Guaranteed MSP Is Not Possible Without Changing ‘Political Economy’December 27, 2021
Agrarian Crisis; Telangana State
B Kumar, a 45-year-old farmer from Shivapur village in Mulugu district in Telangana, arrived at a government paddy procurement center on November 10 to sell his hard-earned paddy crop. He kept pleading the government procurement officials to buy his paddy for the whole 20 days but they did not listen. B Kumar lost hope and decided ‘to quit’. On November 30, he consumed insecticide at the government procurement center itself. He died on 1 December. To earn this crop, he had taken a loan of 4 lakhs and the tractor installment was also pending. B Kumar is the fourth farmer to commit suicide (subjected to institutional murder) in the state of Telangana in November month alone.
Lot of water has flown down the Godavari since NT Rama Rao resorted to a novel populist gimmick to buy popularity by offering rice @ Rs 2 a kg to the millions of hungry and destitute, present in abundance, uncountable number everywhere in our country. The incumbent Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekhar Rao of TRS (Telangana Rastriya Samiti), skilled in the art of hoodwinking poor people, took that gimmick to a new level by offering rice to the poor @Re 1/ per kg. Obviously, for this, more government purchase of paddy was required to be done, more budgetary allocation was required. CM was not interested in taking that course.
Government purchase of any commodity means purchase at MSP, which means guaranteed fixed price. Hopes of good assured returns on their paddy crop coupled with good rains, farmers got motivated to produce more paddy. Paddy production in Telangana state got a boost and it rose from 29.6 lakh ton in 2015-16 to 2.26 crore ton in 2020-21, which is expected to cross 3 crore ton this year. The Food Corporation of India (FCI), governed by central government chose not to take any notice of bumper paddy production and continued with the same quota of procuring only 60 lakh ton of paddy from the state of Telangana, as before. To make the matter worse, FCI slowed the procurement process and has so far purchased only 45 lakh ton and has opened only half of the total 65,000 government paddy procurement centers in the state. The chaos was bound to happen and it happened. Another reason for the current severe farmer distress in Telangana is that in view of the demand for parboiled rice which is used in making idli in many states, especially Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the farmers of Telangana had increased its production excessively. The Food Corporation has categorically refused to buy parboiled rice at all. Telangana CM was interested in doing Nautanki only and had no concern for actual food needs of entire 3.9 crore population of the state. He kept the state quota of purchase of paddy at 25 lakhs ton only. The chief minister did everything else; sat on dharna at Hyderabad’s Dharna Sthal (like Delhi’s Jantar Mantar), met Prime Minister and Food Supplies Minister Piyush Goyal, wrote letters, directed his party’s MPs to stall the parliament raising issue of acute farmer distress in his state on the very first day of ensuing winter session and sit on dharna near Gandhi Samadhi outside Parliament but did not increase his quota of purchase. The Chief Minister wants that the FCI, means central government should increase its procurement quota from 60 lakh ton to 90 lakh ton. Farmer distress and chaos at the paddy procurement centers of the state is unprecedented. It’s riot like situation over there which has already taken 4 lives. Four farmers have committed suicide in the month of November alone. On the other hand, the grain traders are reaping the real harvest as farmers have no option but to go for distress sale. Paddy is sold @ Rs 1100 per quintal or even less than that against the MSP price of Rs 1940 per quintal. Another natural calamity is making the situation more precarious. Till last month, the retreating monsoon rained heavily in southern states. Unable to sale or store their hard -earned crop, farmers were leaving it in their fields itself. Due to moisture in the soil, the paddy has begun germinating on its own. Danger of ruin of entire crop is looming large, making the situation of poor peasants dire.
There is another curious turn to the tragic story. There was a Lok Sabha by- election at Huzurabad constituency in Telangana. Like all other central government organizations these days, FCI was also lending its helping hand to its masters by not increasing the procurement quota and slowing down the existing procurement and not opening half of the government procurement centers across the state in order to fuel farmer’s anger. Distressed and furious farmers got annoyed with the TRS government and voted for the BJP which led to victory of BJP candidate. Four farmers lost their lives, millions are ruined financially but BJP has gained one seat! They are interested to make the situation dire to increase their tally!
The CM has complained in a letter to the Prime Minister on November 10 and interestingly, his language has become exactly like that of the leaders of the recent iconic farmers movement. He has written that there is no fixed national policy for the purchase of food grains, so the government is unable to plan for the sowing of crops. The government is not in a position to give proper guidance to the farmers. The area under cultivation of pulses and oilseeds crops is decreasing as there is no plan to procure these items by the government whereas there is acute shortage of pulses and oil seed crops in the state. He also alleged that his state is being discriminated against. FCI is purchasing entire paddy crop and there is no upper ceiling of procurement in Punjab, then why is a ceiling of purchase in Telangana. Why his state’s quota is not increasing? On November 28 at Pragathi Bhavan in Hyderabad, the CM addressed his party’s Members of Parliament, and exhorted them to launch vociferous protests inside the Parliament and outside of it against the biased attitude of the Center regarding the government procurement of paddy in Telangana. There has to be uniform government procurement policy across the country, the Chief Minister said. Unless the Center announces it unambiguously, our MPs will continue to fight the Center by all means. The government food procurement policy of the Center is misleading and biased. As soon as the Parliament session began on November 29, TRS members created a ruckus but Center chose to ignore that and did not increase its quota and did not give any assurance for the purchase of paddy to the helpless farmers of Telangana. After that there is increasing resentment and frustration among the farmers. Please note that the TRS is the party that has blindly supported every anti-people policy of the central government till now. The area under paddy sown in Telangana has increased five-fold in the last five years, from 25.02 lakh acres in 2015-16 to 1.04 crore acres in 2020-21. The Food Corporation of India not only refused to increase the procurement quota, but also refused to buy Rabi crop. Paddy is grown in Telangana in both Rabi and Kharif seasons.
Farmers of Telangana are put in a hopeless situation, they are taking their own lives. They are ruined financially and their only crime is that they have increased production. Not only that, the Chief Minister, in desperation, frowned upon the farmers, ‘growing paddy means hanging a noose around your neck’. Farmers are being forced to feel like criminals for increasing production. Farmers in Telangana are furious with the government but BJP is delighted. It is eying more electoral gains in case farmer distress is more aggravated and situation gets dire. They are asking farmers to grow more paddy against CM’s cruel rebuke to farmers not to sow paddy at all. Farmers are being used as pawns to win elections. Retired Agriculture Secretary of the Central Government, Siraj Hussain revealed that the reason for all this turmoil is that the Central Government has bought 49.12% i.e. less than half of the total paddy production, 1222.7 lakh ton in the year 2020-21. The reason for this is that the Center has been buying paddy at Rs. 37000 per ton and selling it at Rs. 5000 per ton to the states to make it available at concessional rate at the PDS shops. The difference amount is charged to the budgetary allocation as food subsidy. There is another systemic bottleneck here. Under neo liberal regime, central government has decided to gradually reduce and eventually stop all the subsidies other than the subsidy given to the corporate.
“It is the political economy that determines the Minimum Support Price (MSP) driven grain procurement in India”, commented Dr. G.V. Ramanajanavelu, Managing Director, Center of Sustainable Agriculture. He is spot on in diagnosing the disease. That is exactly where the cause of this malaise lies. It is not a fight between the central government and the Telangana government as it appears. It is a battle between the present capitalist system and intentionally selling fake and false dreams to the peasants which can be realized only under socialism. This shameless jhuma-jhatki, obnoxious cock fight between center and state is for public spectacle. Both the parties, center as well as state are in complete agreement that all farmers are not to be paid at MSP as that is not the business of a system that is not only profit driven but has also become subservient to the Adani-Ambanis. This is actually a competition between two thugs testing befooling capacity of each other.
The truth behind this tragic, gruesome story of the Telangana farmers distress is spilling out on its own. It is really important to have an agriculture and food policy in the country because bread is the most essential thing for survival. How many people are there in the country, what are their food needs, how much pulses, rice, wheat, oil, fruits, milk, vegetables, meat, eggs, spices etc. are needed for their nutritious diet, good health, all this data is extremely necessary to prepare a comprehensive agricultural policy. How much area requires to be covered by a particular crop, what would be the need of fertilizers, seeds, irrigation facilities, tractors and what modern, scientific and technological support will be needed by the tillers to maximize production of all these vital food items, putting in place arrangement to procure entire agricultural produce and most importantly making impeccable arrangement to make available all these food items available in each and every locality in required quantity at all retail stores to entire population, leaving no room for pilferage and theft by the ‘middle men’; this planning has to be on top of agenda of the government. Effectively denying any food to those who don’t work, want to live on hired labor power, the parasite class, of course, has to be essential part of that plan. Is it possible in the current system where entire agricultural produce is appropriated by monopoly sharks who don’t work, pass their time by just ‘clipping the coupon’ and the real producer sleeps hungry? In the present system, not only private but government work is also done to earn profit. Some people have a popular misconception that public sector undertaking means socialist organization!! This is a very pretentious lie, a hoax. ‘Market forces’ rule in capitalism. Even oxygen is not made available to dying patient unless one has purchasing power. In a country where children die murmuring ‘bhaat-bhaat (rice-rice), farmers are being punished and made to commit suicide for increasing the production of paddy. The real culprit is ‘political economy’ as Mr. Ramanajanavelu is pointing out. Farmers of Telangana proved that agricultural production can be increased immensely but it is capitalism that’s coming in the way and subjecting farmers to institutional murder by saying ‘increasing production is like hanging the noose around the neck’!!
Farmers deserve heartiest congratulation for showing exemplary courage, determination and never say die attitude, refusing to be intimidated and ultimately forcing the power drunk, arrogant fascist regime to take back the black agricultural laws. The fruits of MSP can, however, reach to each and every peasant only after government guarantees entire purchase of entire agricultural produce at MSP. That is possible only after the ‘political economy’ of the country is changed as suggested by Dr. G. V. Ramanujanavelu, MD, Center of Sustainable Agriculture. Political economy in vogue in our country that is obstructing production and strangulating the producer is called capitalism and the desired political economy where farmers can get assured price of their produce and they can be liberated of their overwhelming distress is called socialism. Process to bring that change is called REVOLUTION. Workers and peasants must together fight to bring that revolutionary transformation of the political economy. Farmer’s victory, till then, is only half baked. They need to rise again along with the proletariat to achieve real victory.