Prominent agriculture activist and the current chairman of the Maharashtra government’s committee on farmers’ distress Kishor Tiwari has slammed the Central and the state government for “neglecting the core issues of farmers”. In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Mr. Tiwari also said that the last three years have seen only “announcements”. Excerpts:
How do you look at the current farmers’ unrest and protest in Maharashtra?
This is a genuine protest with genuine demands. The basic demand is of increasing their income and the perception was that this government will take it seriously; but in the last two-three years, only announcements have come. The demands of the farmers should be addressed seriously. We have been working as their (government’s) consultants to address these issues but the government’s bureaucrats extremely are insensitive towards the farmers’ issues.
Do you mean to say that Narendra Modi and other BJP government’s, who promised to double the farmers’ income, have still not delivered on their promises?
We tried our level best to increase the productivity of farmers. In Maharashtra, we had record production. Agriculture growth is almost in double digits now but the concern is that the farmer’s income has dropped continuously. The doubling of farmers’ income will be our core issue now. It will take time. But The accountability of the people responsible for such collapse (in income of farmers) should be fixed. My concern with the executive is their insensitivity to the cause (of farmers). When farmers have done tremendously well, what are the reasons behind the collapse in their income? Who manages manipulation in prices of the farm produce? Why were the pulses imported despite high production forecast? Who took that decision? Even after the bumper production, the intervention by the state was poor. The NAFED and FCI were not at all ready for this. They did not open procurement centres on time and farmers were forced to sell their produce in the open markets. Farmers’ income is not increasing but the cost of livelihood has increased. This has led to a collapse of the rural economy and the state has to address it.
The government was not prepared for the bumper crop?
No. The government was, but bureaucrats were not. The need of the hour is to bring drastic changes in policies. The priorities of development need to change. As an agriculture activist, I can see no difference in the NDA government’s and the UPA government’s basic priorities with regard to development. They are developing metros but not the rural economy. However, I think the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are the only hope because the Congress did not change the policies. Some core issues need to be addressed. First, is the cost. In an open economy, the minimum support price is a hypothetical concept. There are large variations in the MSP and the market price. Who will take the burden of subsidies? The farmers’ distress is prevailing because their core issues are not being addressed and the bureaucrats are happy in counting the reasons.
What have you recommended to the government?
I have recommended that that credit cycle should be of five years. If you cannot increase the debt paying capacity, you have to give loan waiver after every three years. But it should not be because of political compulsions. The bailout packages are a must and should be given at a critical time. Even the last loan waiver did not resolve the crisis. The hostile environment in terms of credit should change. The opposition parties will demand loan waiver but it is their political immaturity. Surprisingly, the state government also supported it and announced it. The dry land farmers’ limit should be five hectares if you are not giving a blanket loan waiver. The farmers, who were excluded from earlier loan waivers and who are regularly paying their debt, should be given incentives so that a culture of repayment is developed. Loan waiver will not solve all the issues. The state has to go in detail to study the factors affecting the rural economy.
We are now seeing unrest in prosperous farming areas like Western and North Maharashtra.
Because of the mismatch in farming expenses and income. The farmers’ debts are increasing and no one is coming to their rescue. The state has to understand that unless and until the farmers won’t get the return on their investment, this won’t stop. They talk of developing market mechanism but what has happened in the last three years has to be analysed first. How many value addition projects have been materialised? Where are the market linkages? One has to understand that these are the core issues. If the people are agitating, their concerns should be listened to carefully. They need to bring a focused program to increase farmers’ incomes. No agriculture supporting activity is happening now. The state should have more concern for the people living in villages because the life of a farmer is worse than farm labourers now. The cost of living has increased tremendously and many farmers’ families are starving.
So you are not happy with the BJP government’s policies with respect to the farmers?
I don’t see any drastic change in the policies (of BJP government) with regard to the farmers. The previous government’s policies are still being implemented. You need to change your focus to improve the rural economy. Unless and until we have a protected economy for rural masses and address the issue of cost of the farm produce, things won’t change. The priorities of the development should be focused on the crisis. The investments should be in the rural sector which we had promised. And it is not happening. Otherwise, why would there be this unrest.
You once filed a petition in the high court that farm-related data should be continuously updated on the government website. It is still not happening.
The government is not concerned about updating the facts. This had happened during my career as an activist. The bureaucrats are really lethargic. If innocent people are killing themselves without any reason, there should be accountability. The grievances should be addressed at the local level itself, but it is not being done. The corruption levels are rotting the administrative structure.
What does the data say about farmers’ suicides?
Some districts have seen a decrease, but some have seen an increase in farm distress. The concerns are still there. Innocent people are still killing themselves. As the mission's chairman, I won’t say it has stopped. It will take time. And you need to address the core issues to solve it. You have to increase the income and reduce the cost of living; you have to give job opportunities and bureaucrats should be held accountable. Otherwise, the governments will go on changing but the core issues will remain. The prevailing environment in the county will not give more chances, because the unrest, that I am looking at, is leaderless. This is the people’s unrest.
VIDARBHA JANANDOLAN SAMITI PRESIDENT – KISHORE TIWARI, B.E. (Mech.Engg.), M.B.A., LL.B., M.A. (Pub. & Admn.), M.A. Sociology, M.I.S. (USA), Fellow - I.E.H., Fellow – Institution of Engineers (India)- CHARTERED ENGINEER BACKGROUND : Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti is fighting for the cause of common man since 1998. Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti is constantly pursuing its battle on various fronts like – a.Administrative b.Judicial c.Quasi-judicial d.Legislative e.Parliamentary f.International levels PUBLIC ISSUES : 1.Farmers suicides 2.Mal nutrition of Tribals. 3.Plights of Rural economy 4.Drinking water 5.Right to Food 6.Right to Education 7.Problems of Minorities 8.Issue of Separate Statehood to Vidarbha THE EFFECT OF MOVEMENT : The continued follow up and Jan Andolans of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti has resulted in many success broadly classified as – 1.Waiver of small farmers crop loans 2.interest remission to marginal farmers 3.right to food to the lacs of tribals. 4.Primary Education to every rural students. 5.Farmers packages 6.BPL benefits to thousands of poor families. 7.Justice to unwed mothers