What right does Finance Minister have to deny loan waivers to farmers?

Interview of Prabhakar Kelkar, Vice-President of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.

He says the country is sitting on a volcano with farmer unrest everywhere.

The BJP says that the protests by farmers were instigated by the Opposition parties. What is your view?

The country is sitting on a volcano. A volcano in the form of farmers’ unrest… It can erupt on any day. The farmers’ unrest has been brewing for some time in several places. No one can predict from where the volcano will erupt. In Uttar Pradesh, sugarcane farmers were protesting. In South India, coconut farmers were agitated. Mustard farmers were unhappy in Rajasthan. Peanut cultivators were protesting in Gujarat. This unrest is genuine. Opposition’s role comes later.

Though States and Centre governments have helped the farmers in production by providing water and power, the issue is with procurement and sales. For example, the governments encouraged farmers to cultivate pulses. Farmers in Madhya Pradesh got good remunerative price for green gram. Production was also good. But this year, the prices came down.

There is no policy from the Centre for deciding the income of farmers’ produce. The CACP (Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices) does not have farmers’ representatives for the last three years. We have been demanding the Centre to have at least one person from the Kisan Morcha (of the BJP) or an agriculture expert. The Government is neglecting agriculture. There have been many schemes, but none for the infrastructure development.

Perhaps much of it due to demonetisation. What is the solution?

So what is your demand?

There should be special session of Parliament at least for three days on the issues of farmers. Parliament should prepare a roadmap for the sector at least for the next five years. We had met the Lok Sabha Speaker on this. The Centre must take an initiative on this. Even though the crisis is looming large, the Centre is not holding any discussions with the farmers’ representatives.

Also, farmers need a guarantee for what they produce. We do not support the MS Swaminathan Committee report. But we demand at least 25-30 per cent increase in the MSP. We demand governmental intervention between the producers and the traders. The way the Cotton Corporation of India works is a very good example for how the government can effectively help farmers in selling their produces. FCI, NAFED and other procurement agencies failed to help the farmers in the last three years as they did not get financial support both from the Centre and the States.

Secondly, the traders who buy produce from farmers at a cost below the MSP should be punished through a law and thirdly the import duty on food grains and other agri-produce should be increased. There should be a one-umbrella policy. There should be a higher-level coordination between the Agriculture Department, Food and Civil Supplies Department and the Commerce Department.

Interestingly, he says they don’t support loan waivers. What irks them most is the easy money for industry:

How do you see the demand for farm loan waivers?

We are not in favour of farm loan waivers. But what makes us angry is the fact that the Centre has ₹15 lakh crore to distribute among 15 industrialists. In every Budget, the Centre gives the industries ₹1-2 lakh crore to address the non-performing assets of industries. So why should not the farmers get that amount?

Then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asks the States to generate money for such waivers on their own. Who is Arun Jaitley to deny loan waivers to farmers? What is the base for his stand? You have a lot of money for industries. Is industries not a state subject? Is industry a special child of the Centre? The reaction for his statement comes from the ground, from the farmers in the form of protests.

States like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan used to give bonus to farmers along with the MSP. The Union government intervened and stopped it. This bonus was used for as an investment by farmers. When they stopped paying bonus, we urged them to increase the MSP. But the increase was very marginal. So, all these issues have ended up as agitations by farmers.

The issue is that agriculture is not in the focus of policymakers. The problem started when we started industrialising the society. Politicians do not differentiate between progress and development.

The development should be based on overall progress. What development are they intending if half of the population is not allowed to progress? The progress should be based on the development of agriculture and infrastructure for agriculture. If that happens, this country will prosper.

The root cause of all this is excessive government intervention in all forms of economic life. As subsequent governments prefer one set of actor/sector over other, those left out notice and oppose.

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