Lok Sabha

March 19, 2015

Sugata Bose speaks during discussion on the agrarian situation in the country | Transcript

Full transcript:

Agriculture is close to my heart and ought to be the focus of informed debate in our country. Since my student days, I had been working on problems facing our agrarian economy in a larger global context.

The labours of peasant smallholders, sharecropper and agricultural labourers form the bedrock of our national economy. And their well being should exercise minds of the people’s representatives and policymakers.

The agrarian situation in India, Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, in one word, is grim. Boasting a rate of high GDP growth, the economic surge acknowledges that the agricultural output has grown at a rate of just 1% last year.  The terms of trade against agriculture are clear since the year 2011.

The Finance Minister acknowledged in his Budget Speech that of the five major challenges facing India today, the first and foremost is the stress on agricultural incomes, yet his Government has shown no real commitment to address that challenge.

In replying to the debate of the Land Acquisition Bill, the Rural Development Minister said in a tone of complaint that the agricultural sector accounted for nearly 55% of employment in our country and contributed less than 15% of our GDP. While it is imperative to create non-farm employment, it was extraordinary to find a farmer’s son and grandson cast against persons of the majority of the working population in our land and wishing that peasants and agricultural labourers would not resist land grabbing by this Government’s corporate friends and allies.

We must not deny small farms. Very often, they are more efficient than large farms even though we need to address the problems of self exploitation of unpaid women’s and children’s labour on farms which are a cause for suicide by farmers.

My friend Sri Karunakarn has given some startling figures in the course of his speech. Cotton cultivators in Maharashtra or in Gujarat and sugar cultivators in Karnantaka seek subsistence via the market. They need favourable prices and credit for their cash crops in order to command access to food. Tens of millions of peasants in our country live on the borderline of life and death. They suffer from chronic malnutrition and hunger.

Now, there have been unseasonal rains that have affected crops in six northern states. But we must always remember that we are facing not a problem of nature but a problem of political economy. It is not just droughts or floods or monsoon failures that adversely affect the odds of life of our peasantry. Our British colonial masters lead by Lord Curzon used to try and pass of manmade catastrophes as acts of God but we know it in Bengal that the great famine of 1770 or 1943 were manmade famines. Great economist like Romesh Dutt always pointed out that the food supply in India as a whole has never failed but the people were so resourceless, so absolutely without any savings that if crops failed in one area they were unable to buy food from neighbouring provinces rich in harvest.

We must learn from our great economic thinkers and not from our colonial masters.

Our agricultural sector is beset with problems of reduced cultivated areas and low yields. Our primary producers are caught within the meshes of iniquitous and interlinked product and credit market. How can we turn things around?

Let me suggest some policy measures that must be taken to tackle the challenges of both agricultural production and distribution. Talk about the second green revolution in our country has been confined to the realm of rhetoric and has not been transformed into practical policy. We need more public investment in agricultural science and research as well as extension services to educate our farmers about best practices. At most about 40% of our cultivated area has no irrigation of any kind. Our focus should be on micro irrigation projects that will provide rural employment in the short run while increasing productivity in the longer term. We need environmentally sound watershed management.

In the 1980s in my own state of West Bengal the indiscriminate digging of tube wells compounded the problem of arsenic poisoning in ground water. The current Government’s Jol Dhoro Jol Bhoro programme has been more farsighted and successful. The Central Government’s Krishi Sichai Yojana should learn some lessons from Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal.

The problem of peasant debt has two aspects. First, the peasantry needs to be freed from extortion at interest rates charged by mahajans and sahukars. Second, primary producers need access to adequate credit at right moments of the production cycle.

The Finance Minister has set an ambitious target of Rs 8.5 lakh Crore of farm credit during 2015-2016. Unfortunately, Mr Dy Speaker Sir, institutional credit from Banks hardly ever reaches small holding peasants and gets cornered by richer farmers and by agricultural corporations. Better targeting of agricultural credit is an urgent necessity.

The peasants never get a remunerative price for their produce as traders and middlemen in the agricultural market chain siphon off the profits. The solution being offered by this Government is the creation of a national agricultural market. My own considered view is that this problem should be addressed in the first instance at the local and regional levels.

Let me give the example of the rural areas of my own constituency Jadavpur to illustrate the needs and available best practices. Nearly 80% of the holdings in Baruipur, Sonarpur, Bhangar rural areas of my constituency are less than one hector in size, the cropping intensity 165%. In addition to rice approximately 20% of the cultivated area is devoted to the production of fruits and vegetable of very high quality. They are mostly sold in local markets. In Baruipur, there is only one cold storage facility with a capacity of 1200 MT, which is not sufficient to cater the needs of the peasants of the region. Moreover, even this facility is not equipped to store fresh vegetables and fruits. This one large facility needs to be upgraded with the help of central schemes to make it fit for storing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Mini cold storage units ranging from 5 MT – 30 MT needs to be set up all over the country for groups of small and marginal peasants. On a more optimistic note, let me mention one positive development in Bhangar, another rural area of my constituency. With the support of the West Bengal’s State Horticulture Department, a Bhangar Vegetable Producer’s Company Ltd has been established with a membership of 1750 marginal peasants, all owning less than one hectare of land each. This company has now a paid up capital of Rs 7.3 lakh. It is a federation of 100 small peasant interest groups. The company has improved access to inputs and finance and has enhanced productivity by promoting better agricultural practices. It has helped peasants undertake value added activities by grading, packaging at the village level and provided marketing support.

As a result, per hectare output has increased dramatically from 7500 kg to 9500 kg and average peasant’s income has risen from Rs 22000 in 140 days to Rs 88000 in 120 days.  This local example of West Bengal has much wider relevance for small and marginal peasants, all over the country.

Deputy Speaker Sir, the Railways can play an important role in agricultural marketing and I hope that Agriculture Minister and Railway Minister will discuss this matter. I have seen how small peasants come to Baruipur and Sonarpur railway stations to sell their produce. Instead of complaining about squatters on railway land, the Railways can redesign the land owned by them, near stations of B and C level towns, to revolutionise the marketing of agricultural produce of small peasants.

The Railways can address problems of overcrowding, retail, inter modal transport needs, absence of public space through affordable intelligent design and by openness to market oriented small peasants, producers from the agrarian hinterland of these small towns.

In addition to creating cold storage facilities for agricultural produce, this Government should put something else into deep cold storage for all time to come in interests of India’s kisans and Khet mazdoors.  This is the ill conceived Land Acquisition Bill that was railroaded through this Lok Sabha.

I am taking my stand on 1970 style populism that which Arun Jaitley referred to in his Budget debate. I am taking my stand on a need for a balanced and harmonious 21st century economy that guarantees a fair deal to the underprivileged in our quest for rapid growth and development. Land acquisition from our farmers in our great Democracy must be based on consent and not on coercion, on compensation, not expropriation and it must be for public purpose and not private profit.

So it is incumbent on this Government, Deputy Speaker Sir, to provide equity in both sense of the term, equity, in the sense of fairness and justice and as well as equity in the form of ownership and the stake in the land, whenever the land is taken away from our peasants.

The Government by opening bank accounts and taking away Jan Dhan in the form of agricultural land and handing it to over to corporate houses on the false pretext of public purpose genuine fairness and transparency the two words that way in the title of the Bill that was passed in this House demands nothing else.

Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, on behalf of my party let me urge this House, to rise to its full stature and make sure that the peasant and agricultural laborers and the range of service providers in rural areas be made partners and not victims in India’s development story.

Thank you very much.