Reeling under price rise and dipping returns for their produce, thousands of farmers from all over the country poured into the capital on Monday to start a mahapanchayat, demanding, among other things, a farmers’ income commission to guarantee a minimum livelihood income.
Opposing diversion of farmland for other purposes, they wanted the government to impose a moratorium on land acquisition and announce a ‘fair and remunerative price’ for their produce, including a profit above the cost price, to help them lead a life of dignity. Furthermore, Parliament should meet at a special session to discuss suicides among farmers.
However, it appears the farmers lack the voice and the lobby to make themselves heard as none from the government approached them, and by the end of the day, the mahapanchayat declared that farmers would “stay put” at Jantar Mantar till their demands were met.
Kisan annadata hai aur woh bhookh se mar raha hai [Farmers provide food, yet they are dying of hunger],” said Susheela, a woman from Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh. Splaying her fingers one by one to count farm inputs that were getting out of reach because of high prices, she said it was getting difficult day by day for farmers to survive. “That is why farmers are committing suicides,” added Sugani from Gorakhpur.
The story was the same from participants of the mahapanchayat, organised by the Bhartiya Kisan Union and the National Alliance of People’s Movement, under the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements.
The meeting was addressed, among others, by Rakesh Tikait, Yudhvir Singh, Medha Patkar, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Vijay Jawandhiya, Yogendra Yadav and representatives from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
“We are looking for the government. Where is the government? On March 8, 2011, we met the Prime Minister. He said he would get back in 25 days, but did not. What is our fault? Is it that we are feeding the country and have produced surplus. If our demands are not met, farmers will take an agriculture holiday. The government will be responsible for the consequences,” Mr. Tikait said.
“A bottle of water costs Rs. 18-Rs. 20 a litre, but we get merely Rs. 15 for a kilo of milk. It does not even cover the cost of feed for our cattle, leave alone our livelihood,” argued Prakash Singh of Sangrur.
The mahapanchayat said in a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that it was the government’s responsibility to improve the net incomes of farmers, tenant cultivators and farm workers. Besides fair and remunerative price, the government should come out with price compensation and crop insurance schemes and find out ways of stopping suicides among farmers.
Asserting that food and farmers could not be treated as a “commodity,” the mahapanchayat opposed futures trading in food commodities that led to price volatility, free trade in agriculture and foreign direct investment in retail which would imperil the livelihoods of small farmers, small retailers and street-vendors.