Monday, May 25, 2015

Being Farmer

Modi Sarkar was ushered into the Parliament with a landmark majority, and with a hope of #AccheDin. A hurried ordinance making major changes to the Land Bill that was passed with a thumping majority in 2013 by UPA-2, supported by BJP with equal vigour raised serious questions on Modi Sarkar’s intent.

Ordinance was projected as a major reform, and the #AccheDin Govt was least prepared for the backlash. Drunk with majority in LS and the corporate euphoria, little did it expect not just opposition in RS but a united and aggressive opposition taking the debate to the people’s court.

Consent, Compensation, Social Impact Assessment, Return of unused land are the hallmarks of the Land Bill 2013, and an attempt to make it crony capitalist friendly did not go down well with the very people who voted for #AccheDin. With no sight of #AccheDin even after 365 days, Modi Sarkar that came to power promising the Moon seems to have not done its homework and just came up with #Jumlas and U-Turns.

Land Bill that was passed in 2013 was long due; coming from farming community and having seen the suffering of the farmers post land acquisition the Land Bill 2013 was a great relief, a step in the right direction and felt better late than never.

Weaving my own story into this, as a kid I watched distressed farmers meeting my grandfather when Bommasandra Industrial Area was announced. My grandfather use to tell them that industry is also important; it will give employment to the youth and will improve living condition. Rich agriculture land was acquired with little and delayed compensation, farming community waited in vain for the much promised jobs for themselves and their children. The Industries never really took off, with just few factories here and there and no real jobs for the locals or for the farmers who gave up their land. As years passed in distress trying to make ends meet, sooner or later Bommasandra Industrial Area was heading towards being declared sick Industrial Area.

The only advantage was that my native is much closer to the city of Bengaluru. After several years in agony and struggle to make ends meet it was the IT revolution that revived the fortunes of farmers and their children who already had crossed the prime age and were just about making a living.

The stories of many other Industrial Areas are no different, land acquired in the name of industry and with a promise of jobs take several years and sometimes never happens.

MD of Biocon infamously referred to farmers as ‘Squatters’ in her enthused support to the proposed changes in the Land Bill. Little does she know that an assessment across the Industrial Areas will only show how land allotted several years ago for an industry that never came up is worth 20-50 times more today, the real squatters are the industrialists who refuse to part with prime properties they got at a throw away price.

In an article by my Ex Boss (for whom I have very high regards) argues how it’s important to have fewer farmers and more production, but not stating the fact that every industry wants less employees and more productivity, living the question wide open on who will really benefit from the proposed changes to the Land Bill.

It is true that a farmer’s child many not want to be a farmer, but it is also true that lack of strong agricultural policy has indeed driven many away from farming, if there is one business that has the maximum risk it is indeed agriculture. Farming and related activities employs most in India, and cannot be just measured on its GDP contribution.

Even as my parents moved to the city, we had the advantage of farm produce reaching home. Never remember buying Rice, Ragi, Dal, Chilli, Tamarind, Coconut, Curry leaves, Mustard, Ghee or Mangoes or at times even fresh vegetables from a shop. The quality of our life was better and my parents were able to afford good education for us and for many of my cousins/relatives because of the mutually beneficial arrangement back in the village. If we had to sell out all our land to some industry and move to the city, I would not have had the privileges and benefits I grew up with.

What really bothered many when the ordinance was shoved down the throat of Democracy was that many of us could connect to the farmers’ issues directly; many of us have lost land in the name of development and got nothing substantial in return. The heart of India is still agriculture, even if you are an IAS officer when you go to your village you would not shy away from picking up the spade and diverting water into the fields. 

Argument of creating a stronger economy and ‘trickling down effect’ has always been a bad one. If ‘trickling down effect’ was true then with India opening up the economy in the 90’ should be lifted every Indian out of poverty. The reality is millions fall back into poverty when there is a hospitalization or death or even a small unfortunate incident in their families. A bad crop can drag an entire farming community into poverty; booming economy without a strong social welfare schemes and pro-farmer schemes will not address poverty or the farmer issues in India.

Consent, Compensation, Social Impact Assessment and Return of unused land should be a rule. Like industry is important so is agriculture, one cant chase investments, promise jobs and take away livelihood of millions of farmers in the name of development. Food security is indeed the hallmark of a humane country and no development is relevant if it betrays its farmers who grow our food.

-Kavitha Reddy