Opposition, BJP lock horns in RS over farmers' distress
New Delhi, July 25: The Opposition and the ruling BJP on Tuesday locked horns in the Rajya Sabha over distress in the agriculture community due to which farmers have been committing suicides in large numbers.
As the House took up a discussion on the agrarian crisis, the Opposition blamed the government for the problem, accusing it of being "insensitive" towards the farmers' issues. They also sought to find faults in various policies of the government. The ruling side hit back, saying the present miserable condition of the farmers was due to the Congress party's rule of 60 years.
The BJP members said it was the Modi government which had initiated a slew of programmes for the welfare of farmers over the last three years.
Initiating the discussion on the "farmers' distress leading to rise in the incidents of thier suicide", Comgress' Digvijay Singh accused the government of being "insensitive" to plight of the agriculturists. He referred to the police firing on a violent agitation by farmers in Madhya Pradesh recently and said the agriculturists faced bullets on the centenary of Champaran agitation in which Mahatma Gandhi had raised his voice against British exploitation. He termed the imposition of import-export duties on foodgrains as one of the biggest scams. He said despite the bumper crop, import duty on wheat was reduced initially to 10 per cent from 25 per cent and then to zero in December, impacting farmers adversely as imported wheat was avaiable at cheaper prices.
Foodgrain imports, which stood at Rs 134 crore in 2014- 15, have risen to Rs 9,009 crore now, he said. Singh alleged that it was the wrong import-export policies which had led to imports of Rs 1,40,268 crore in 2015-16 as against Rs 56,000 crore in 2011-12. Quoting agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan to say that import of agricultural commodities was like outsourcing farmers' skill to outside, he said there was a need for fixing import-export levies by the Commerce Ministry in consultation with Agriculture Ministry.
Expressing concern over 42 per cent rise in incidents of suicide in 2014-15 in the country, Singh said agriculture has been reduced to loss-making proposition despite it contributing about 17 per cent to the GDP. He also alleged that there was corruption in Food Corporation of India (FCI) and National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED).
The Congress leader alleged that after demonetisation, it was restrictions on cattle sale that had hit the farmers. He quoted Savarkar as saying that he was against ban on cow slaughter. Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Singh said that others in the Cabinet were helpless as it was PM who decided everything. He alleged that the crop insurance policy was nothing but a way to benefit industrialists.
Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala, who spoke in the capacity of a BJP member, said it was the Congress party's rule of 60 years which had resulted in the miserable condition of the farmers.
"There should be a discussion on the policies of previous governments and what all they did for farm sector," he said.
He said the Modi government had taken a number of steps for the betterment of the farmers. Listing out the schemes, he said Rs 50,000 crore has been allocated for PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) and 22 schemes under the project have already seen the light of the day. Under the programme, plans for irrigation at district level have been formulated, Rupala said.
Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party said the farmers have been affected because of import of agri products, which he alleged was being allowed because of "ulterior motives" while farmers are being deprived of remunerative prices. The prices of many agri-items have fallen below the minium support prices and, in some crops, it is not enough to meet even the transportation cost, he said.
Citing the example of tomato prices that have risen sharply to about Rs 100 per kg, he said the prices are low when crops are harvested, but these rise after farmers sell their produce in the market. He said the futures market was also responsible for the farmers' plight. Yadav said the agri growth has largely been below 4 per cent in last 25-30 years and that the farmers' economic condition would not improve unless there is a sustainable growth in the sector. Yadav said the government has put tractors and pump sets in higher tax rate under the new GST regime and demanded that these items should be exempted from GST.
"Food processing in the country is in such a bad shape that every year fruits and vegetables worth Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 60,000 crore rot in the country," he said.
Food processing percentage in India is barely 4 per cent as compared to 80 per cent in nations like Brazil, he added. He wanted to know under what circumstances private companies were roped in crop insurance scheme which was handled by the government companies earlier. He also wondered as to why the government could not use technology so that Indian apples could also last more unlike those imported from the US.
Prasanna Acharya (BJD) sought to know from the government why farmers are committing suicide and are protesting on streets if the agriculture growth was high. He said farmers are not getting returns for their produce and are being cheated, not by Monsoon but by the government. Demonetisation has further aggravated their woes, he added.
While the new crop insurance policy is better than the previous ones, it is benefitting private insurers more, he said. He said the Centre and states should take steps to fulfill three main demands of farmers -- price, pension and prestige.
Munquad Ali (BSP) said farmers' situation is very bad in the country and that there has been a rise in farmers' suicides in the last three years.
"Why it is happening? Why the government is not finding solution farmers problems? ....I request the government not to give false promises. Please work for the welfare of farmers," he said.
Praful Patel of NCP pitched for modern farm technologies like genetically modified crops to boost farm income.
"It is unfortunate. I am sorry to say that we have neglected science and technology. There may be different views on BT technology but we have data how it benefits. We need to take benefit of it," he said.
Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has always focused on indigenous (technologies) but there is a need to use modern technology to improve farmers income, he said and suggested the minister to keep "open mind" on the issue of technology.
Patel also spoke about "shortcomings" in the new crop insurance scheme and suggested the government to keep a watch on private insurers who are implementing it. Vijaysai Reddy (YSRCP) said the government needs to "introspect" why 12,000 farmers are committing suicides every year despite the government coming out with new schemes. He demanded that the loan waiver announced in some states need to be implemented in letter and spirite, claims under new crop insurance scheme should be settled in 15 days, better credit facility and creation of special agri-zones for farmers for better realisation.
R S Bharathi (DMK) attacked the Prime Minister for not meeting the protesting Tamil Nadu farmers in Delhi and demanded a special session of Parliament to discuss the farmers' issue and a special law to address their woes.
Rajani Patil (Cong) said, "I don't think the number (of farmers suicides will come down if the government does not take steps." She attacked Modi for not visiting affected farmers in Maharashtra, saying the prime minister has time to travel around the globe but no time for farmers in the state.
Turning to Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, she said the farmers' situation is very serious.
"We don't want to hear about schemes in your reply. Tell me what relief you can give to our farmers. We want full loan waiver," she added.
Prabhat Jha (BJP) rejected allegation that the government was insensitive towards farmers' plight and said maximum decisions had been taken over the last three years in the interest of farmers. He listed a slew of measures underaken like raising minimum support price for agriculture produce like wheat, rice, pulses and oilseeds.
He said it was due to initiatives of the government that there was a record production of foodgrains in the country in 2016-17 at 271.98 million tonne (MT) including 108.8 MT rice and 96.64 MT of wheat besides 22.14 MT of pulses and 33.60 MT of oilseeds.
On police firing during farmers' agitation in Madhya Pradesh recently, Jha asked the opposition not to link such incidents to politics. He reminded the Congress that 24 farmers had been killed in firing in Madhya Pradesh in 1998 when Digvijay Singh was the Chief Minister and said nobody linked it to politics.
D Raja of CPI said the whole country is witnessing suffering of farmers and asked the central government to consider debt waiver which has been done by various states.
"Farmers committing suicides should be unacceptable to us," Raja said and questioned why various commission reports on agriculture were not being implemented by the government.