Interview: Inderjit Singh, AIKS

Inderjit Singh: ‘Modi regime the most anti-farmer government we have seen’

Print edition : January 01, 2021

Inderjit Singh, vice president, All India Kisan Sabha (Haryana). Photo: By special arrangement

Interview with Inderjit Singh, vice president, All India Kisan Sabha (Haryana).

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), a leading farmer and peasant organisation affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is an important constituent of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha which spearheads the Dilli Chalo agitation against the farm laws. In an interview to Frontline, Inderjit Singh, vice president of the AIKS from Haryana and a former Senior Research Fellow from the Haryana Agriculture University, Hisar, said that the farm laws exposed the real intent of the government and hence the repeal was necessary. Excerpts:

The farmers have launched a fresh round of protests. Why were the proposals of the government of December 9 rejected?

The so-called proposals had already been offered several times from the government and there was absolutely nothing new in the December 9 communication. In fact, the move has further angered not only the protesters but the entire peasantry in the country. That is why the protests intensified.

Why is the repeal of the farm laws necessary and amendments insufficient to address the concerns?

The amendments are nothing but a lethal sugar coating to an already poisonous pill.

If at all the government had to legislate for farmers, what kind of laws should have they been?

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee, representing the broad based movement of the farmers, held a kisan sansad (farmers’ parliament) on February 1, 2017 at Jantar Mantar, where they presented and passed draft bills that had proposals to free farmers from debt and were based on the C2 formula of the Swaminathan Committee recommendations. Subsequently, two private members’ Bills were introduced in Parliament in March 2018. The “Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill” and “Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness” Bill were moved by Members of Parliament Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Paksha and K.K. Ragesh of the CPI (M) respectively. The Bills were based on the Swaminathan Committee recommendations, with the minimum support price (MSP) to be calculated as per C2 parameters (a measure of cultivation costs that includes imputed cost of capital and rent of land with 50 per cent returns) rather than C1 (cost of cultivation plus family labour) as done by the government. The Bills were admitted in both Houses of Parliament with a plea for a special session to discuss the plight of the farm sector and distressed conditions of the peasantry. Neither of the Bills were ever taken up.

What is the nature of the crisis facing the Indian farmer today? Why will the present farm laws only worsen the crisis?

The agrarian crisis is not new. It has become aggravated over the decades. Political establishments of various hues have been adopting policies under the broad framework of neoliberalism rather than addressing the brewing crisis of the non-viability of farming, i.e. increased costs of production and the returns not being commensurate with the input costs. This has resulted in almost all farmers falling into a debt trap, accompanied by an exponential rise in suicides. The corporate sector had already taken root in agriculture but the Narendra Modi regime, over the last six years, has been the most anti-farmer government we have seen. These contentious bills are nothing but the total facilitation of the unbridled entry of the corporates into this sector.

Also read: COVER STORY - Farmers' protests turn into a tidal wave of anger

The argument is that the government is not the sole purchaser and that private trade already exists in many States, so the farm laws have not brought in anything new.

Let us examine the real experience in the States which do not have Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC). For example, in Bihar, where mandis were done away with in 2006, why have farmers not benefited but instead migrate across the country as farm labour and unorganised sector workers?

It is also said that in 2013 during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) tenure, a committee with Agriculture Ministers of ten States had recommended increasing the scope of private traders and reducing the monopoly of the regulated mandi?

Some piecemeal steps were contemplated but they would have met the same fate as the farm Bills. The wholesale pushing of the corporate agenda by misusing the COVID-19 pandemic situation has boomeranged massively on the Modi government which had earlier diluted labour laws exploiting the pandemic as an opportunity.

The government claims that it has done a lot for farmers such as putting a stop to the black marketing of urea and freeing the farmer from the shackles of the kisan mandis.

The farmers have not accepted the government’s claims. It is the first time in the country that fertilizer prices have become so costly.

The central logic behind the enactment of farm laws is that the farmer will be free to sell to anyone in whatever quantity he/she likes. Is this likely to happen?

Had this been the scenario, then the APMC itself would not come into existence. It was introduced in the interests of food security and self-reliance. It was in 1939 that the APMC was established in composite Punjab when Chhotu Ram was a Minister in the Provincial government.

In the press briefing held on December 10, the Union Agriculture Minister said that farmers had not given any suggestions.

This is misleading the public. Even before the first round of talks, the farmers had submitted a detailed critique of the laws. Points of criticism were made to show that the laws needed to be scrapped lock, stock and barrel. The government is cunningly trying to project that it has addressed those criticisms and accepted farmers’ demands in the form of the so-called amendments.

The government has given assurances that the land of the farmers will be protected from attachment, mortgage by the sponsor and so on, and that the MSP system will remain as it is.

These assurances are meaningless. In the absence of State procurement, the MSP will be rendered redundant, and this will also disrupt the food supply chain.

The government has also claimed that it has announced the MSP for the rabi crop and increased the volume of procurement for the kharif crop, which is proof that it intends to continue to procure and guarantee MSP. Is this factually true and sufficient reason to accept the farm laws?

The rates announced are less than the cost of cultivation for all crops. The announcement was done basically due to pressure. and that too, only temporarily. The announcement of MSP and the procurement of the kharif is not proof that MSP will continue forever. The government will not formally announce the abolition of the MSP but it will become redundant once the APMCs become redundant and have to play second fiddle to the private mandis. Once state procurement stops, there won’t be any MSP either. The state also will not have the political will to regulate the rates of the private mandis. It is like asking a private airline or a private hospital to reduce their rates.

The claims of higher procurement are also not true. It was not the produce of the farmers that was procured but that of traders from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who bought the produce at low prices in those States and sold it at the government mandis in Haryana and Punjab where there were higher rates. When farmers in Haryana and Punjab protested, they were told that this was permitted under the new laws. So the farmer of Bihar and U.P did not benefit by this enhanced procurement. This shows how fraudulent the new farm laws are.

Another argument made at the press briefing was that private investment is needed to boost agriculture infrastructure such as cold storage and warehouses.

This rhetoric is part of every budget, but there is no public investment in boosting agricultural infrastructure. On the other hand, very recently, land was purchased by the Adani Group and a Change of Land Use certification procured from the Haryana government for a warehouse in Panipat district even before the three farm laws were enacted, laying bare the corporate face of the entire package being offered. All the three laws are integrated, inter-related and interconnected as organic components of this package.

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