Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A farmer’s wishlist

A farmer’s wishlistFebruary 24th, 2011

Vijay Jawandhia Share1Buzz up!The farmers are very clear about what they expect from the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee’s Budget this year and even though beggars would ride if horses were wishes, one wishes that the finance minister, who has just returned from the Group of Twenty (G20) meet where there was a lot of emphasis on the need to invest in agriculture, refashions his Budget in favour of agriculture and the millions who produce food for the country.

The farmers’ wishlist:

* Increase allotment to agriculture to 40 per cent of the Budget as agriculture has stagnated at around 13 per cent of the gross national produce (GNP) during the last three five-year plans. This money could be used for giving increased support price as recommended by the first Farmers’ Commission chaired by Dr M.S. Swaminathan.

* Mr Mukherjee needs to frame a good crop insurance scheme at the village level. Eighty per cent of the premium should be paid equally by the state and the Central government and 20 per cent by the farmer.

* Agriculture crop loan should be given at four per cent interest and zero per cent interest to farmers with rain-fed land.

* Economic support should be given for promoting organic farming — for animal raising and promoting fodder and food crop like sorghum and bajra.

* Free quality education and health service at the village level should be a priority.

Mr Mukherjee should now start taxing agriculture income and sale of produce above Rs 10 lakhs per annum. Below this farmers can be exempted. Unless he taxes the rich he will have little money to help the poor.

Whenever the government talks about fiscal correction (read, cutting subsidies) it is always the farmer and the unorganised sector that are at the receiving end. In his last Budget, instead of taxing the rich taxpayers he gave them maximum benefits. A person with an income of Rs 8 lakhs and above received benefit of Rs 50,000.

True, he announced a loan waiver of Rs 70,000 crores, thereby accepting that there was a crisis. The non-irrigated farmer is always fighting the vagaries of nature and the market, yet, no proper insurance scheme was announced to protect his minimum income and losses. The non-irrigated farmer does not have any crop till next November 2011. So extending the loan waiver scheme limit for payment to June 2010 as he did had no relevance.

I must accept that Mr Mukherjee was generous in accepting the long-standing demand that a special policy support is needed for rain-fed agriculture. But I do wish that in this Budget he is realistic. In his last Budget he announced Rs 300 crores for the 60,000 villages selected to grow oilseed and pulses in rain-fed land, which means each village will get just Rs 50,000.

When you compare this to an individual taxpayer earning Rs 8 lakhs and getting a benefit of Rs 50,000 with a whole village getting just Rs 50,000 you see how skewed the Budget is against the producer of food who toils from sunrise to sunset to cajole the golden wheat from the ground.

Also, he gave Rs 200 crores to one city, Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, to fight pollution made by textile industry!

It is important for the finance minister to junk the old format of the Budget and keep it in tune with the times.

Since globalisation and liberalisation of the economy, the gap between the rich and the poor and urban and rural has been increasing speedily. The implementation of Fifth and Sixth Pay Commissions has added fuel to the fire. Increasing prices of urban properties is proof of accumulation of wealth in urban India.

Maybe in this Budget Pranabda may not be able to bridge the gap between the rich and poor but at least we can expect that he will not widen the gap further.

After the new economic policy the cost of education, health and transportation has been increasing. In short, the cost of living is increasing. The government has announced a slew of yojanas it thinks will help the poor, like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (which has not been properly implemented).

My point is that in MGREGS, the minimum wage is Rs 100 per day and only 100 days work are guaranteed. Against the Sixth Pay Commission is the minimum wage of Rs 100 justified? I will explain this injustice. In my village in 1970 the wage of a farm labourer was Rs 90 to 100 per month. At that time the salary of a schoolteacher in the same village was Rs 150 to 200 per month.

Now, after the Sixth Pay Commission, the minimum salary of a schoolteacher is `16,000 per month. My question to Mr Mukherjee is, why shouldn’t the minimum wage of farm labour be at least Rs 8,000-9,000 per month? This means that the minimum wage in MGREGS must be Rs 300 per day.

Now if this minimum wage is to be paid then the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices must take this into account for calculating the cost of production and announce support prices on this basis. The finance minister will also have to make provisions for food subsidies in his Budget on this basis. Now a common question that will be asked is where will the money come from? To answer this I have to ask, from where did money for Fifth and Sixth Pay Commissions come from?

To raise money the rich must be taxed, but except for the last Budget, all previous Budgets decreased taxes on the rich. Excise duty on cars was reduced and now the finance minister is expected to give Rs 6,000 crore subsidy for Metro Rail for three cities. The subsidy for urbanisation is increasing. This urban bias must change. The farmer is not demanding packages, but is waiting for policy support.

* Vijay Jawandhia is former president of the Shetkari Sanghatana and All-India Kisan Coordination Committee and a member of La Via Campesina, an international peasant’s organisation

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