“Assertion of democratisation is necessary to eradicate the inequality in the agricultural sector”: An interview with P Sainath (II)
The recent protests by farmers all over the country has brought the existence of inequality in the agricultural sector to the limelight.
India is an agrarian country, where 54 percent of its 1.3bn population depend on agriculture and allied activities for their livelihood. However, the contribution of this sector to the GDP has remained stagnant at 16-17 percent over the years, in sharp contrast to the services sector which although constitutes 50 percent of the GDP employs only 30 percent of the population.
Despite a significant increase in food production and abundant rainfall last year, India’s farmers are on the streets once again.
Ramon Magsaysay awardee and journalist P Sainath has been actively engaged in bringing out issues pertaining to the agricultural sector for years now. The Manipal Journal had the chance to interact with the renowned journalist for an exclusive interview on the agrarian crisis. Here are excerpts from the second interview of the two part series:
The MS Swaminathan committee had recommended on fixing the minimum support prices at least 50 percent more than the cost of production. This was one of the key promises in the election manifesto of the BJP government. On these lines, a lot of pro farmer reforms have also been mentioned in the 2017 budget. However, there has been a poor implementation of the promises. What are your opinions about this?
I don’t think the government had any intention of implementing these promises. The National Commission on Farmers (NCF) headed by Dr. Swaminathan, provided four volumes of a report and a draft policy on the farm crisis. These volumes are lying in the parliament since 2006-07. Ten years have passed; neither has the parliament conducted a discussion on this, nor had the media ever addressed the same.
The new government came to power with the promise of implementing those recommendations and doubling the farmers’ income by 2020. But they immediately changed their stance. It is 2017 already and farmers are out on the streets stating that they are losing income.
While addressing the parliament in 2007, I demanded the need to have a special session of parliament just to discuss the agrarian crisis. During this session, we should have testimonials, not from corporates and lobbies or even from me but by those who have suffered the crisis. It should also include discussions about the credit support systems, climate change, water crisis and various committee reports. To initiate this, we need to firstly place it on the national agenda.
Do you think the government is concentrating more on the big corporations and not the agricultural sectors? Has the agricultural sector been taken for granted due to the lack of power it holds over the government, unlike the major corps?
Farmers don’t have organised power that corporations do. Corporations run this country. Increasingly consolidating as a corporate state, the Indian government is more or less like an executive committee of corporate power.
And who are the media? They are owned by corporations. Who are the politicians? Many of them are businessmen who have entered politics. They are also media businessmen. For example, we have the Marans who account for 60 percent of all the cable distribution in Tamil Nadu. No channel could do without Jayalalitha’s say.
This has given media convergence a whole new meaning. This is a non-technological convergence between big media houses, businesses and political parties. It’s a very incestuous relationship.
Those who belong to corporate media fail to understand that agriculture is not just about output. It is about the livelihood that millions of people are sustaining on. When you take that away, what will you give them in return? A highly skilled farmer who knows how to make the soil speak will not find a job in the MNCs. Even if he does, he will be seen giving out chai and coffee in the office canteen. What a great use of his skills!
There is a need to understand the difference between livelihood and corporate profit. Street vendors are increasingly finding it difficult to reach the produce because wholesalers are directly selling it to the supermarkets. Our great Silicon Valley Bengaluru, which is almost unliveable is the perfect example of the ruins of urbanisation and industrialisation.
You mentioned about the growth of inequality in this country and how almost bottom 30 percent of the Indian society effectively own nothing and the top 10 percent own more than what the bottom 90 percent does. Are land reforms a solution to this?
The first thing is to end the inequality. The ways to do so are embedded in our constitution. The first paragraph of the directive principles of state policy itself mentions that we should end the social, economic and political inequality and that the economic system shall be used for the betterment of all, not just exploitation of the few.
The preamble talks about social, political and economic justice. Our constitution is firmly anti-inequality. It speaks of different rights that include employment, nutrition, health, free and compulsory education and the like. Funnily, implementation of such basic principles in present times would be a revolutionary act.
As far as corporations trying to hinder land reforms is concerned, India has to be more democratic. The bureaucracy, caste hierarchy and corporations will definitely come up against you. Do you stop? You don’t.
Featured Image: Niharika Nambiar
Edited By Shriya Ramakrishnan.