BKU farmers held a press conference and submitted a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the backdrop of the low suport prices for wheat and rice as well as multiple free trade agreement negotiations and the upcoming visit of President Obama to India. Below is their letter:
30th October, 2010
Shri Manmohan Singh ji
Hon’ble Prime Minister of India
We, the farmers of Bhartiya Kisan Union, are writing to you in the backdrop of many disturbing developments such as the near completion of negotiations on FTAs with developed economies, like Japan and the E.U.; large scale acquisitions of agricultural land by companies; increasing domination of biotech firms in the Indian agricultural system and institutions; and most importantly, UPA government poor response to the increasing hunger and malnutrition among rural community while million of tonnes of food grains are rooting in our godowns. It is a matter of great concern for us that even after 60 years of India’s independence, more than 5000 children are dying every day in our country due to malnutrition. And in 2010, India has slipped to 67th position among 84 developing countries on the global hunger index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute. Despite this, the present UPA government under your leadership is completely non-committal on feeding poor people even though 67,000 tonnes of wheat had rotted this year alone and tonnes of wheat are still rotting in the open in Punjab, while farmers are ready with their next harvest.
Do Not subsidize Poor at the Cost of Small and Marginal Farmers:
We fear that the faulty policies of the UPA government towards poor Public Distribution System (PDS) as well as ban on exports of food grains would be detrimental for the Indian farmers especially the wheat and rice growers who have been offered slight increase in Minimum Support Price (MSP) even though prices of these commodities are quite high in the international market. The only excuse for the government to keep MSP low is to subsidize food for the poor at the cost of the farmers’ profit. And this is being justified on the pretext that there is lack of funds for paying higher price for procuring foodgrains which would increase cost of food for poor but the government has no shame in giving a subsidy of more than Rs.500,000 crore to corporate sector in the form of direct and indirect tax concessions, write offs etc in the 2010-11 budget alone. This kind of pro-corporate and anti-farmers policies of the Indian government are forcing farmers to quit agriculture.
We demand that government should divert the monitory benefits given to Corporates towards providing subsidized food to the poor as well as paying higher procurement price to the farmers who are struggling hard to feed the people of India despite high cost of production, high inflation and increasing food crisis. Given this, we demand that the government of India
- Must implement Swaminathan Committee recommendations for MSP which should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production.
- Must increase the MSP for wheat to Rs.2200 per quintal because the cost of wheat production comes to around Rs.1600 per quintal. We reject the mere Rs.20 increase in the MSP for wheat for this year.
- Must increase the MSP for Sugarcane crop to Rs.300 per quintal.
- Immediately expedite the procurement of rice crop in Punjab and Haryana.
No to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs):
The BKU farmers are quite upset with the UPA-2 agenda for trade liberalization through speeding up of the FTA negotiations to liberalize agricultural imports to India. We fear that the 30 odd FTAs which the government of India is negotiating with the highly industrial countries like US, EU, Israel, Australia and others would provide market access to their agribusiness and their heavily subsidized agricultural commodities. This is highly detrimental to India’s rural food producers and production. We are shocked that in a democracy like ours no consultations have been carried out of such FTAs and all the deals are being done behind closed doors, while our livelihoods, markets and biodiversity are being traded away. Such lack of transparency is unacceptable to us. We demand that agriculture and agricultural related activities must be kept out of any FTA negotiations India is engaging with.
No Trade/ Agricultural Ties with the U.S. during Obama’s visit:
We would also like register our strongest protest against signing of any kind of agreement during the forthcoming visit of the US President Barak Obama in India in early November. We don’t want any bilateral agreement on agriculture with the US on the line of Indo US Knowledge Initiative of Agriculture, whether in the field of trade, biotechnology or irrigation. We appeal to UPA that they do not allow any market access in agricultural trade to United States, which the latter has been aspiring to gain through failed Doha negotiations, through a bilateral Indo US trade deal.
No Acquisition of Farmers Land for Development Projects and SEZs:
We demand that the state and the Centre governments must stop all land acquisition in the name of ‘public purpose’. There must not be any forceful acquisition of farmers land and selling of the land by the government, acquired on the pretext of “public purpose”, to Corporates for any development projects or SEZ. The government must stop to act like a ‘middle man’ in acquiring farmers land for Corporates. The government must soon amend the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 in consultation with farmers and the definition of “public purpose” in the Act should be clearly defined and specified. In case land is needed for public purposes like hospital building, defence purposes; market rates should be paid to the farmers.
We demand that the proposed GAIL India pipeline project in Uttrakhand should be built alongside roads, canals and railway lines so that farmers lands are not disturbed. In case acquisition of farmers land is absolutely necessary for gas pipeline, we demand that market rates must be paid to the affected farmers.
Reduce Interest rate to 4% for all Agricultural Loans:
We would like to demand that the government, as per the recommendation of the Swaminathan Committee report of 2007, must fix a maximum interest rate of 4% on all agricultural loans. With the increasing cost of production and increasing food inflation, this would be a big relief for the Indian farmers and would help in preventing the farmers’ suicide in the country. We also like to reiterate our demand for a complete debt relief not only from institutional debt but also of private money lenders. Moreover, it is a known fact that most of the agricultural loans meant for small and marginal farmers are being diverted to big agri-corporations. We therefore demand that instead of providing credit facility to agribusiness, the UPA government bring policy to provide agricultural credit to small and marginal farmers at the nominal rate of interest.
Strengthen Extension Department of Agriculture:
We demand that given the poor state of our agriculture, the government of India must ensure increased public investment in strengthening the extension department of the Ministry of Agriculture, which was the backbone of Indian agriculture during the green revolution. The complete breakdown of the extension services of the agriculture department has resulted in farmers being completely dependent on the private agents or seed shops owner for any advice on agriculture practices.
Crop Insurance to Compensate Farmers in case of Natural Calamity:
We would like to draw your kind attention on the anomaly in the current Crop Insurance Scheme where a block or tehsil (not even a village) is considered as a unit and unless a natural calamity hit the whole block or tehsil, farmers are not compensated. We therefore demand that under the Crop Insurance Scheme, each farmer and his/her crop should be considered as a unit. In case of natural calamity like drought, floods, fire, hailstorm or frost which destroys standing crop of a farmer or groups of farmers, they must get compensation. The UPA government must also institute a policy for an Emergency Fund to compensate farmers (who don’t have crop insurance) in case of a natural calamity like drought, floods, fire, hailstorm or frost.
Medical Facilities and Insurance:
In a time of increasing liberalization and inflation, farmers are not able to cope up with the cost of living at the low income they receive. Getting access to medical services is increasingly difficult or impossible for many food producers. We demand that medical facilities and insurance are provided to farmers for free just as they are to other government servants.
Timely Provision of Fertilizers:
For the past years, farmers have not been receiving fertilizers in a timely fashion and they have to rely on the black market. We demand that fertilizer quotas and provisions are begun one month before the sowing season.
Impose Permanent Ban on GMOs:
The BKU farmers demand for a permanent ban on the research, production, and imports of all genetically modified seeds, crops and foods. Instead of promoting GMOs, we demand that the government must support ecological agriculture and provide proper incentives for growing toxic free foods through organic farming.
We also demand that all the Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) signed by the public agricultural institutes and universities with the multinational corporations, biotech companies and agribusiness must be scrapped. Through these MoUs, the big corporations are taking over the research, knowledge and resources of our public agricultural institutions for their profit.
Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, State President, BKU Punjab,
Gurnam Singh, State President, BKU Haryana,
S.S. Cheema, BKU Uttrakhand,
Rakesh Tikait, BKU U.P.
Yudhvir Singh, Spokesman, BKU (+91-9868146405).