Thousands of farmers marched to the Maharashtra capital of Mumbai this week, bringing to the fore issues that too often remain ‘out of sight, out of mind’. For years now, a deep agrarian distress has been spreading through the country. In recent years, this distress has manifested itself as anger that spilled into cities and towns. It is only surprising that this fury has not come to the fore earlier.
To be a farmer in India is a thankless job. Valourised as the backbone of the nation, India’s farmers—a majority of whom are small, marginal and tenant farmers—have the rawest of deals. Left to the vagaries of nature, supported almost exclusively through bandaid fixes, they have the task of producing the food of a technologically advancing country while often being deprived of the benefits of such technology.
The farmer in India, regardless of the size of his or her holding, often has to find the means to irrigate their lands, raise funds, decide on the crop to grow, depend on the state for electricity, procure seeds, fertilisers and hire labour to reap the crop, transport to the market where they are subject to prices decided by middlemen—all of this with minimal meaningful support from the State.
The farmers’ existence then is subject to too many factors beyond their control. Consider then the existence of agricultural labourers and tenant farmers. However, little in the way of structural changes have been made to the sector.
One of the demands that the Maharashtra farmers had made, echoed by compatriots from Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Andhra, is the implementation of the M S Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations. The final report of the Commission was released in 2006 and suggests sweeping and significant changes that address every aspect of the agricultural distress—from the issue of suicides to land reforms.
It is time the Centre took a hard look at the reports, updated and finetuned the recommendations and set in motion the implementation of the reforms. Farmers have been patient too long. It would be wise not to test that patience.