Around 35,000 farmers under the banner of the farmers’ wing of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), marched into the heart of Mumbai on Sunday night – quietly. They began their ‘Long March’ from Nashik and covered a distance of 180 kilometres in about five days to the Maharashtra capital.
All through this march, which passed some major towns and cities of Maharashtra, there was no hullabaloo, no reports of any disturbance and not a single angry outburst or speech which usually take a protest into the realm of mindless violence.
On the contrary, reports say, the farmers were greeted by the people of the cities and offered food and water as they marched peacefully singing folk songs to keep their minds off of the pain felt by their bodies. Many offered their own footwear to the farmers who had developed blisters due to walking barefoot.
The farmers are now being hailed for not creating any inconvenience to the people of Mumbai as they entered the city. To ensure that the march does not hamper with traffic flow and lead to problems for students whose board examination is scheduled on Monday, the farmers had steadily gathered at the historic Azad Maidan by early morning.
As sympathies for the farmers continue to grow, their demands gained prominence in the eyes of the people. To put it simply, the farmers want the government to implement the Swaminathan Commission report.
So what is the Swaminathan Commission report and what does it recommend?
Chaired by Professor MS Swaminathan, who played a leading role in India’s Green Revolution, the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) was constituted on 18 November 2004 to find solutions to the various issues faced by farmers and farming, and suggest recommendations to address the issues and increase productivity.
Between December 2004 and October 2006, the Commission submitted five reports, with the final one containing suggestions to achieve the goal of “faster and more inclusive growth”.
There are six demands that the farmers who are in Mumbai want fulfilled. They are: 1. Loan waiver, 2. Land reforms, 3. Irrigation reforms, 4. Credit insurance, 5. Food security, and 6. Prevention of farmer suicides. The Swaminathan Commission had given its recommendations touching upon all the demands.
Pointing at the inequality in land holdings, the Swaminathan Commission had recommended that the prime agricultural land and forest should not be diverted to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes.
The Commission had recommended that ceiling-surplus and waste lands should be distributed and tribals and pastoralists should be given grazing rights and seasonal access to forests. It had also urged the government to set up a mechanism to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer.
Two major recommendations under land reform were granting tribals and pastoralists access to common property resources and the establishment of a National Land Use Advisory Service to connect decisions on land use to ecological, meteorological and marketing factors.
The Commission called for reforms so as to help farmers to have “sustained and equitable access” to water. It also recommended rainwater harvesting to increase water supply and the mandatory recharging of aquifers. An idea to fill wells, particularly the private ones, was mooted under a proposed ‘Million Wells Recharge’ programme.
Besides these, the Commission recommended an increased in investment in irrigation sector.
Pointing out that the per unit area productivity of Indian agriculture was lower than other major crop producing countries of the time, the Commission had recommended an increase in the overall agricultural infrastructure covering key areas such as irrigation, water conservation, research and connectivity among other areas.
The Commission suggested that a “national network of advanced soil testing laboratories” be created to detect micronutrient deficiencies. It also recommended the promotion of “conservation farming”.
Credit and Insurance:
The Commission commented that “timely and adequate supply of credit is a basic requirement of small farm families”.
In order to ensure proper credit supply to the farmers, the Commission recommended that the government take steps to ensure that the formal credit system reaches the “really poor and needy”. It also suggested that the rate of interest for crop loans be reduced to 4 per cent, “with government support”.
The Commission also called for a moratorium on debt recovery and waiver of interest on loans during calamities and in distress hotpsots.
A recommendation was also made for the setting up of an ‘Agriculture Risk Fund’ to ensure relief to farmers during natural calamities which destroy crops and a ‘Rural Insurance Development Fund’.
The Commission also called for bringing the “entire country and all crops” under crop insurance with reduced premiums.
Other recommendations made were issuance of Kisan Credit Cards to women farmers, develop an integrated credit-cum-crop-livestock-human health insurance package and promotion of sustainable livelihoods for the poor by improving and developing a range of areas and services.
Pointing out that poverty and food deprivation are acute in predominantly rural areas with limited resources such as rain-fed agricultural areas, the Commission suggested the implementation of a universal public distribution system. It also recommended the formation of ‘nutrition support programmes’ and an “integrated food cum fortification approach” to counter nutrient deficiency.
Formation of women self-help groups (SHG) operated community food and water banks, rural non-farm livelihood initiative to help small and marginal farmers improve productivity, quality and profitability, and National Food Guarantee Act.
Addressing one of the most important issues around farmers, the Commission recommended that the government expand on priority the National Rural Health Mission to locations where farmer suicides are very common.
Set up healthcare facilities, commission with adequate farmer representation to address their problems, restructure microfinance policies to serve as “Livelihood Finance”, village-level crop insurance assessment for all crops, a social security net for old age support, adequate water for all villages, timely availability of quality seeds and other inputs at affordable costs, and recommend low risk and low cost technologies to farmers that will help in generating maximum income.
The Commission also recommended action on import duties to protect farmers from international prices.
The Commission also recommended better Minimum Support Price (MSP) — “at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production”.
The Swaminathan Commission also recommended the encouragement of non-farm employment opportunities and preserving of traditional rights of access to biodiversity, and conservation and improvement of crops and farm animals through breeding and export-import.