By Sunil Dang
After walking for about 180 km in the soaring mercury levels, about 35,000 farmers and agricultural workers entered the country’s financial capital Mumbai last fortnight, demanding complete loan waiver and higher support prices for their crop among other things. Marching under the banner of Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the farmers protested in front of the Maharashtra Assembly, where the budget session was underway, to put pressure on the BJP-led government in the state to also transfer land to tribals who have been tilling it for many years. The massive march has also drawn support from BJP ally Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Though, the farmers called off their stir after timely intervention of Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis the manner in which we are witnessing farmer protests in last few years, it leaves us with some pressing questions that needs to be answered.
How many times our parliamentarians have sat for debating the problems that our farmers are facing? Why the Swaminathan Committee recommendations are lying idle? Why don’t we make a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) devoted to farm sector only, especially when we have a separate ministry that takes care of the farmer’s welfare? Why can’t we have a special parliamentary session for farmers only? Rather alleging each other for farmer’s suicide and their poor condition, why not our leaders take lead and come forward with a vow to develop a supply-chain system where farmers and the government will be fully aware of the procurement status. It would help farmers to grow only those crops that government won’t find problematic in procurement. It will help both farmers and government to maximize the resources leading to increased farm income. Apart from this, there is need for enhancing the procurement and storage level in entire nation, especially when we talk about the horticulture products. Hence, cold chains are need of the hour and it’s for the government to step forward and solve this age old problem. Mere loan waiver won’t solve the issue as root cause of farm sector plight still exists. So, it would be better if the government attacks on the root cause of the farmer’s poor condition by providing them a system where they can have better farm return with same investment.
Digitization of the system is praiseworthy but does the government have any data on what percentage of our farmers are literate enough to use the internet and, hence, what percentage of our farmers are going to benefit by the Digital India program? Our farmers are sick of catchy slogans and announcements. Now, they want delivery. Mere announcing a year for farmers is not going to solve the mater. Farmer’s protest erupting in various parts of the country is an indication that they are losing their faith in the system or they have a feeling that the system is deaf to their demands. The anger in them is palpable; they are feeling ‘betrayed’ because the promises to them are still unkept – be it the comprehensive loan waiver or the increase in farmer incomes. So, it’s high time for our government to reconsider its budget and measures while planning for the farmers. Had they done that earlier, I don’t see any reason for deducting insurance premium without the farm yield because they are asking farmers to pay before their farm income — a burden which our poor farmers are unable to bear.