Published On : Sat, Jan 7th, 2017

“Economic parity for farmers is a must” says Vijay Jawandhia

Vijay Jawandhia has devoted his life to the cause of farmers’ – specially of Vidarbha. He was the chief lieutenant of Sharad Joshi, the first real pan India leader of farmers.

In a conversation with NT, Vijay lays bare the dismal scenario of farmer suicides – when they began; why and where the solution lies.

” Sharadji and I began taking up Maharashtra’s Cotton farmers’ issues right from 1970, when farmer suicides were still unheard of.

The Shetkari Sanghatana we formed carried out the Cotton ‘andolan’ that resulted in Maharashtra government Cotton Monopoly Purchase Scheme being implemented from 1971.

The state government also offered a Rs. 500 bonus on cotton price declared by Center – so if the price declared in Delhi was Rs. 2000/ Maharashtra was offering Rs. 2500/ or even 2600/.

This extra 500 cushioned the farmer from vagaries of nature and varying cost of inputs and left something in his kitty at the end of the agriculture season.

As long as this scheme continued farmer made some money. Right up till 1977 when one gm of gold costed the same as one quintal of cotton. Those were the days they called cotton ‘White Gold’.

“The first reported farmers’ suicides began happening in 1997″ says Jawandhia, ” they began in Andhra Pradesh when Vajpayee was P.M. Under his rule, under pressure from textile mills who wanted cheap cotton imports of cotton were allowed. Price of cotton had crashed in international markets and it was available with a landed cost of just Rs.1500/ or so in India.

As it is, it had been a bad year for cotton farmers, specially of A.P. since yields were less and so input costs were more difficult to absorb. When price also crashed as a result of imports, it broke the farmers’ backs.

That was the first year, one heard of farmers’ suicides in this southern state.

That was also the year when farmers further south having coconut and rubber plantations in Kerala also suffered drastic fall in yields and also resorted to suicides.

In 2003, the cotton monopoly purchase scheme was lifted. The WTO had also been signed by then and farmers were at the mercy of market forces.

You also have to remember that farmers do not exist in a vacuum in India’s rural parts – they are part of the larger society. Citizens of this country also.

They have been mute witnesses to the 5th pay commission, then the 6th and last year the 7th. They have seen salaries of all government employees go up dramatically. A government peon, a class 4 worker who was earning Rs. 2500/ or so earlier is taking home Rs. 18,000/ now. Senior officers, IAS babus are earning in lakhs per month.

Before this, they had seen private sector ‘packages’ go through the roof. Children of farmers who had never earned more than a thousand at the end of the year – if at that! – were earning 1.5 to 2 lakhs per month! In cities like Pune, Hyderabad and Bengluru as sofware Engineers or in other management jobs. They must have felt proud but also wondered why their livelihood was so meagre and insignificant?

With salaries increasing across the spectrum in cities, all other costs like cost of medical treatment and cost of education have also gone up.

We, as a nation seem to forget that farmers are also part of India. Do we wonder how they cope with earnings that have actually gone down rather than going up??

The solution to farmers’ suicides is not so difficult to find.

In fact Modiji has spelt it out himself in his pre 2014 election speeches.

He had promised 50% ‘profits’ over cost price to farmers.

“Congress doomed you.. their policies were ‘Mar Kissan,mar jawan’ – we will bring in ‘Jai Jawan, jai kissan’ he said in rally after rally.

Time he made good that promise!

Vijay Jawaandhia in conversation with Sunita Mudaliar.