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Lives of Peasants in India #14

Ankur Verma |
Nurjamal Haq: A peasant from Dhubri district of Assam.
Nurjamal Haq

Newsclick Image by Sumit

The year 2017 saw an outpouring of farmers’ protests sweeping the country. To understand why they happened, NewsClick presents a series of profiles of farmers from different parts of India, based on interviews done by students from Delhi, guided by the Society for Social & Economic Research (SSER). See Introduction to series.

Nurjamal Haq, a 46 year old farmer, is from Pasuarkhal (Part I) village in Dhubri district of Assam. Pasuarkhal is, for the purposes of administration, divided into three small villages -- Part I, Part II and Part III. At the time of 2011 Census, the total population of Pasuarkhal was 2413, and that of Pasuarkhal (Part I) was 553. Only 110 households lived in Pasuarkhal (Part I) at that time. The National Highway 17 passes through Pasuarkhal. The 2011 Census records that very few modern amenities and services are available in Pasuarkhal. There is a ration shop, an anganwadi (in Part III), 5 primary schools and 1 middle school (in Part III). A Primary Health Centre and a sub post office are available 5 kms away. For all other services, including banking services, secondary health facilities and high school, people of Pasuarkhal have to go to Bilasipara town, about 10 kms away. As per the 2011 Census, agricultural land accounted for about 74 per cent of Pasuarkhal. A little less than half of the agricultural land had access to some irrigation facilities.

Nurjamal Haq's household has 1.3 acres of land. Of this, 1 acre is low lying land. Four years ago, height of the road adjoining his land was raised, which blocked the path of drainage from his land. Despite objections by affected cultivators, no culvert was built for the rain water to drain. As a result, for the last three years, the land gets flooded every year during monsoons, and Nurjamal has not been able to grow the monsoon paddy. Monsoon paddy is the mainstay of agriculture and food security of rural households in the region. In the kharif season this year, he took the risk and planted paddy on a third of this land, hoping that he might be able to get some produce if it does not flood too much. However, everything was washed away, causing him a loss of Rs. 5260 he had spent in buying seeds, fertilisers, hiring tractor and workers.

In the summer of 2017, he had planted a crop of summer (boro) paddy on the whole one acre low lying land. He spent Rs. 2,400 on seeds and Rs. 7440 on fertilisers (180 kg of urea, 300 kg of super phosphate and 120 kg of Muriate of Potash). Given that it rains very little during this season, he had to spend Rs. 7,000 to irrigate the crop using a pumpset. His total paid out expenditure for the summer paddy -- including cost of all inputs, hired labour and machinery -- works out to have been Rs. 33,220. The total value of output from paddy -- 20 quintals of grain and about 12 quintals of hay -- was only about Rs. 34,000, leaving him with a net income of just Rs. 780 from one acre of summer paddy.

On the remaining 0.3 acre land, which is at a higher level and is not flooded during monsoons, Nurjamal cultivated mustard in the rabi season (Oct-Dec, 2016) and jute in the kharif season (Apr-Sep, 2017). Cost of cultivation of mustard is relatively low. Nurjamal incurred a paid out expenditure of Rs. 2,384. With 3.6 quintals of mustard valued at Rs. 2500 per quintal, he managed to get a net income (over paid out cost) of Rs. 6,616 from this crop. Nurjamal told us that, thanks to demonetisation, prices of mustard fell from Rs. 3,500 per quintal to Rs. 2,500 per quintal, the price at which he sold his crop, and then to as low as Rs. 2,000 per quintal.

Nurjamal was very agitated when he talked about demonetisation. He said, "with demonetisation, our lives were set on fire". He stood in the queue at around 3 AM hoping to get some money, but was told in the evening that there was no money left. Prices of rabi crops fell sharply as traders were unwilling to buy anything. Although Nurjamal managed to sell his mustard crop, the trader held back payment for want of cash, and gave him money only two months later. With no payment from buyers of their produce, cultivators like Nurjamal were forced to buy inputs on credit. In the desperate situation that the peasants were, input dealers charged exorbitant, "whatever they wished", prices.

For jute cultivation, Nurjamal spent Rs. 800 to buy 4 kg of seeds. He applied two bags of urea, 80 kg of super phosphate and 40 kg of Muriate of Potash, all costing him Rs. 2680. Adding the cost of other inputs, machinery, hired labour and other expenses, his total paid out expenditure on jute works out to Rs. 11,131. A considerable amount of labour goes into retting, stripping, drying and carrying of jute. Harvested jute is kept in a pond for several days to separate fibers from the stalk. Workers then stand in the pond, and strip out the fiber from each stalk. These are then carried and dried. Nurjamal got 7 quintals of jute from his land, which was sold for Rs. 17,500. Accounting for the value of by-products (jute sticks), the income from jute cultivation over paid out expenditure works out to Rs. 8,369.

Putting all this together, we get a picture of another peasant who suffered crop losses and got meagre incomes from agriculture. The total income over paid out expenses, from a whole year of work on 1.3 acres of land, was just Rs. 10,505. If we account for the value of their own labour and resources, the household incurred a loss of Rs. 12,000 over a year.

Nurjamal and his two sons also have a small welding workshop in which they make grills and iron gates. While agriculture gives them very little income, in the past, they have survived on income from this workshop. However, even this work has suffered greatly over the last year. The workshop was shut for about two months after demonetisation was announced. Although the work started again once cash was back in circulation, with depleted incomes in agriculture, demand for such work has also taken a severe hit.

Ankur Verma is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Part 1 of the series can be read here.

Part 2 of the series can be read here.

Part 3 of the series can be read here

Part 4 of the series can be read here

Part 5 of the series can be read here

Part 6 of the series can be read here

Part 7 of the series can be read here

Part 8 of the series can be read here

Part 9 of the series can be read here

Part 10 of the series can be read here

Part 11 of the series can be read here

Part 12 of the series can be read here

Part 13 of the series can be read here

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.


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