Resolution on Agrarian and other Rural Struggles

MGNREGA, though touted as the world’s biggest employment guarantee programme, has clearly failed to make any major dent in rural poverty and unemployment, let alone create any positive push to raise the low level of rural wages.

22. AIALA had taken impressive initiatives in the initial phase when NREGA was being launched, and it is important to sustain the momentum with planned and systematic intervention to take up NREGA-related struggles. While sections of the ruling classes are trying hard to subvert, if not stop, MGNREGA we must fight for its extension to agriculture to help the crisis-ridden peasantry, for greater availability of employment and better wages and against gross violation of various provisions of the law by panchayats as well as state and central governments.

23. Food security is another UPA promise that has turned into a long and bitter story of betrayal. It is only now with the 2014 elections getting nearer that the Congress once again seems desperate to turn food security into a poll plank. Going by the recommendations made by the concerned parliamentary standing committee headed by Vilas Muttemwar, the proposal is to cover 75% of rural and 50% of urban population with provisions of only 5 kg of rice and wheat at a price of Rs. 3 and Rs. 2 per kg respectively. This works out to 25 kg of subsidized foodgrain for a family of five – half of what the people have long been demanding and lower than even the 35 kg level being currently supplied. The struggle must be intensified for a universal PDS covering all essential articles of mass consumption in opposition to the government’s current proposals of a truncated food security framework.

24. Closely related to the issue of food security is the question of procurement of crops and storage of food grains. In the absence of effective tenancy rights and prompt system of assured procurement large sections of small producers are denied the benefit of the minimum support prices announced by the governments and they are forced to sell crops to intermediaries at considerably reduced rates who in turn earn a profit by reselling it to the state or in the open market. Likewise, in the absence of sufficient and appropriate storage facilities, we have the paradox of foodgrains rotting in the open or being eaten up by rats in ill-maintained godowns even as the poor are left to die of starvation and hunger. The apex court had rightly called for free distribution of surplus foodgrains among the poor, but the government refused to heed the voice of reason or remedy the situation and the problem continues. The battle for assured procurement, improved and adequate storage and a fair system of distribution must therefore be taken up as a key agenda of popular mobilization.

25. Most of the centrally sponsored schemes are meant exclusively for BPL beneficiaries, and it is on the issue of fixing the poverty line that the government and the Planning Commission headed by the Prime Minister are playing cruel jokes on the poor of the country. Even as the absurd Planning Commission BPL benchmarks of Rs 26 in rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas drew widespread flak from all quarters including the Supreme Court, the PC further reduced the benchmarks in 2012 to Rs 22.40 and 28.65 respectively, thereby claiming a fall in poverty from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 29.8% in 2009-10!

26. The poor are thus being deprived right at the point of fixation of the poverty line, apart from the administrative errors of exclusion which are often quite deliberate. Now a third dimension is proposed to be added, in the name of better targeting, in the form of the so-called direct-benefit-transfer or cash-transfer method. This method, being introduced now in a limited way, is intended to cover gradually almost all welfare schemes and even food security may come under it at a later stage. The schemes will require the beneficiaries to have mandatory UID (aadhaar) cards and bank accounts, thereby further enlarging the scope of exclusion. The battle against exclusion and for assured universal entitlement of the poor to welfare and social security is an important agenda for the movement of the rural poor.