Removal of Import Duty on Wheat will destroy North Indian Farmers: warns Bharatiya Kisan Union

NEW DELHI: Farm leaders from Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and outer Delhi attended a meeting organized by Bharatiya Kisan Union (a member of La Via Campesina) at the Punjab Bhavan in New Delhi and laid forth their concerns about crumbling rural agriculture and their immediate demands to address this.

Ajmer Singh Lakhoval, State President of BKU (Punjab), blamed the ill-conceived policies of the government that has turned India into a dumping yard of cheap agricultural imports. As a result of cheap dumping, Indian small farmers are not receiving a fair price for their produce and are forced to sell at a fraction of their actual cost, he said. The pressure of debt is piling up on Indian farmers forcing them to commit suicide. The most recent decision to remove import duty on wheat is just another example of complete disregard for India’s small farmers, he added. He went onto say that this decision, taken at a time when farmers have more or less completed their sowing, is cruel and anti-people and will lead to distress sale during harvest.

“The government has reckoned wheat production at 93.5 Million Tonnes. Now even if this falls, it is still sufficient to meet the national consumption demand of 87.0 MT. So this removal of import duty does not make much sense, apart from benefiting the Australian Wheat Board. The rationale of fall in international prices of wheat due to ‘record harvest’ must be understood beyond the optics. It is not that farmers abroad are producing and selling at a cheaper rate. The reality is that those governments are providing massive subsidies to their farmers and providing them with other social security benefits. In our country, we have no such safety nets for our farmers”, Lakhoval pointed out.

Import duties have a direct impact on local production. Lower import duties increase foreign dependency and hampers our country’s self-sufficiency and food security. For instance, the lower import duty on edible oil has thrown local sunflower, mustard and coconut oil production out of gear and rendered edible oil production unviable for local farmers.

The devastating impact of two decades of neo-liberal policies promoting free trade can be seen on those growing oil seeds and pulses. The uncontrolled import of palm oil and soya oil since 1994 has destroyed our self-sufficiency and turned us into an import-dependent nation. Cheaper imports have destroyed small farmers’ livelihood. Story of pulses, oil seeds, sugar are all similar and tragic. Cheaper sugar imports have pushed sugar farmers into distress sale and even under those circumstances their dues, owed by mills, remain unsettled for months on end.

Bharatiya Kisan Union opposes the removal of import duty on wheat and is instead demanding the government to hike it to 40%.

Rakesh Tikait, National Spokesperson of BKU, pointed out that since 2008 tax concessions worth thousands of crores have been given to big corporations. Bad debts amounting to 8.5 Lak Crore are being waived off. Yet, farmers who are the receiving end of ill-conceived government policies and are pushed to suicide, do not receive any such concessions or waivers. He went onto add that Bharatiya Kisan Union is demanding an immediate waiver of 1 Lakh Crore on farm loans and will campaign to mobilize small farmers across the country to realise this demand.

Commenting on demonitisation, Yudhvir Singh, National General Secretary for BKU, said that it has broken the back of farmers who are now forced to sell their produce at less than viable price. He commented that it is putting additional pressure during sowing season, where cash is essential to pay labour and other costs. The non-functioning of cooperative banks have made life miserable for small farmers. He demanded that cash be made available to farmers at the earliest to enable payments due for the sowing season.

Yudhvir Singh also brought attention the plight of drought affected farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, who have lost most of their crops to this. On behalf of BKU, he demanded that these farmers be compensated at the rate of Rs. 25,000 per acre.

Bharatiya Kisan has warned the government that farmers across the states of India will mobilise and arrive in Delhi in March of 2017, if these demands are not met in time.

In the meeting at Punjab house, in addition to Rakesh Tikait, Yudhvir Singh and Ajmer Singh Lakhoval, several other leaders who attended included Satanman (President, Haryana BKU), Rajbir Singh (Presdient, BKU Delhi NCR), Ajay Pal Sharma (BKU , NOIDA).