting with Commerce Minister, Mr. Kamal Nath, the Agriculture Minister and the Finance Minister to discuss different issues concerning farmers and Indian agriculture including their concern on the AoA/ WTO.