More than 3 lakh suicides in three decades and millions of other lives ruined would qualify as a national disaster forcing the government to tackle it all guns blazing in any democracy.
Alas, it does not in the one that claims to be the largest of them all, the democracies. In fact it hardly gets registered even as a minor irritant barring the particularly bad months causing a spurt in farm suicides and thus making the phenomenon escape the confines of inside pages of the vernacular dailies and reach the “English”, national press. The months are all well marked: from April to July when many of Indian states face drought, December and January when occasional hailstorms destroy crops and with them the hopes.
The sporadic mention of the crisis in media does not mean that authorities are unaware of it. Everyone knows about it, even the judiciary. The Supreme Court of India had itself stressed upon the urgency of the issue this January and termed it “a sensitive matter of larger public interest and human rights which covers the entire country” this January. The Court had also asked the government why there was no national policy to deal with the crop failure and indebtedness – two entwined and recurring reasons killing the farmers in droves and asked for one.
The response of the authorities are all well marked as well, so well in fact that they seem to come from an official manual. The government will show urgency in mitigating the immediate trigger, will announce extreme steps, including, once, rushing a ‘water train’ to a drought hit area at times without a drop of water in it! Then they will wait for the rains, some new crisis affecting a new set of people or whatever else that can take the attention away.
Alas, mostly the strategy works and the outrage over deaths, suicides in fact, of farmers dies down. For the civil society, the media and the activists, India has many outrages to move on to, in any case. Supreme Court, on its part, has many other sensitive matters of ‘larger public interest and human rights’ affecting the country in its entirety. The draft national policy for farmers get forgotten in the process. Yes, if media reports and agriculture ministry’s own press releases are any indication, then the government have not even started consultations with the stake holders- state governments and farmers- 9 months and hundreds of farm suicides after the Supreme Court directive, there is no draft of the policy available for discussions.
But that does not end the crisis in the hinterlands. The crops keep failing. The government keeps failing the farmers too- this year itself most of the 14 Kharif crops sold for less than the MSPs announced by the state governments across India. And this, when the MSPs announced for 7 of the crops are themselves below the production cost, as alleged by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), and the margin for the others ranged from 2 to 19 percent as against promised 50.
As their plight hardly reaches the policy makers, thousands of farmers decided to come to them in person, in blood and flesh, howsoever much of that remains in their often undernourished bodies. They called for a nationwide protest culminating in Delhi on 20 and 21 November and are now protesting in Delhi. The farmers, belonging to 184 farmers organisations across India, have come to Delhi after a more than 10,000 kilometers long march organized by the umbrella organization All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). The farmers have come together basically on two demands- freedom from debt and remunerative prices for farm produce. They are holding a Kisan Mukti Sansad (Farmers’ Freedom Parliament) and passed two bills encompassing the two demands.
Ironically, both the demands have repeatedly figured in the manifestos of all the major political parties of the country. The Bhartiya Janata Party, heading the current government of India. In fact, during the poll campaign in 2014 the incumbent Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi has himself promised at least 50 percent profit margin on the input cost for the ‘minimum support price’, a price set by the government authorities for buying farm produces, of all agri commodities. Of course the promise then changed to ‘doubling farmers income’ by 2022, three years after his current term ends!
Cut to the draft national policy asked for by the Supreme Court in January. The learned judges had raised the same issues- compensation for crops, and crop failures and indebtedness being central to the farm crisis.
Sadly, mere pointing out is not going to change anything on the ground. The government is neither delivering on its own promises nor on the Supreme Court’s order. The bills should have passed by government in the real parliament. It did not, so it perhaps time for the Court to take charge and order the government for a time bound action plan monitored by it. It cannot let the farmers keep killing them, after all. 3 lakh is already too many.
Samar is Programme Coordinator – Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong