Saturday, March 23, 2013

Government to meet with panels of farmers regarding land acquisition bill

Centre to set up panel to study demands of agitating farmers

By: Gargi Parsai

BJP president Rajnath Singh interacting with Rakesh Tikait, son of the late BKU leader Mahender Singh Tikait, on the third day of farmers’ stir in New Delhi on Wednesday. The agitation was later called off.– PHOTO: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
BJP president Rajnath Singh interacting with Rakesh Tikait, son of the late BKU leader Mahender Singh Tikait, on the third day of farmers’ stir in New Delhi on Wednesday. The agitation was later called off.– PHOTO: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Centre on Wednesday decided to form a panel which will look into the major demands of farmers with regard to FDI in retail affecting small farmers, keeping agriculture out of Free Trade Agreements and providing ‘fair and remunerative’ price for farm produce.

The decision came after a two hour-long meeting between a group of Ministers from related departments headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and representatives of the agitating farmers under the banner of Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements.

On the third day of the farmers’ agitation here, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formed a committee of concerned ministries headed by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to meet farmers’ representatives on their demands. Besides Mr. Pawar, the committee comprised Jairam Ramesh, K.V. Thomas, Srikant Jena, Namo Narain Meena and D. Purandeswari.

After the meeting Mr. Pawar told journalists that a “smaller panel” will look into their grievance that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail will be unfavourable for small and marginal farmers and hit livelihoods.
The Minister said that the committee, which will also have farmers’ representatives, will also look into their demand for fair and remunerative price for farm produce as against the minimum support price set by the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices. It will also look at their demand that agriculture be taken out of the Free Trade Agreements that the government enters into with other countries so that there is no dumping of farm produce in the country.

“For their concerns on the Land Acquisition Bill, they will separately meet Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh,” Mr. Pawar said.

Asked about their demand for a Farmers Income Guarantee Act to ensure a minimum income for farmers, Mr. Pawar said, “these are the three demands we have agreed to.”

Agitation called off
“The meeting with the government is the first step in the process,” farmers leaders Rakesh Tikait and Yudhvir Singh said. They later called off the agitation. Earlier, BJP leader Rajnath Singh addressed the farmers and assured them that if his party comes to power he will seriously look into their demand for assured minimum income and crop insurance. Chairman of the Standing Committee on Agriculture Basudev Acharya while addressing farmers said that FDI in retail will not benefit either farmers or traders. He said there should be a separate budget on agriculture. Thousands of farmers from all parts of the country were on dharna since Monday to press their demands.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


New Delhi, March 19, 2013: On the second day of a large farmers’ rally in the heart of India’s capital here today, the Mahapanchayat (great assembly) of farmers and agriculture workers resolved to stay put until their demands are met. In a historical new formation, people’s movements and large farmers’ unions have come together to defend land rights and protect farm livelihoods. Lambasting the government for its anti-farmer policies, speaker after speaker rejected government’s development paradigm, which neglects rural India and agri livelihoods. The night saw thousands of farmers sleeping on Parliament Street in the open, with the government choosing to ignore them. “We are the Anna Daatas who keep the nation alive and the government cannot continue with its impoverishment policies towards farmers. More people are headed towards Delhi now and it looks like the government will respond only when an issue reaches a flash point”, said Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.
The main demands of the Mahapanchayat include: (a) no land acquisition and taking back the land acquisition bill with its amendments to the standing committee, (b) enacting a farmers’ income guarantee act, (c) cancel free trade agreements, (d) promote ecological farming and stop toxic technologies like GMOs and pesticides.

The large gathering was addressed by farmers leaders and activists like Naresh Tikait, Yudhvir Singh, Ajmer Singh Lokhowal, Chukki Nanjundaswamy, Chellamuthu, Gurnam Singh, Medha Patkar, Ulka Mahajan, Kavitha Kuruganti etc.

Two years ago, empty promises were made to us by the government; this was by the Prime Minister himself making assurances to us on March 8th, 2011. This is tantamount to cheating the largest chunk of citizens of the country and this is unacceptable. If the government does not act this time to respond to this non-violent movement, it would only reinforce the public perception and knowledge that the government is deaf to the needs of its citizens”, said a statement from the Panchayat.

The assembly saw many women farmers joining actively in the rally. Yesterday, there was a symbolic burning of the government’s land acquisition bill to show that it was unacceptable to the gathering. The Mahapanchayat also declared that unless the PMO responds to their demands, they will not move out.

For more information, contact: Dharmendar Kumar: 9219691168; Kannaiyan: 9444989543; Ashlesha: 9900200771. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Farmers and other peoples' movements form alliance, mobilize in Delhi to stop land grabbing and defend agriculture

A prop of a GMO Bt Brinjal, being tossed around and
eventually destroyed by farmers who are
demanding sustainable agriculture instead
A historic mobilization of more than 1 lakh farmers, farm workers and agrarian masses belonging to a wide variety of social movements from across India descended upon New Delhi today. Protestors at the “Kisan Khet Mazdoor Mahapanchayat” in Jantar Mantar came all the way to the Indian capital to show their collective commitment to reversing the ongoing agrarian crisis. The government's responsibility for this crisis lies in its overenthusiasm for liberalization reforms, which ultimately support foreign investors, corporations and elite consumers instead of the agrarian masses and common people of India. Farmers from the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers' Movements (ICCFM), which comprises of independent mass farmers groups such as the Bhartiya Kisan Union and the Karnataka Farmers Movement (KRRS), have joined hands with the largest alliance of peoples' movements in India called the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) in order to defend Indian people's access to land, water, forest and seeds – the most important resources of agrarian people, and the source of food and livelihood for the Indian masses.

Addressing the masses at Jantar Mantar, Naresh Tikait, National Chairperson of BKU said, “Millions of food producers are being forced to abandon agriculture and leave the villages in search of insecure, unavailable jobs. Or they are pushed to even commit suicide in lakhs. At this rate, there will be only a small number of farmers left in the country very soon. If the Indian government continues to promote unharnessed industrialization and elite consumerism then where will the water and electricity come from for such large industrial projects and what will be the impact on nature and the poor?”
Speaking on the land acquisition act, Rakesh Tikait of BKU said, Agriculture has been turned into a losing way of life: our lands, the main resource for our livelihoods, are being grabbed for private corporations. We have been trying to get the attention of the government but they have no time for the farmers, they make false verbal commitment. But this time our coordination committee of farmers have made a resolution that we will not move from Delhi until we get a serious commitment from the UPA government. In fact we have made a call to farmers from across the country to come to Delhi to join our struggle.”

All the farmers leaders collectively burned the Land Acquisition & Resettlement and Rehabilition Act 2011, which is currently high on the national political agenda. Although farmers support a new land bill, they absolutely do not support the current form of the bill which has ignored the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee and converted the bill into an instrument for taking away farm land for private corporations. Medha Patkar of the NAPM said, “The first right over land is of farmers, so that they can produce food for the Indian masses, and have a livelihood. The bill should be returned to the parliamentary standing committee. Instead of grabbing more land the government should tell us first what it is doing with all the land that it has already taken from people over the last so many years, not even providing compensation or rehabilitation to the poor who have given up their land. The Indian government cannot grab our land for private corporations at any cost.”. 

In the five-point list of demands created by the mahapanchayat, farmers' income was pointed out as a major issue for farmers. “The average income of a farming household is a mere 1800 Rs, not even enough to cover basic needs. Even the lowest government employee, a peon will get about 20,000 Rs. How are we expected to survive at this rate. Farmers should get a guaranteed income like all other government officials.” said Rajpal Sharma of BKU. Calling the MSP as an unjust and unscientific category which does not even cover the cost of production, they have instead asked for a profitable and remunerative price of all crops, which they call the Farmers and Remunerative Prices (FRP). Nandini Jairam of KRRS said , “The government is always proudly announcing more and more loans for the farmers. This is not going to help the farmers but to further get into debt, the main cause of farmers suicides. The government should be directly accountable for improving the net incomes of farming households and this is how we will measure the performance of the government. A National Farmers' Income Guarantee Act should be created which will assure a guaranteed income to farmers, tenants and sharecroppers by making farming remunerative.”

When asked about the performance of the agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Pankaj Bhushan of the Alliance of Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture said, “Sharad Pawar is under the influence of Monsanto. Instead of supporting the majority of the small farmers of our country, so many of whom have taken the step of committing suicide because of debt, Pawar is openly promoting controversial GMOs. Even the government's own CICR has admitted that Bt cotton has failed but Pawar continues to push for this instead of supporting successful ecological farming models that are all over the country. He is anti-farmer and anti -national.”

What we need is a secure market for our produce. even if we increase productivity through various available technologies, where will we sell our crops? If we are given a market we can produce more than any GM in the world. Instead UPA is promoting free trade agreements, such as the EU India FTA so that they can dump their produce in our country, pushing our local farmers out of business” said Yudhvir Singh of BKU.

Swami Agnivesh expressed his great contentment that at a time when a very corrupt and anti people government continues to carry out its anti people agenda, it is a great sign that peoples movements are coming together to defend the rights of the common man and especially the Anna Datas. “It is a great shame for our country that we allow the suicides of our farmers and in fact deny that farmers suicides are going on. The parliament should have an emergency special session on the agrarian crisis,” he said.
Chukki Nanjundaswamy of KRRS said, “The government has been sleeping, but this time we have come here from across the country and we will not leave Jantar Mantar unless they respond to our demands.”

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Indian Farmers and Trade Unions Protest against the EU India FTA

Farmers and Trade Unions protest against the
EU India FTA 27 Feb 2013, New Delhi
Farmers and trade unions of India have been protesting against the undemocratic EU India free trade agreement. Over the last couple of months, the alliance of organizations called the Anti FTA front has written 872 letters to important officials, organizations and political parties including the Prime Minister and the Members of Parliament about this unfair trade deal. “There are serious impacts on food security, livelihood security of millions of farmers and small retailers and we haven't even been informed or consulted about the EU India FTA,” said Rakesh Tikait of Bhartiya Kisan Union a member of La Via Campesina. In fact no impact studies have been made available even to the Indian parliament or state governments, let alone the ordinary people of India whose lives are at stake. Ironically, the Indian government has left no stone unturned to show its urgency and deep commitment to European business making media statements about its plans to swiftly conclude the EU India FTA by March this year.

The Indian government has been secretly negotiating at least 56 such Free Trade Agreements. Developed countries like of the EU are resorting more and more to Bilateral Trade Agreements with individual developing countries because they want another way to push the same free trade agenda in agriculture that was rejected unanimously by developing countries at the World Trade Organization.
Protester at an earlier Anti EU India FTA
Rally in Feb 2012

It is already well known that the benefits of the EU India FTA are skewed in the favor of EU business. EU wants to raise the market share of its primary commodity exports to India, because India is a huge market, and growing fast. The profits for EU companies will be unlimited if they can dump their products in India and even better if they can permanently displace local farmers and producers. In the name of “free trade”, the EU wants India to cut all import duties to zero levels for atleast 92% of imports, but it will not alter its own massive subsidies to its agribusiness and farm sector, ensuring that they can continue to dump subsidized farm products in the Indian market. Indian farmers who don't have any such support cannot compete with EU agribusiness. Exports from India are also blocked by the EU based on other so called non tarriff barriers like phyto-sanitary and different quality evaluation standards. “They say that free trade is supposed to be trade between equals but such free trade pacts are on a completely unequal footing. They are ending the livelihoods of farmers in developing countries” said Yudhvir Singh of the Bhartiya Kisan Union and La Via Campesina.

Several sensitive agriculture sectors which employ millions are under threat. For instance, EU's dairy companies are eyeing India's dairy sector and complaining about India's high tarrifs. It is well known that the EU has an overproduction problem in the dairy sector and are looking to dump their surplus. Small farmers in both EU and India are under threat. European milk producers have been protesting against the artificially low prices that don’t fulfill even production costs due to high milk quotas. It is the industry that gains everywhere, they pay artificially low prices for the raw material, then they process and package it and charge high prices to the consumers. They also dump products in other countries, depress producer prices there, reduce incomes and eventually increase debt. India's dairy sector is mostly self sufficient and employs about 90 million people, a majority of whom are 75 million women. The Dairy sector is a lifeline for small and marginal farmers, landless poor and a significant source of income for millions of families. India has already made an excellent global example by creating a vibrant network of cooperative milk federations and women's groups in the dairy sector. Milk cooperatives like Amul and others are great models of inclusive development that give better bargaining power and fair prices to smallholders and women milk producers. But these gains are now threatened. “The Indian government is saying that dairy is in the negative list, which means tariffs will not be reduced and our dairy sector will be protected. But this is nothing to celebrate because we know that the EU is lobbying hard to open our dairy sector and our current government which is obsessed with foreign investors cannot be trusted to protect farmers,” said S Kannaiyan of the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers movements.
2012 Protest by Health groups
and Farmers against EU India FTA

The FTA also seeks better protection for European biotechnology companies in the form of stronger intellectual property rights. This will allow European biotech firms to sell their seeds in India at any price they wish, get royalties from Indian farmers, and deprive Indian farmers from saving or exchanging seeds as is usually the custom. Already Indian farmers are reeling in debt and suffering from the failure of expensive GMOs and unaffordable private seeds imposed in agriculture at the cost of our own local seeds and biodiversity. The Bt cotton belt has turned into a suicide belt, mainly due to debt and such FTAs will further push this tendency.

There are also plans to liberalize investment provisions, financial services and banking. This means that European banks and finance companies can enter the Indian market and also that investors from the EU will get preference including over resources like land, coastal areas and water rather than local people. Such provisions facilitate takeovers of farm land and conversion from food crops to export oriented cash crops. E.g. many EU countries with biofuel targets are looking at countries like India for assured feedstock. Foreign banks are not interested in providing services or credit to the poor and rural areas, which are already excluded from the formal banking system. At a time when countries across the world are reeling under a financial crisis caused by private banks, there is a serious need to regulate this sector rather than further liberalize and deregulate them.

The EU is also demanding for the liberalization of the retail sector, thus facilitating the entry of European agro-processing and retail gaints like Carrefour and Tesco who will threaten the livelihoods of small retailers and street vendors. “the entry of such retail giants will be terrible for farmers. They will monopolize the whole food chain from procurement to distribution. We will be at the mercy of such large companies as they will have the power to set prices and also will not be interested to buy small quantities from small producers,” said Nandini Jairam of the Karnataka farmers movement – KRRS.
Bhartiya Kisan Union Farmers at protest
against EU India FTA in Feb 2012

The last thing Indian farmers or consumers need is another FTA. It will worsen the agrarian crisis and endanger our national ability to produce food. For e..g India used to be totally self sufficient in edible oil, now the government pays a very high edible oil import bill to foreign companies because it has pushed Indian oil producers and processors out of the market by allowing in cheap, subsidized and very unsustainable imports during earlier liberalization sprees. We know the environmental costs of the palm oil industry in South East Asia – they have razed down forests, driven endangered animals to death, and displaced local farmers. Imports of fish, tea, coffee, spices, and palm oil have led to drastic fall in domestic production and destruction of livelihoods. Farmers’ suicides have been high in regions growing some of these crops. By killing our farmers, our policies will also deprive the hungry from food. India already has the worst levels of hunger – half its children suffer from malnutrition and it is 67 out of 82 in the Global Hunder Index. Despite this the Indian Government is possessed by the spirits of liberalization and reforms. It is compromising the interests of Indian consumers, and local farmers who have more than enough capacity to feed the entire country with healthy, nutritious, locally produced food if supported by the right policies.