Monday, June 05, 2006

The rising import of 'suicides'

Jaideep Hardikar in his article (The rising import of 'suicides'), tries to find answers to the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha and other parts of India. Why are farmers committing suicides? Is it drought, irrigation, financial support, market volatility? Why are they perennially indebted? What is the role of India's import policies?

He concludes that both local and global policies have pushed farmers to the brink.
Farmers' leader in Wardha Vijay Jawandhia once remarked: "If I were given a choice, I would like to be born as a European cow, but certainly not as an Indian farmer, in my next birth." There, a cow gets a US $ 2 subsidy per day and enjoys all the comforts. "And here, in India, a farmer is a debtor all his life. Post his death, his son inherits his debts and has to borrow money for his funeral."
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Notes Devinder Sharma, a policy analyst: "A complicated and veiled system of tariffs allows western countries to protect their tiny farming populations while millions of farmers in developing countries are swamped under a tide of cheap imports." While cotton prices have declined by more than 60 percent since 1995, U.S. subsidies to its barely 25,000 cotton farmers reached 3.9 billion dollars in 2001-02, double the level of subsidies in 1992. Interestingly, the value of subsidies provided by American taxpayers to the cotton barons of Texas and elsewhere in 2001 exceeded the market value of cotton output by 30 per cent.
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The past decade of liberalization policies have pushed the peasantry to a point of no return. Ironically, though tragically, the government preferred to stand by the market, not the bullied farmers, all these years. It preferred to announce special packages than to correct the policies. It punished small-time moneylenders than caning the giant loan sharks, who sat sometimes on the treasury benches within the system. It's procurement centres have refused to pay a farmer his little legitimate price but gleefully waived hundreds of crores of rupees on excise and other taxes of the corporate industries. It paid for the teeming Metro's (here, read Mumbai) wasteful extravagance and vulgar extravaganza, but in a tearing hurry withdrew whatever little villages have enjoyed.
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The reasons for the distress therefore are policy-driven. It's not the lack of implementation, but the policies themselves that are at the root of the prevailing crisis, and the crisis-driven distress suicides in the region. It's also not, as some newspapers suggest, a successive spell of drought that has hit the farmers, but a perennial drought of good policies. It's not the lack of reforms but the fast-track reforms that are at the root. Add to it the lopsided 'open market' economy weighed inherently against the marginal farmers. Distress is devouring the region at a much greater pace in the wake of open markets, not otherwise. All this, and the state government's failure to protect the peasantry are taking their toll on the region's agricultural economy, as they do in any other part of the country as well.
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Jawandhia remarks, "It is increasingly becoming difficult to farm in an agricultural country like India." It's only ironical that food producers are starving, while the purchasers have stocks beyond their consumption limit.

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