Farmer’s Suicide and Land Acquisition Bill: Was Gajendra killed by AAP’s Nero-like Apathy?

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Very few things hit one as much as the suicide of someone whose entire life’s mission is to feed us.  The farmer.

Ostensibly to back the interests of the farmers on the Land Acquisition Bill issue, Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party decided to have a rally in Delhi.  In that rally, a farmer committed suicide.  The sad thing is that the this suicide was waiting to happen!  And, in a way, to control the narrative perhaps, Kejriwal wanted to make sure that the media was kept away from the area.  And, media like acquiescing pussies, agreed very readily as well?

    Now, let us look into the whole incident and the events that transpired in a systematic way. A farmer from Rajasthan, Gajendra Singh Rajput, ostensibly an AAP supporter, goes up on the tree and sits there with his cloth around his neck, very precariously placed on the tree.  He keeps sitting there threatening to commit suicide for over 2 hours!!  Even though the leaders like Ashutosh and Kumar Vishwas see him, they simply do lip service of gesturing him to come down.  The rally and the lectures on the dais aren’t stopped however.  After over two hours of sitting there agitating, Gajendra uses the AAP scarf and hangs himself. Even then, Arvind Kejriwal continues with his speech.  The farmer is brought down.  None of the AAP leaders care.  A man – a supporter at that – has committed suicide, yet no one is impacted.  Not even a word of concern or sympathy! He is taken to the hospital and declared dead on arrival.  Kejriwal is still continuing with his speech.  Not a word still except the whole blame game of farmer’s suicide on Modi.  Instead, Nero-like, Arvind Kejriwal justifies the suicide!  

 

Could Gajendra’s life been saved?

Gajendra was on the tree in a precarious position for two hours.  Listen to the eye-witnesses:

Sachin Pilot echoes what this guy is saying to Zee TV.

  Some of the AAP supporters are suggesting that the rally could not be stopped    

Really? How about 2-3 main leaders walking off the stage and going to the farmer and getting him down when he was sitting there for over 2 hours?  How about some concern by the leaders on the stage?  On the contrary, this is what people saw happening on the stage AFTER the news that the farmer was dead had been flashed on the TVs everywhere.

Screen captures from TV when farmer's death news had already come.  No sympathy or concern!
Screen captures from TV when farmer’s death news had already come. No sympathy or concern!

 

Instead of doing anything – helping Gajendra down or even saying anything from the stage, Ashutosh has the audacity to make fun of the whole incident by chiding those who question their decision to not acted at all!

 

This one statement – after gross inaction on part of all the AAP leaders in face of someone having committed suicide is completely unacceptable!

Clearly, the AAP had something in their mind when they wanted the media to be away from the morning itself!  What is shameful is the whole Nero-like inaction by Arvind Kejriwal and his coterie as a human being hanged himself in front of them and no concern or sympathy came forth.  Not even from a poet like Kumar Vishwas!  One wonders what state has the nation come to when a live human being dies in front of a poet, and he keeps smiling and behaving as if nothing happened! (see the TV captures above!)

Farmer’s suicide: Are these farmer’s death or poor dying?

This is an important question.  Why?  because we need to understand if a person who is committing suicide is dying because he is a farmer or because he is poor?  Before we go forward, let us understand that farming – specifically subsistence farming is the MOST risky venture anyone can undertake.  As the prices of the inputs – fertilizers, pesticides etc go up, and the returns of the output go down, with no access to credit or loans for the poor subsistence farmer, the venture – farming – is inherently loss making!  And the government has not been able to provide a viable agricultural insurance subsidy to the farmers.  This area is a virtual grave-yard of schemes that have failed and withdrawn!

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A detailed investigation by some UK researchers found the following to be the main reasons for suicide:

Investigations by researchers from the Cambridge University’s Department of Sociology and University College London’s Department of Political Science has found that rates of suicide are highest in areas with the most debt-ridden farmers who are clinging to tiny smallholdings – less than one hectare – and are trying to grow cash crops such as cotton and coffee that are highly susceptible to global price fluctuations.

Farmers at highest risk have three characteristics: those that grow cash crops such as coffee and cotton; those with ‘marginal’ farms of less than one hectare; and those with debts of Rs 300 or more. States in which these characteristics are most prevalent had the highest suicide rates. These characteristics accounted for almost 75% of the variability in state-level suicides.

Even P. Sainath, perhaps the Indian researcher who has done the most work on farmers suicides says the same thing:

A big problem as per Sainath has been that because of globalization and extreme privatization (the latter may be an extreme view, for private corporates can be detrimental – monopoly of cotton seeds in Mahyco is an example, but it can be good also if it gives farmers better prices and assured purchase of their crops – through say contract farming), difficulty in getting loans, high rates of interest, high intensity of cash crop plantation leading to severe water stress like say sugarcane in Maharashtra, and other kinds of dubious policy decisions like making alcohol from rice over using rice to feed the poor or letting it go to market in Maharashtra, all these kinds of decisions have made the farmers believe that the government is not going to solve their problems. And with the climate playing truant more often than not, I guess the hopes of farmers may well be receding.

But if the subsistence farming is inherently loss making from get go, specially these days – even if you don’t factor in the vagaries of weather – why are the poor in Indian rural areas still doing farming?  Because they have no other means of livelihood!

That the poor small farmer is brought to a point of death is NOT because of the fact that nothing is being done to “save a farmer”, but because nothing is being done to give him an alternative source of income!  Because inherently, besides heavily subsidizing him, there is little else one can do.

Every year USD 20 billion are budgeted for MNREGA of which only 3% reaches the poor – as per CAG report a few years back.  Since one vehicle of $20 billion of doles is there, it would have been smart to see to it that at least all or most of it reaches the poor – who happens to be the subsistence farmer.  This is where Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana of Modi was so critical.  Simply increasing the ROI for MNREGA for the poor!  That is no small thing!

The next step has to be creating an alternative source of income.  The opportunity cost for loss making farming for the subsistence farmer is NO FOOD!  For, even though his farming is negative income venture, it does give him some food, which wouldn’t come his way without his farming.  That is the kind of situation the poor farmer is in.

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says this in its paper “From Subsistence to Profits”:

Smallholders in developing countries play a key role worldwide in this food security equation.

They supply a large share of global agricultural output and are among the poorest and most food insecure people in the world. However, smallholders are not a homogeneous group but rather a diverse set of households with varying farm and household characteristics. Smallholder farm systems are also not a permanent phenomenon that should be maintained at all costs. Whereas some smallholders have the potential to shift from subsistence farming to commercially oriented and profitable farming systems, others have more opportunities to improve their livelihood strategies outside of the agricultural sector.

 The missing puzzle: Land Acquisition Bill

The Land Acquisition Bill brought out by the Modi government aims to impact the rural unemployment and poverty situation by opening up ways to use the land in rural areas for industrial development.

Here is a list of the changes that are being brought in:

  1. Limiting the industrial corridor to 1 km on both sides of highways and railway lines. This is limited to industrial corridors being set up by the government only.
  2. Employment for at least one member of farm labour families which are affected due to displacement and land acquisition
  3. Removal of exemption from consent clause extended earlier to five sectors has been taken away from social infrastructure projects under PPP model. SIA will be conducted for such projects also.
  4. Acquisition to be of bare minimum land
  5. Survey to be undertaken of wastelands
  6. Hassle-free grievance redressal to be undertaken at district level and creation of a quasi-judicial authority
  7. Social Impact Assessment has been made a prerogative for the state governments
  8. States can create land banks of vacant land for development projects

These changes are over and above  the earlier amendments moved through an ordinance where the government had added five sectors (defence, rural infra, affordable housing, industrial corridors, infra and social infra projects including PPP) to a list that would not require owners’ consent while acquiring land as well as exempted them from submitting a social impact assessment (SIA) and removal of restriction on acquisition of multi-crop lands for these sectors. The last social infra projects including PP have been removed from the exemption list.

Most of the criticism to these changes that are being brought about by the bill voiced by different characters seems superficial and uninformed.  Here are some of the reasons why:

MOST PROJECTS under these heads will be govt-led or govtinspired & belong to key infrastructure & security areas that increase public good. Spectre of business baron profi teering out of sarkari munifi cence doesn’t quite apply.

FOR EVERYTHING else, the Modi land law and the Congress land law is the same. So, there’s no special favour to business there.

Ok, Even if Rich are not being especially Favoured, is Modi Law Still Hurting Poor?

THIS CENTRES on removal of the SIA and 80% consent rule from those 5 areas. But consider, fi rst, that SIA’s ambit in the Congress law is so broad that for critical projects in infrastructure and security, calculations can go on endlessly and costs can really go up. And the 80% rule means, hold outs by a few landowners can cause major delays in big, necessary projects.

THEREFORE, THIS is a compromise between social and economic policy imperatives. For a car factory, there’ll be SIA. But, for say, a rural electrifi cation project or an apartment block for low-income people or a project like Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, there won’t be a SIA.

PLUS, NO compromise has been made on compensation formula. Farmers, on whose behalf every political party is agitating, get 4 times the market value of land they own.

ALSO, MODI law brings in 13 areas not covered by the Cong law and landowners will now get high rates for compensation for land acquired for coal & mining projects, metro construction, nuclear projects, roads, etc.

So, if one looks at it closely – one of the big goal of the bill is not just to open up the land for better returns and opportunities for livelihood.  Which is what the small farmers and their progeny may REALLY need!!

As for how the “private companies (aka Sharks)” will usurp the poor farmer’s land and leave them poor?  Remember the Nano plant?  How Mamta Bannerjee had raised a huge hue and cry to force Tatas to close the plant in Singrur – because of this very argument?  Well, in Modi’s “communal Gujarat”, where Tata moved its Nano plant to, the story was a very interesting and arguably a much happier one!

Remember the Nano plant which Gujarat snatched from the lazy Bengal?  Well, the land given to them was next to a majority Muslim village.  At that time, the land prices there were Rs 400,000 a hectare.  Now, in just 6 years, the prices have risen 25 times to Rs 1 crores a hectare.  This is not just the “Market Price” but the price at which theGovernment is buying the land from the farmers.  What does this mean for ordinary folks?

Bashir Khan Pathan (28), a farmer, is expecting close to Rs 10 crore for his 9.5 hectares.   Among other imminent crorepatis are Samratkhan Pathan who is looking at a figure of Rs 3.92 crore andMohammad Hanif Rajpura who hopes to get Rs 1.65 crore.

And, no one had to do anything specific for any one group.  Just make development happen indiscriminately.  And everyone benefits!

Talati of Kalana village Hari Jadav said, “After Muslims, the main beneficiaries will be Thakore and Bharwad communities.”

It is obvious what the Congress and the BSPs, SPs etc do and what Modi does.  By throwing Nano out, how the heck did Mamata Bannerjee think that she can  give enough food on the table for anyone, forget the Muslims?

For theoretical argument’s sake, we can blame the land acquisition for all the ills of mankind.  But when we look at it properly, one wonders if that may well be the ONLY way – along with Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana – to pull the farmers off of the suicide spiral that they are current hurled into because of lack of opportunities and land holdings and odds that are heavily stacked against them!

 

 

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