The central government led by PM Narendra Modi recently increased the minimum support price (MSP) for Kharif crops. However, the farmers’ unions that have been staging protests at the borders of Delhi for over six months have condemned this hike. How do they see this hike? What is their protest for? How do they see the struggle in the election-bound states? NewsClick talked to Hannan Mollah, General Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, to get some answers. Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation:
The central government recently announced the minimum support price for the Kharif season crops and it has turned out that it went ahead with the previous formula of fixing the price. Your organisation and Samyukta Kisan Morcha, where you play a crucial role, have called it 'neither remunerative nor commensurate'? Why is it so?
Before I answer your question, let me tell you why we have been demanding MSP. For the past 20 years, we saw numerous farmers committing suicides and the crisis remains critical in areas where means of irrigation are few. When we delved into the crisis, we found that agriculture is a loss-making venture and the farmers did not recover even the cost of production. Even today, 52 farmers commit suicide every day. We demanded that there should be an MSP which should be greater than the cost. Government formed a commission under the chairmanship of Dr M S Swaminathan. It was the best agriculture scientist who recommended that the MSP should cover the comprehensive cost plus 50% profit to make it sustainable. Now, coming back to your question, please see what costs are involved in it and how it was fixed. The government, despite our resistance, went on to fix the price through the A2+50 percent formula. Let me cite the example of paddy, which is the largest Kharif season crop, for which its A2+FL is Rs 1,293. When you add 1.5 times of this cost, we reach at Rs 1,940 per quintal. But when you take C2 for paddy, it comes around Rs 1,727 and if you add 50% profit over it, you reach the price of Rs 2,590 per quintal. A farmer today is bearing a loss of Rs 650 per quintal. This is why we are saying that the prices are neither remunerative or commensurate with the costs.
But the government and its ministers, particularly, Union Minister of Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar, recently said that the MSP regime is here to stay and nobody can touch it.
He, along with the propaganda machinery of Bharatiya Janata Party and the Godi media, is portraying a false picture. The farmers for long have understood that they are being cheated and this is why they came to the borders of Delhi to protest. The problem is that they want to keep people under a delusion that we have been paying them the full price and they are protesting for nothing. And this is what we wish to expose that they are pathological liars and telling lies to everyone.
You have also emphasised the importance of procurement by government agencies, but the people who have been close to the government say that an increased central procurement would lead to inflation. How do you respond?
It is an interesting question. We have been saying that there should be a legal guarantee of MSP which means we are simply asking that there should be a mechanism to ensure that we do not get prices lower than the MSP. We understand that the government cannot procure everything. It can only procure those things which can be distributed through the Public Distribution System. But our produce should not be sold at a price lower than the MSP. Those arguing that it would lead to inflation should answer why farmers should suffer to keep you pleased. You have no hesitation in buying a deodorant worth Rs 500 because the money goes to private players, but you certainly have a problem with the farmers getting their due share!
The movement has reached a point where it seems that you will be engaging politically with the BJP in this struggle. A lot of farmers did not join the movement with this preparation. Do you think that they will support you in this fight?
They have agreed and this is why we could fight this struggle for this long. It is them who mandated us with the task of fighting this regime and said ‘we are here with you in this struggle’. Please remember it has never happened in the history of this country that farmers continued and fought for this long in this manner. How could 500 organisations remain united in this struggle? This could happen only because the farmers gave us the single mandate “repeal laws and get the msp”. We would be an example for the world of how a long movement is fought with full determination. We are determined we will bring our struggles to fruition and we would not let it go to waste. We will lead it to its logical conclusion.
Prior to the second wave of the pandemic, the farmers’ unions declared that they will be marching to Parliament to press for their issue. Is it still on your agenda?
Of course, it is very much on our agenda. It is inevitable. It is just a matter of time. The pandemic remained a real threat to the movement and the most pernicious part is that the government used it to try and end our agitation through various slander campaigns. Prior to the march, we would be marching on foot in 600 districts across the country to sensitise the population further.
SKM has given a call for a slew of programmes including celebrating Kabir Jayanti. How did this happen?
Yes. We will be celebrating the birthday of Guru Arjan Dev on June 14, Kabir Jayanti on June 24 and ‘Save Agriculture, Save Democracy Day’ on June 26 marking seven months of the agitation. As far as Kabir is concerned, we want to highlight that it is the secular values that are very much under threat. He represented an anti-caste literary movement too which fought for equality. It is these values that we are fighting for.
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