‘Sheer betrayal’

Print edition : June 12, 2015

Hannan Mollah, general secretary, All India Kisan Sabha. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

HANNAN MOLLAH, former Lok Sabha member and general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to keep the electoral promises it had made to the faming community and that the policies adopted by the Narendra Modi government had intensified the agrarian crisis. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline:

The Modi government assumed office with the slogan “Sabka saath, sabka vikaas”. How have farmers benefited from this government?

The Modi government’s record of commitment to farmers is sheer betrayal. Before the elections, in his 439 public meetings, Modi made many promises. For instance, he said he would defend the interests of farmers by implementing the Swaminathan Commission report [on agriculture], but after coming to power his government submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court saying that it cannot implement it. Secondly, the election manifesto of the BJP promised that there would be an increase in irrigation facilities. In the past one year not a single additional hectare of land was added to the already irrigated area. He promised cheap loans to farmers at 4 per cent interest and minimum support price [MSP] as per the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations.

Our information is that the MSPs announced for all kinds of grain is a pittance this year. While it covers the cost of production in some, in others it is less than that. All this has intensified the prevailing agrarian crisis. Over and above all this, the worst attack has come in the form of the land acquisition ordinance. Not only is it anti-farmer, it is totally pro-corporate in character. The 2013 Act [Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act] was not to our satisfaction but at least it had elements of benefits for farmers.

The Modi government stole the essence of the Act by making it even worse than the 1894 colonial-imperialist legislation. The consent and social impact assessment clauses have been dropped and now land adjacent to railways and highways can be acquired for industrial corridors. If the amendments are passed, farmers will lose 39 per cent of cultivable land. This is the Modi model. We saw this in Gujarat, where land was given away at throwaway prices, and now he wants to implement it on a national scale. It is ironic that Gopinath Munde, who was sworn in as Union Rural Development Minister when the government was formed, said the LARR legislation was an ideal Act and that he would implement it in letter and spirit. Nitin Gadkari, who was appointed in his place [after his death], labelled it as the worst piece of legislation.

The agrarian crisis has been unprecedented. You travelled extensively, meeting farmer families. What was the feedback you got?

It is a national calamity. In the past two months, there has been a massive loss of crops due to hailstorms. Nearly two crore hectares of land has been affected and Rs.1 lakh crore worth of crops have been lost. The compensation announced is a pittance. Farmers have committed suicide in parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh although no government will admit that. Earlier debts used to drive them to suicide, now farmers are dying because they take land on lease and production costs are high.

For example, a farmer has seven acres [once acre = 0.4 hectare] of land of which five acres, at a rate of Rs.35,000 an acre, is on lease and 0.8 hectare belongs to him. The cost of production per acre is Rs.10,000, so the total cost per acre with lease amount comes to Rs.45,000. And the compensation that he has received per acre for crop loss is Rs.11,800. One farmer in Sonepat district hanged himself in the field. He had three daughters and one son. His entire crop was destroyed by a hailstorm. No official or elected representative visited his house. I visited 13 homes where farmers had taken their lives in this period. Fifty-three suicides by farmers have been reported, and the Agriculture Minister of Haryana called the suicides cowardly and criminal.

Has the government consulted farmer associations on these issues?

We read in the newspapers that they were in touch with some farmer organisations, maybe those affiliated [ideologically] to them, but no wider consultation has taken place, including on the land acquisition ordinance. Now it has been referred to a select committee full of BJP and NDA representatives, which will be used for ulterior purposes. The Left has only one representative. The NDA will push through the legislation. We are planning to collect five crore signatures against the ordinance and send it to the committee.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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