Thursday, December 31, 2009

Punjab Farmers Slide Deeper Into Indebtedness
By Devinder Sharma 28 December, 2009 Devinder Sharma Blog
I am at present travelling in Punjab, considered to be the food bowl of the country. Behind the facade of rural prosperity is hidden the sordid saga of growing indebtedness. I have been highlighting the sorry state of farm affairs for quite sometime. But I guess agricultural scientists and policy makers are afraid to acknowledge the prevailing crisis because the needle of suspicion will only point towards them in return.
All these years, the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) had asked farmers to increase productivity. The higher the productivity, the more the income from farming, we were repeatedly told. This was however not true. The more the productivity, more has been the outstanding debt. Unfortunately, no one had the courage to question the faulty promise being doled out by the PAU, year after year.
While the PAU scientists are rewarded with 6th Pay Commission arrears and increase in monthly salaries, the virile farmers of Punjab have come under huge debt. This is certainly not fair. It is high time, PAU is held responsible for the Punjab farm crisis and some sort of punishment must be spelled out.
Agricultural scientists have blood on their hands. They should not be allowed to go scott free.
Newspapers in Punjab have for the last few days been carrying reports based on a study released by Prof H S Shergill of the Institute for Development and Communication in Chandigarh. The study shows that farm debt has increased five fold in the past ten years. Isn't this a clear pointer to the faulty farming frame that Punjab is being forced to follow year after year? Why can't scientists look beyond the NPK model of farming, and try to restore soil health and rejuvenate the environment. Why can't scientists for once come to rescue of the Punjab farmers instead of indirectly helping the Chemical fertiliser and pesticide companies?
Rising farm debt in Punjab
FARMERS in India have been trapped in debt for ages. Farmers were said to be born under debt and they bequeathed only debt to next generations. Earlier these were money lenders who behaved like sharks, sucked the blood of peasantry, leaving them to nurse their wounds and lead a life of misery.
Relief came in dozes. Now after independence and thanks to Green Revolution that pushed into commercial mode the debt has continued to rise as never before. It is true that the entire indebtedness is not due to farming practices and needs, but major portion is due to that. At times the debt ridden farmer finds no other way bit to commit suicide. During the last one decade, over one lakh and fifty thousand farmers have taken this route which is both cowardly and brutal.
Average debt per farm household is Rs 1.39 lakh. 72 per cent of farm households are more heavily involved in debt. 17 per cent cannot pay back even the interest. 60 per cent of the debts trapped are small or marginal farmers.
Last decade Punjab has witnessed five times increase in the debt burden of the farmers. A study conducted by a well known economist professor Harjinder Singh Shergill of the institute of Development and Communication establishes that Punjab farmers who were in debt amounting to Rs 5,700 crore in 1997, now have a debt liability of over Rs 30,394 crore. This is the latest unofficial estimate based on field survey and other data. Now the per farm household debt has become almost three times over these 10 years - from Rs 52,000 per household in 1997 to Rs 1.39 lakh in 2008.
Further, per acre amount of debt has more than doubled over the same period from Rs 5,721 to Rs 13,062.
Nearly 72 per cent of farm households are more heavily involved in debt. Out of these around 17 per cent are in virtual ‘debt trap’ in the sense that they cannot pay even the annual interest on their loans from their current farm income. Shergill has said there was little chance of their repaying the accumulated debt from the current income. Professor Shergill has concluded that the outstanding debt component has increased at a faster rate (14.13 per cent per year) than total farm debt (8.81 per cent per year) over this period. The mortgage debt, however, has declined over this period and may completely disappear in the near future.
Interestingly, the debt of small and marginal farmers has grown at a slower rate (1.29 per cent per year) than the debt of medium and big farmers (2.71 per cent per year). Almost 60 per cent of these ‘debt trapped’ farm households are marginal and small farmers and most of these ‘debt trapped’ farm households (86 per cent) belong to the Malwa region.
When compared to income generated from the farms, the debt amount has increased from being 68 per cent in 1997 to 84 per cent in 2008. Then as a proportion of the value of machinery owned by Punjab farmers, the debt amount has gone up from being 15 per cent in 1997 to 53 per cent in 2008. Despite steep rise in farmland prices in the state, the amount of farm debt is now (2008) equal to 4 per cent of the total value of farmland of the state, compared to it being 3 per cent in 1997.
Almost 30 per cent of the farm households of the state borrowed some money for long-term, non-productive purposes during the agricultural year 2007-08. The average amount of these loans per borrowing farmer was Rs 1.25 lakh, and the per operated acre amount worked out to Rs 12,826.
Northern Malwa farmers borrowed the highest amount of non-productive loans for reasons such as house construction and repair (44.38 per cent of total amount), marriages and social ceremonies (41.41 per cent of total), and purchase of durable consumer goods (25.41 per cent of total). The main sources of these loans were: commission agents and money lenders (54.48 per cent of total amount) and commercial banks (28.96 per cent of total). The share of Cooperative Credit Institutions in non-productive long-term loans was rather small, being only 3.36 per cent. Interestingly, though not related to the study, but it may be added that the Punjab farmers received only 1.3 per cent of the national debt waiver in the form of relief announced by the union government in its last budget.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


The national & international intellectuals write to Indian Prime Minister about ‘Operation Green Hunt’

Appeal to raise voice in support of Democratic rights.

• For the information of pro-people, democratic, justice-loving & revolutionary intellectual circles of Punjab, we are publishing & circulating a letter written to the Prime Minister of India by nationally & internationally renowned intellectuals & justice-loving people opposing Operation Green Hunt.

• We call upon all of you to rise to the occasion, come forward to express your concern in a befitting manner on this serious attack on the democratic rights of the people, and play your due role in strengthening the protest movement at this critical moment.

Kanwaljit Khanna Amolak Singh

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister,
Government of India,
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi,
India-110 011.
We are deeply concerned by the Indian government’s plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigeneous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to “liberate” these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.
Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. The geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.
We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.