‘Farmers want a fair price’

Hannan Mollah, 78, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), played a key role in the farmers movement that followed the passage of the three controversial farm laws.

‘Farmers want a fair price’

Hannan Mollah, (photo:SNS)

Hannan Mollah, 78, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), played a key role in the farmers movement that followed the passage of the three controversial farm laws. Son of a jute mill worker, he was elected to the Lok Sabha eight times from Uluberia in Howrah district of West Bengal and represented the constituency from the 7th to the 14th Lok Sabha (1980-2009).

Devoted to improvement in the living conditions of agricultural workers, Mollah has been a member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) working committee and played a leadership role in several farmers’ movements. Under his secretaryship in 2018, AIKS organized the Kisan Long March in Maharashtra, Kisan Movement in Rajasthan, Kisan Mukti March to Delhi and he was part of the all-India farmers’ protest (2020) under the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, formed by hundreds of farmers’ organisations. Mollah was a frequent visitor to the farmers sitting on protest under temporary shelters for over a year, on the outskirts of the national Capital. In this interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN, the farmers’ leader outlines issues which weigh with the farmers during the Lok Sabha elections. Excerpts:

Q: You have led farmers’ movements, how do farmers look at the Lok Sabha election?


A: The role of farmers in the economy is known. They are ‘annadatas’; they work for 18 hours a day with family, only to feed the people, but they are starving. They are facing a lot of problems. Indian agriculture is passing through a serious crisis because of which they are committing suicides. More than one lakh farmers, even agricultural workers, committed suicides during the BJP regime also. The farmers are voters too. The government made promises but they were not kept. In his election speeches before his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised minimum support price (MSP) and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, but the government backtracked later saying it will create market distortion. Were the promises made just for the farmers’ votes? The government wanted to change the farmers-led agriculture into corporate-led agriculture. Gradually, industry leaders would have taken over land and then controlled production, transport, export-import, pricing and market. This was the purpose and the three farm Bills were brought, but the farmers fought them.

Q: After farm laws protests, demands like MSP law are unresolved?

A: The farmers’ agitation forced the government to withdraw the three farm laws but there was no change in the policy. The MSP law was not brought. Farming has become loss making. No farmer is getting proper price for his products. I went to the families of farmers who committed suicides. They said first, they did not get the price; there were continuous losses, and then there was a huge pressure of debt burden. The government says it is giving loans of lakhs of crores of rupees, but the reality is farmers are not getting cheap loans; in the name of the farmers, 80 per cent loans go to agro-businesses. The farmers are forced to go to moneylenders and take loans at 30 per cent to 40 per cent interest. That’s why the farmers united for the 2020-2021 agitation under the Samyukt Kisan Morcha and gheraoed the national capital for 384 days. Earlier, the agitations were just local. The 2020 agitation forced the withdrawal of the laws. Our charter of demands was with the Government, and it did not have just withdrawal of the laws. One of the demands was minimum support price according to the Swaminathan Commission recommendation; that is one and a half times of the cost of production. There was a demand for legal guarantee of the MSP. Another demand was for the withdrawal of the Electricity Bill. Farmers were severely indebted and they needed one-time loan waiver. There were demands for cheaper inputs like seeds and fertilizers which were getting costlier several times. The farmers said they were getting a price which did not cover the cost of production.

Q: But the government says it has done enough for farmers, like grant of Samman Nidhi, coloured urea and extension of MSP to many more items of farm produce?

A: MSP was there in the past there also. It was called Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP)-declared prices but these did not cover the cost of the inputs fully. The farmers are forced to sell their produce in the market at much lower prices, even when MSPs are announced. The farmers will get the MSP only when there is a legal guarantee. Farmers do not want Samman Nidhi payments; they are not interested in such payments but minimum support prices for their produce. Q: Farmers got credit for the green revolution, but is rural poverty over? A: In the world hunger index, India now stands at 111th place, going down further from the 109th place. The nutrition situation is even worse. Tribal people cannot buy nutritious food for their children. Rural unemployment is massive. MGNREGA is not helping, only few people get it. People are migrating to other areas to earn. This is the situation of rural India.

Q: Government is pursuing saturation of schemes to ensure help to the rural disadvantaged?

A: The government gives relief but that is not sufficient. The government wants to give doles, but does not help farmers to earn and get full compensation for their costs. The farmers will be happy with a fair price for their products.

Q: Farmers appear divided, no national leader of farmers has emerged in the past decades?

A: Farmers are not political. They only raise demands for prices and cheap inputs. The farmers become aware of their rights during campaigns and know who is helping them and who is not, and vote accordingly.

Q: The PM said Congress’ annual agriculture budget was Rs 25,000 crore; he provided Rs 1.25 lakh crore this year?

A: There is no addition in the irrigated land. The irrigation budget was not spent in the last two Budgets. Without irrigation how will the farmers’ production increase? The fertiliser price is up by 10 times. Pesticides prices are also controlled; the companies producing them are making profits. Every input like seeds and diesel is getting costlier.

Q: The Government says that during 10 years under Manmohan Singh, government spent just Rs 7 lakh crore on procurement; the Modi government spent Rs 18 lakh crore to buy wheat and rice.

A: These figures do not serve the purpose of the farmers. The main issue is why you are not paying the price. Our farmers are producing a quintal of paddy with a cost of Rs 2,600. You are announcing Rs 2,100. Farmers are forced to sell at Rs 1,500 or Rs 1,600 a quintal, losing Rs 900 or more per quintal. We are not begging; we say just give us the cost of production, this can be calculated scientifically.

Q: For the first time, a separate Ministry for Animal Husbandry has been set up; fishermen are getting attention? A: These are showpieces. These have not brought improvement in the condition of the farm cattle or fishermen. Common farmer is not benefited. Q: Has not the quality of life improved in villages?

A: That is our concern also. If the schemes had brought results, why are the farmers committing suicides, why don’t they have nutrition and why is there hunger. In villages, you can see migration is increasing several times now. There is no work, no money and there is no consumption. The farmers will vote on these issues