They marched regardless of the heat, regardless of the calluses on their feet and regardless of their blood staining the earth. They marched for their life, for their right to live. The 35000 farmers marched over 180KM from across Maharashtra, to Mumbai, in demand of the loan waiver that was originally announced by the Maharashtra government earlier this year. According to the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana, the government of Maharashtra announced a loan waiver of almost Rs. 35,000 crores to the farmers of the state, of which only Rs 12,000 crore has been transferred to the farmers. This is one of the biggest farmer protests that the country saw in the last couple of years.
Incidentally, Maharashtra accounts for the highest number of farmer suicides every year, with 4291 suicides recorded in 2015. In fact, India recorded almost 3,00,000 farmer suicides in 1995-2015. To put things in perspective, as Anshul Sinha (a film maker who made a film titled Mitti on the agrarian crisis) says, “A farmer commits suicide every half hour in this country.” These statistics in a country where 49% of the workforce is employed in agriculture is something to be highly concerned about. Another alarming fact that this 49% of the workforce contributes only to 17% of the GDP of the country. But surprisingly enough, India ranks second in the world in terms of farm output. So why does this sector see so many suicides and why is there such a massive agrarian crisis in India?
The answer to this question, according to Anshul, is because of three factors – economic, environmental and social. “While the social and environmental factors can be overcome to an extent by the farmers themselves, by opting certain methodologies and techniques in farming, the government needs to take a lot of steps to solve the economic factors. Out of the 24 main crops that India produces, the prices of only two crops are decided by the government. Farmers are on the mercy of merchants who decide the prices,” says Anshul, and according to various reports, a standardised support price (a government guaranteed price) is one of the demands of the protesting farmers.
While the government seems to be taking several steps to solve the agrarian crisis, the situation only seems to be worsening. In fact, the 2018 Union Budget was nicknamed ‘Farmer’s Budget’ by the media as it aimed to provide a lot of benefits to the farmers but it is too early to comment on the efficacy of it. As per currently available records, the rate of growth of the gross value of agricultural produce is -5% in 2015 and -2.5% in 2016. Statistically it is termed as rate of growth but its negative value shows an alarming decline.
Coming to Maharashtra, the protesting farmers, supported by All India Kisan Sabha, are now demanding an unconditional waiver of loan and electricity bills in addition to a pension scheme. Reportedly, the loan waiver scheme of the state government was implemented in a very shoddy way with even software glitches hindering the process.
Featured image source.