• kewal sethi

farmer agitation – some aspects

farmer agitation – some aspects

there is a saying

old order changeth, yielding place to new.

the farmer was always exploited. no government can perform without finances. at a time when agriculture and allied occupations were the only source of gdp, the revenue had to come from the tiller of the land. the ancient literature gives details about the rate of revenue to be collected from the agriculturists. chanakya, of the arth shashtra fame, no doubt wrote about the taxes on traders and others but the main source of revenue was the land.

the various sanhitas including manu smriti speaks of the rates to be charged from the cultivators. they were mostly ten percent of produce but occasionally one sixth has also been reported. the kings and emperors did not live in luxury. the money was spent more of construction of forts to protect themselves rather than luxuries. no raider talks about a takht taus taken away from india though gold, women and slaves were taken. the luxurious way of life for the kings came with the muslim raiders and kings. construction of magnificent tombs was another of their fancy. shershah built one for himself even when he was very much alive.

then came the british. their first gift to india was introduction of intermediaries through permanent settlement. the farmer, the tiller of the land was left at the mercy of the intermediary. luxury became their way of life. with no interest in land except to collect rent. the collection of revenue was left to agents who added their share. the farmer life became miserable. notwithstanding subsequent attempt to protect tenants, the exploitation continued.

the exploiters were beneficiaries of the british regime and their loyalty to the rulers was never in doubt. they did not like congress, when it talked of freedom struggle and congress reciprocated. they talked of exploitation of farmers and the moment they got a chance they tried to get rid of the intermediary. they had to amend the constitution within fourteen months for doing it but they did try. they were frustrated due to loopholes left due to inexpertise but did not know what to do with them. perhaps their hearts were not in it since they needed their support for enjoying the benefits of office and the luxuries it brought. some twenty years later, another wave of empowerment of farmers came up but made little impact.

but the economics intervened. thanks to emphasis on industry and trade, the land revenue became a minor part of revenue collection. of course the earlier notion of farmers being at the wrong end of the chain prevented any upward revision of land revenue. today it is of ridiculous significance and, perhaps, costs more to collect than revenue. it continues because of tradition and the satisfaction it gives to small farmers about ownership of land. the agriculture was also exempted from other avenues of income like income tax. in fact the sympathy felt for them led to countless number of subsidies in irrigation, in fertilisers and so on. how far this helped in keeping the agricultural techniques backward is another story.

the assistance rendered to farmers did not ameliorate their situation. the economy provided for another set of exploiters. they were the new intermediaries – the traders. they bought it cheap since, almost universally, the sale of crop produce was disaster sale. there were no storage facility. the consumers paid heavily but the producers did not get adequate remuneration.

once again the government intervened. it would save the farmers from exploitation. it set up mandies which would be managed by elected representatives and which would help the farmers to get a fair price. it was followed by the concept of minimum support price for crops produced as major crops – rice and wheat and sugarcane. some more were added as time went by. another measure was to put restrictions on interstate trade of food grains. the situation improved but as time went by the mandies became another cog in the wheel of corruption and exploitation. the elections were manipulated and the same set of politicians, who saw an opportunity in this sphere, continued to hold sway. soon the farmers were as badly off as ever.

under these circumstances, a new initiative was necessary to free the farmers from the exploiters in the mandies. this came in the form of three laws which are now in focus. these ensured freedom to sell to anyone, inside and outside the state. the restriction on interstate trade were removed. even advanced contracts were allowed to assure both the purchasers and the sellers.

of course this went against the interests of the exploiters. as pointed out the politicians had taken over the mandies and its benefits which they could get out of it. this is the genesis of the present agitation which is designed to allow opportunity to continue exploitation of the cultivators. it would be on interest to see that those who benefited most from the erstwhile arrangements are most vociferous in demanding reversion to older system. the other parties, always ready to fish in troubled waters, have to support them to discredit the party in power. they see an opportunity in it, as they saw one in anti caa agitation earlier.

but why are the ex bureaucrats (in fact only a small but vocal section) in favour of the demand. the reason is simple. they do not want to leave the comfort zone. any new idea is abhorrent for them. they are used to a certain way of life and they hate to be disturbed. the unfamiliar is a bugbear to them. they have the gift of the gab and a ready social media to support them.

it has always been like that. the noisy ones get the benefits. the silent majority suffers. the city prospers while the villages remain in agony but cities are nearer to seat of power and have better means of raising noise. the media depends on their patronage and naturally takes up their grievances. going out and getting some sob stories are done to attract the urban reader who, sitting comfortably, like to read about it and go on about their lives. the same holds good for the present agitation.


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