Present Bills To Free Farmers From Debt and Crisis
Tens of thousands of farmers, poor peasants and agricultural workers from all over the country, under flags of varying colours representing the diverse peasants’ organisations, flooded Parliament Street in India’s capital Delhi on 20-21 November, to hold a ‘Farmers’ Freedom Parliament’ of their own. Holding the Modi Government responsible for betraying its election-time promise of a one-time waiver of all farmers’ debts and fixing the minimum support price for crops with 50% margin of profit, the Kisan Mukti Sansad presented one Bill each on these two key demands.
The Kisan Mukti Sansad had been organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a nationwide coalition of 184 farmers’ organizations. In the three months towards the Kisan Mukti Sansad, the AIKSCC held four Kisan Mukti Yatras covering nearly 10,000 kms all over the country, addressing farmers and non-farm communities, raising consciousness about farmers’ conditions, and building unity and solidarity in both rural and urban India around the farmers’ cause.
The farmers from 25 states gathered at Ramlila Maidan and marched to Parliament Street for the Kisan Mukti Sansad. The flags of many colours reflected the immense diversity of the farmers’ movement – in terms of regions, classes, languages, and organisations.
The KIsan Mukti Sansad began with a song about farmers’ struggles by Nirmohi, the revolutionary singer from Bhojpur. After this, the entire gathering paid tribute to the farmers killed in police firing in Mandsaur and other movements, and to indebted farmers who committed suicide. AIKSCC Convener BM Singh welcomed the participants.
The first day of the Kisan Mukti Sansad began with a Mahila Sansad (Women’s Parliament), acknowledging and highlighting the role of women as farmers. Women farmers spoke about how the denial of remunerative prices was nothing short of loot, and several women farmers spoke about how farm debts had pushed their husbands to suicide. They also asserted their identity as farmers – pointing out how, since land is often owned by men, women are excluded from any protections and rights as farmers. Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and NAPM presided over the Mahila Sansad. Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) outlined the many ways in which the agrarian crisis affected women farmers. Addressing the Mahila Sansad on behalf of the All India Kisan Mahasabha, Jasbir Kaur Nat spoke of women farmers’ and agricultural workers’ struggles.
Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha presented the Bill for complete waiver of agricultural loans, and and Raju Shetty of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana presented the Bill on remunerative prices. The Kisan Mukti Sansad felicitated former Rajasthan MLA and kisan leader Amra Ram, and MP and kisan leader Raju Shetty as representatives of the farmers’ movements of Rajasthan and Maharashtra respectively. Yogendra Yadav of Jai Kisan Andolan and Atul Anjan of All India Kisan Sabha, Batta Singh Burjgil of BKU (Dakaunda), Pratibha Shinde of Lok Sangharsh Morcha, Kodihalli Chandrashekhar of Karnataka Rajya Raiyyat Sangha, and Dr Sunilam of NAPM also addressed the Sansad on the first day.
Addressing the Kisan Mukti Sansad on the first day, AIKM General Secretary Rajaram Singh said that the Government tried to pit poor people against the farmers by claiming that raising minimum support prices for farmers would result in increased prices of food grains that would burden the poor. He said that this was a false contradiction: the Government had an obligation to reduce input costs for farmers, and to procure foodgrains from farmers at remunerative prices and ensure the distribution of those food grains to the poor by strengthening the public distribution system. Instead, the poor were dying of hunger, deprived of food rations on the pretext of Aadhaar. He said that while the sons of BJP leaders like Amit Shah were increasing their assets massively, and corporate loans were being waived, the Government was claiming to be unable to waive farmers’ loans. Rajaram Singh also stressed the need for the farmers’ movement to resist the Sangh-BJP attempts to divide farmers on communal lines, and to stand up for the rights of dairy farmers like Pehlu Khan, Ummar Khan and others who had been lynched by gau goons for being Muslim.
On the second day, the Kisan Mukti Sansad was addressed by AIKM National President Ruldu Singh and AIKM leader and Bihar MLA Sudama Prasad. Ruldu Singh declared that the farmers’ movement would resist the moves to humiliate debt-ridden farmers and auction off their property. Sudama Prasad said that 80% of Bihar’s farmers were sharecroppers and yet sharecroppers were not recognised as farmers – the farmers’ movement must include sharecroppers’ demands in its core agenda.
The Sansad condemned the incarceration of Assam peasant movement activist Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti under the draconian sedition law and National Security Act as an attack on democracy and demanded his unconditional release.
The Sansad was conducted by a presidium comprising Dr Sunilam (NAPM), Pratibha Shinde (Lok Sangharsh Morcha), Kavita Kuruganti (AHSA), Dr Darshan Pal (BKU Dakaunda), Ashish Mittal (AIKMS), Prem Singh Gehlawat (AIKM) and Avik Saha (Jai Kisan Andolan).
The Kisan Mukti Sansad ended by declaring a plan for a nation-wide campaign to spread public consciousness about the two Bills. Beginning on 26th of November in Gujarat, AIKSCC will carry out a nation-wide communication campaign by way of seminars, public discussion, social media campaigns and publications. This campaign will culminate in a Kisan Mukti Diwas on Republic Day – 26th January – all over the country. The campaign will include 500 Kisan Mukti Charchas/Discussions across the country at district and sub-district level, as well as state-level Conventions centred around the two Bills released by AIKSCC; and handing over the Bills to Members of Parliament. Protests would also be held in Mandis during the Rabi 2017-18 season, against sale below MSP, or non-availability of Mandis. Further, any auctions of indebted farmers’ property and attempts to name-shame indebted farmers would be disrupted. This phase of the movement would culminate in a “Chetavni Satyagrah” (Satyagraha to Warn the Government) on Kisan Mukti Diwas on Republic Day.
Farmers’ (Right to Assured Price for Agricultural Produce) Bill, 2017
The Farmers’ (Right to Assured Price for Agricultural Produce) Bill, 2017 was passed by the Kisan Mukti Sansad at Jantal Mantar which is to be presented in the winter session of the Parliament. This proposed Bill intends to give right to all farmers “to obtain an assured minimum price upon sale of agricultural produce”. The Bill defines ‘farmer’ as the one actively engaged in agriculture with or without land ownership – thus including ‘all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers as well as forest-gatherers. Self-help groups doing cultivation on collectively owned, or leased-in land are included.’
The bill stipulates that Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) in Centre as well as in states to be empowered to fix costs and prices of agricultural produce. This will institute a system for estimations of cost of production comprehensively by including all paid-out costs, imputed costs, family labour at skilled wage rate, and the managerial costs as well. And then to recommend an Assured Minimum Price with at least 50% profit margin. Such prices are to be reviewed and declared every year for Kharif and Rabi seasons. The commission can recommend measures to improve marketing infrastructure and procedures to ensure stable price environment for the farmers and will have power to advise commerce ministry about the adverse ramifications for the Assured Minimum Price announced by it. Such CACPs in states will ensure implementation of AMP in APMC markets and legal proceedings to buyers who try to purchase below AMP.
The government has to open an adequate number of procurement centres under this law and will be responsible in case of distress sale by farmers due to lack of storage facilities. The government has to provide infrastructure and financial capital towards marketing and processing of agricultural produce and is also obligated to “reduce cost of production by reducing costs of inputs through regulation, subsidies and schemes, and by promoting low cost sustainable agriculture”. If farmers don’t get assured remuneration, then they can approach the State Commission for grievance redressal.
Traders purchasing below MSP will be subjected to a penalty of one lakh rupees and their license to trade will be confiscated on a third time offence. In case of failure in timely opening procurement centres in adequate numbers the responsible highest officials in governments shall be liable for punishment.
The AMP decided by the CACP in centre shall be the floor level limit and states many only announce higher AMP with their own funds. The government will set up an initial fund of 50000 crore rupees for the payment of deficit AMP amount to farmers as cleared by the District Level Committees.
Kisan Mukti Yatra In Bihar
(Excerpts from AIKM leader Purushottam Sharma’s diary of the Bihar leg of the Kisan Mukti Yatra)
The Bengal-Odisha-Jharkhand-Bihar phase of the Kisan Mukti Yatra called by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti concluded at Muzaffarpur (Bihar) on 5 November. The Yatra covered about 10,000 km, traversed through 19 States, to culminate in the Kisan Mukti Sansad (Farmers’ Liberation Parliament) in Delhi on 20 and 21 November to demand a complete loan waiver for all farmers and minimum support price that is 50% more than the total production cost.
Senior Communist leader, 97 year old Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi welcomed the Yatra to Nawada district on the Jharkhand-Bihar border with red flags, along with many other comrades. He said that when the farmer rises up, thrones topple. He remembered the historic farmers’ conference at Gaya under the leadership of Swami Sahajananda Saraswati during which there was a lot of discussion on the red flag. Acharya Narendra Dev had objected to keeping the Kisan Sabha’s red flag, whereas Swami Sahajananda Saraswati and Jaiprakash Narayan had been in favour of it. Com Ganesh Shankar reminded the people that while addressing the delegates Swami Sahajananda had said that the red flag is not made merely of the colour red; this flag is coloured with the blood, sweat, and sacrifices of farmers and workers. Finally the delegates had agreed that the red flag of the Kisan Sabha should be retained. Swamiji had then given Comrade PC Joshi the responsibility of drafting the political resolution of the conference: the country’s first resolution to root out ‘zamindari’ (landlordism) was passed at that conference. The recollections of Com Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi were touching and inspiring for comrades of our generation present there as well as for future generations.
The Kisan Mukti Yatra next reached Rajauli, where we were welcomed by farmers led by Bhoodan Kisan Parishad Zonal President Mithilesh Choudhury.
After a public meeting at Jehanabad, the Yatra received an energetic welcome from Kisan Mahasabha comrades in Arwal district, where its arrival coincided with the 3rd death anniversary of Comrade Shah Chand ‘Mukhiya’. The public meeting was held in Shah Chand’s home in Bhadasi village, where he had been falsely implicated and convicted with 13 other comrades in a TADA case. Shah Chand remained in jail for 12 years and died 3 years ago due to negligence and torture in jail. On the occasion of the Kisan Mukti Yatra meeting, a huge portrait of Com Shah Chand was kept in the courtyard of his house and Com Shah Chand’s wife and comrade-in-arms Comrade Jameela hoisted the red flag, after which each of the comrades in the Yatra garlanded and honoured Comrade Shah Chand’s portrait and Com Rajaram Singh and Dr Sunilam spoke on the occasion, recollecting memories of Com Shah Chand and their meetings in jail. Com Shiv Sagar Sharma moved our hearts with his reminiscences of Com Shah Chand. Comrade Hannan Mollah, Vijoo Krishnan, Avik Saha, and Dr Sunilam also spoke.
The public meeting at Daudnagar Chowraha in Aurangabad saw a good participation of local farmers, with middle farmers in large numbers. After the meeting we took to the road again. Kisan Mahasabha comrades on about 40 motorcycles with red flags and raising slogans formed the vanguard of our Yatra at this juncture. We proceeded towards the Cement factory located at Jasoya Mor, where workers who have been waging a long struggle waited to welcome the Kisan Mukti Yatra. This factory has destroyed farming land of 1.5 square kilometers and has now also removed hundreds of local workers from their jobs.
At Bikramganj, thousands of farmers had gathered at the venue of the meeting conducted by Kisan Mahasabha leader and former CPI(ML) MLA Arun Singh.
A convoy of Kisan Mahasabha activists with 50 motorcycles welcomed us and we proceeded speedily towards a massive Kisan Mukti Yatra rally at Piro in Bhojpur: epicentre of the revolutionary movement of poor peasants for the past 40 years. Tens of thousands of farmers had poured into the venue of the meeting, making this one of the largest gatherings in the entire course of the Kisan Mukti Yatra. All kisan leaders were welcomed with red turbans and garlands by Tarari MLA Sudama Prasad and former Piro MLA Chandradeep Singh.
After Ara, we crossed the Son, where a campaign vehicle festooned with red flags joined us in the vanguard, and when we reached Bihta Bazaar Kisan Mahasabha activists with red flags on 30-35 motorcycles also joined us. Suddenly we saw an elderly person sitting pillion on one of the motorcycles waving out to us: it was 75-year old Comrade Rameshwar Prasad, the National President of AIARLA and the first former MP from the CPI (ML) who was elected to the Lok Sabha on an IPF ticket in 1989. We proceeded to the Swami Sahajananda Saraswati Memorial in Bihta to pay tribute to that great pioneer of the farmers’ movement and the founder of the Kisan Sabha. Here Swamiji’s colleague and senior Communist leader Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and Kisan Sabha leader Shiv Sagar Sharma addressed a brief meeting, after which we left for Patna.
We arrived for the Kisan Mukti Yatra meeting in Patna. Yogendra Yadav, Hannan Mollah and Satyavan also joined us for this meeting. A rally was held at Beguserai, after which our team divided into two parts: Rajaram Singh, Dr Sunilam, Purushottam Sharma, Biju Krishnan, and Prahlad Patil headed for Darbhanga while Hannan Mollah, Avik Shah, R Chandrashekhar, Anil Singh and others for Vibhutipur. On the way, we saw and heard the woes of the people who had suffered the ravages of the Gandak, Bagmati and other rivers in flood.
Outside Darbhanga city Kisan Mahasabha activists on dozens of motorcycles welcomed us with red flags, led by CPI (ML) PB member and AIARLA National General Secretary Dhirendra Jha. Thousands of farmers holding red flags had gathered at the Maidan which was the venue of the meeting, as well as many intellectuals and journalists. After the meeting we took to the road again and were welcomed at Mokama by a big group of farmers.
This leg of the Yatra concluded Muzaffarpur where we paid tribute to the immortal freedom fighter and martyr Khudiram Bose. We garlanded his statue, at the spot where the 18-year old Khudiram Bose and his comrade Prafulla Chaki had thrown a bomb at a British official. They were hanged in this very Muzaffarpur.
The Farmers’ Freedom from Debt Bill 2017
The proposed Bill aims at waiving all institutional and non-institutional outstanding crop loans existing till 20 November 2017 and instituting a Farmers’ Debt Commission to protect farmers from future debt trap. The government has to declared loan waiver immediately. The Bill provides for a debt swap of non-institutional loans into the bank loans.
The Debt Relief Commission will regulate rate of interest, decide about one-time settlements, recommend debt-swapping and prevent recovery of loans in distress affected areas.
The Commission will have power to declare any distressed area or a particular crop to be distressed, either suo motu or based on applications. It will also have power to decide about issues pending with Banks, based on farmers’ applications.