Protest against ties with U.S. on agriculture
On the day U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to address the joint session of Parliament in Delhi, thousands of farmers under the banner of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) will hold a demonstration here against the government’s strategic partnership with Washington on agriculture and food security “that jeopardises indigenous farm research and allows multi-national corporations to set the agenda in the sector”.
“At the rate the government is going, the country will face a food crisis by 2020,” warned Punjab BKU president Ajmer Singh Lakhowal over the weekend.
Call to scrap MoUs
Addressing a joint press conference here with Gurnam Singh (Haryana), S.S. Cheema (Uttarakhand), Rakesh Tikait (Uttar Pradesh) and Yudhjvir Singh, Mr. Lakhowal said the government policies are anti-farmer. “We will hold a massive demonstration on November 8 against the policies of the government that are hurting farmers, the indigenous research and the food security of the country.”
Demanding that the government scrap all memorandums of understanding signed by public agricultural institutes and universities with multinational corporations, biotech companies and agri-businesses, they alleged that through these pacts big corporations were taking over for their own profits the research, knowledge and resources of India’s public agricultural institutions. “First our scientists were taken away by these corporations, now universities are being given to them for research and extension for their own benefits.”Criticising the Rs.20 per quintal hike in the minimum support price (MSP) announced recently by the government, the farmers’ leaders said that when inflation was in double digits and government servants were given 18 per cent hike in dearness allowance, farmers were given only a two per cent hike in wheat prices. As per the estimates of Punjab Agriculture University, wheat MSP should be Rs.1,650 per quintal, they said. “And if the government were to implement the recommendations of the M.S. Swaminathan Commission on Farmers, then the MSP for wheat should be Rs.2,450 per quintal. By raising it by Rs.20 per quintal the government has played a joke on farmers,” they added.
The farm leaders did not buy the argument that higher wheat MSP resulted in a higher open market price. “How come when the prices of wheat products rise, there is no inflation but if the price of wheat MSP [payable to farmers] rises there is inflation? If the price of finished cloth goes up, nobody says there is inflation but if the price of cotton goes up there is hue and cry.”
Agreeing with the Supreme Court on issuance of free foodgrains to poor people instead of allowing it to rot, the agriculture leaders said if the government could distribute grains for Rs.3 and Rs.2 per kg (as proposed by the National Advisory Council) then why not give them for free? “The problem in the country is not foodgrains production but the purchasing power of the poor people,” said Mr. Yadhuvir Singh.
Memorandum to PM
They have submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him not to enter into a strategic alliance in agriculture and food security with the U.S. and refrain from the speedy Free Trade Agreements with industrial countries like the U.S., the European Union, Israel and Australia that would provide market access to their agribusinesses and their heavily subsidised commodities. They also demanded that farm land not be acquired for development projects and SEZs.