Volume 6, No. 1, January 2005


Farmers in great distress

— M. Sunil


Farmers are in great distress. In Rajasthan they are struggling against the BJP govt. and state forces which took six lives. Only one third of agricultural land have the facilities of irrigation and even those are not assured. Irregular supply and ever-increasing charges of electricity, cost of other agri-inputs and depressed prices of the crops have become a common phenomena. Farmers are raising their voice against govt. policies and demanding remunerative prices of their products. Suicide deaths by farmers which has been very much conspicuous since the last five years, have been continuing. Despite sweet promises of several govts, landless and poor peasants, particularly tribal people of rural India, have been continuing to die due to starvation evoking everlasting debates on the number and causes of death. Alongwith the vagaries of nature, the vagaries of the world market prices cause havoc to the farmers. Believing all tall talks about the land reform programme, the old class structure despite some changes, basically remains intact adopting newer forms of exploitation—exploitation through feudal land rent in various forms, usurious rate of interest by money-lenders, forward purchasing, hoarding—have been continuing.

The persistent crisis of the agrarian economy has further intensified after the implementation of the economic reform programme rendering more and more scope to brutal imperialist exploitation. The UPA govt. have recognised that the farmers of the country have been in great distress and promised to give a ‘human face’ to the economic reform programme. So the economic reform programme has been continuing and to give a ‘human face’ it distributes some reliefs to distressed farmers. It is nothing but a cunning plot to hoodwink the farmers and to bring down their resentment to manageable limits. Even then some unruly(!) farmers have been taking the path of agitation and demonstration to oppose govt. policies.

Farmers’ Agitation


Since June ‘04 the farmers of Sriganganagar, Hanumangarh, Bikaner and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan have been agitating on the demand for the supply of water to the command areas of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project (IGNP). Initially the command area was 16 lakh acres. Subsequently, the BJP and the Congress govts indiscriminately permitted construction of many canals for the purpose of serving their political constituencies. As a result of this the command area expanded to 36 lakh acres rendering a paucity of water in the first phase. The farmers of this first phase area also demanded assurance from the govt. on continued supply of 5.23 cusecs of water per 1000 acres instead of 3.5 cusecs per 1000 acres which was approved by the state cabinet during the previous congress regime in 1998; though that was not implemented so far.

The previous two crops were destroyed due to paucity of water. The farmers of this region were facing a devastating economic condition. According to Gadsana market committee in 1999 the region produced 4.08 lakh quintal of wheat. In 2003-04 it was just 0.27 lakh quintals. Production of cotton decreased from 4.63 lakh quintals in 1999-00 to 1.23 lakh quintals in 2003-04. The situation is similar in Rawala. From 4.26 lakh quintals of cotton in 1999-2000, it declined to just over 60,000 quintals in 03-04. This time they were much concerned as the sowing season of the rabi crops was going to be over but they could not begin their cultivation for want of water. The aggrieved peasants, including landless peasants and agri-labourers, led by the Kisan Mazdoor Vyapari Sanghrash Samiti began a stay-in demonstration in front of the SDM’s office in Ghadsana tehsil. It continued for a month. They demanded that the govt. should release their share of water from the IGNP for the cultivation of the ravi crop. It was a peaceful demonstration. Most of the agitators would return to their homes at night and return in the morning.

On 25th Oct., following the failure of talks hundreds of farmers began a ‘’mahapadav’ (mega-gathering) in front of the SDM’s office and locked the office. But the demonstrators allowed food for those who were inside the office. On the plea of releasing the gheraoed employees in the next day evening, when most of the demonstrators went back to their homes, the gurdians of ‘democracy’ began their action. The police and Rajasthan Armed Constabulary came down on the remaining unarmed agitators and resorted to lathicharge and lobbed teargas shells. Then the police and armed constabulary went to the adjacent townships, beat the farmers brutally and looted their belongings. The news of this police brutalily spread in time and on 17th Oct the enraged farmers, in support of the Ghadsana agitation, came to the streets in many places in protest against the police atrocities. In Rawala when farmers marched to the local police station, police opened fire; 4 landless peasants were shot dead and many agitators were seriously injured. The agitators became violent, set fire to the offices and residences of the SDM and Tehsildar, attacked the office of the sub-registar besides setting ablaze few police vehicles and two police stations. Curfew was imposed in Rawala and Ghadsana at 2.30 pm but due to the farmers’ resistance, police could not have entry into the area till evening. The army was deployed the very next day. On 30th Oct a joint press conference was held by the Samagra Seva Sangh. The representatives of all the organizations condemned the police firing and stated that the "trigger-happy police did not issue any warning to the agitating farmers and the police opened fire on unarmed farmers to kill them." On 8th Nov. curfew was withdrawn. The farmers again organized themselves within a short time and stopped all govt buses. On 9th Nov., in various parts of the state, farmers joined the protest marches in solidarity to the farmers’ agitation. In Sriganganagar a large number of peasants gathered to picket the collectorate office. The police arrested many farmers from Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh to suppress the protest marches. The farmers continued defying all threats of the administration and oppressive measures of the police. When one of the seriously injured farmers died on 18th Nov. ‘04 the administration quickly moved to his village and the body was buried under heavy police security. Even villagers were not allowed to be present there. On 3th Dec. ‘04 the police resorted to a lathicharge on a gathering of farmers and arrested more than 700 agitators including five leaders of the Sangarsh Samiti. At the same time the Rajasthan Armed Constabulary and the Special Task Force began combing operations in search of other leaders. These measures only aggravated the farmers wrath and that was expressed in the next day. The violent farmers faced the police forces in Suratgarh, broke the police obstruction and courted arrest. Many of the agitators were injured when police applied force. Gradually the protest agitation began to spread throughout Bikaner division. The university students picketed the jail in Suratgarh demanding the release of arrested agitators. In the evening curfew was imposed in Annupgarh and subsequently extended to Ghadsena and Rawala towns following clashes between the police and the farmers. Inspite of all these repressive measures the govt failed to quell the farmers’ agitation. On 6th Dec. ‘04 when more than a thousand farmers were moving towards Kajuwala town to participate in a "mahapadav" the police lathicharged and opened fire. Hazoor Singh, one of the agitators was killed and many people were injured. At mid-day curfew was imposed in Kajuwala town for an indefinite period. The enraged farmers did not allow the cremation of the body of Hazoor Singh and more than 1500 farmers stayed at the spot refusing to dispose of the body till the govt assured a relief package to the family of Hazoor Singh. After three days, after getting an assurance they cremated Hazoor Singh in the presence of a huge gathering of farmers. The farmers were seething with anger. The protest movement continued till 10th Dec. compelling the state govt. to accept their demands.

Though the leadership of this powerful spontaneous outburst was usurped by the ruling class parties like CPI(M), Congress and others to serve their political interest, it exposed the brutal character of the state forces once again. It also helps the farmers realize the true character of so-called democracy.


The farmers of Gujrat have also been facing a deep crisis due to a hike in the power tariffs and irregular supply of electricity. The agitation of the farmers continued for about one year from Nov ’03 to July ’04. This was led by the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers’ wing of the BJP. As usual, there was compromise between the state govt. and the leaders of the BKS disregarding dissatisfaction of the farmers. Thus the peasants’ resement continues though it is not in an organized form.

The farmers began to oppose the increase in power tariff which was raised from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,260 a horse power since June 2003. As the farmers’ agitation was supported by the vast majority of the people, the state govt reduced the tariff to Rs. 900 an hp in Oct ‘03. But, the dissatisfied farmers continued their agitations. Two weeks after the then union law minister Arun Jaitley intervened to arrive at a compromise between the State Govt. and the BKS leadership. The agitation was withdrawn with a mere reduction of only Rs. 50 an hp on Feb. ‘04. Inspite of this hush-hush truce with the BKS leadership for their own political interest, the farmers’ resentment continued.

The power problem is linked to acute shortage of water. As there are no other sources of water the vast majority of the farmers have to pump ground-water for continuing their cultivation. Around 85 per cent of Gujarat’s irrigated land depends on pumped under-ground water whereas this figure is 60 per cent accross the country. For this purpose the farmers have to use more electricity. According to Jay Narayan Vyas, the former Narmada Minister "wheat cultivation in north Gujarat is 10 times more expensive than in central Gujarat because in the north they consume a lot more electricity to pump water." The increased power tariff along with ever-increasing prices of other imputs result in the higher cost of production but the market prices of agri-products remain depressed. And it even dwindles well below the cost of production rendering the vast majority of the farmers indebted. Even the farmers’ wing’s leader of the BJP, Maganbhai Patel, had to admit that "farming is no longer profitable.’’ The small farmers are becoming more and more improverished. Ismail Bandi, director of the Modasa Agricultural Committee reported, "peasants are deeply in debt, paying interest of 60 percent to 120 percent to money-lenders. ...small cultivators are selling off their land and becoming casual workers." Ignoring the sufferings of the peasants the Hindu chauvinist Modi govt. has increased the power tariff. Though the govt. has promised to supply power uninterruptedly for 14 hours a day the farmers have supply of power only 6 hours a day and that too not regularly. Agitated farmers also draw attention to the anti-peasant policies of the govt. which can construct 80 highways neglecting the urgent need of constructing canals for providing irrigation facilities.

Madhya Pradesh

The farmers of Madhya Pradesh have also been facing similar problems. During the period from 1991 to 2002 the power tariff was increased thrice by the then Congress state govt. First in 1991 just after the assembly election the govt. took the decision to disconnect all single point connections and the Electricity Board increased the tariff with effect from March 1, 1999. In 2001 the average increase in tariff was 18 percent. That too in a period when peasants were in great trouble due to subsequent four years of drought. A large number of peasants could not pay their bills. Consequently, their electricity connections were cut off as they became defaulters without considering the plight of the drought-affected peasants. The power tariff was again increased on 30th Nov. 2002 by as much as 800 percent and the number of hours of power supply was also decreased from 24 hours to 6 hours a day. However, the state govt exempted small farmers. During the last two years 6 lakh power connections out of a total of 12 lakh connections had been cut off as they failed to pay the dues. Thus a large number of farmers lost the facilities of energised irrigation.

The increase of power prices further pushed the farmers to deeper crisis enhancing the cost of production of agriculture while they have been confronting the vagaries of nature and those of world market prices. According to one study a large number of farmers are in debt, particularly those of the small and medium categories. The study also reveals that the expenditure for power is the single largest expense for farmers other than labour cost. The use of power-based irrigation becomes more and more out of the reach of the small and marginal farmers. They are generally dependent upon shallow tube wells for energised extraction of underground water which dried up during the drought years. They used to buy surplus water from rich and middle farmers who have better irrigation facilities. But this source they cannot utilize due to its ever increasing price and irregular supply. The most important factor that deprives them of utilizing energised irrigation is the increased power tariff.

Before the last Assembly election the BJP’s farmers’ wing, BKS, protested against these anti-farmer policies and the BJP pomised to solve this problem. But now the BJP govt. has been following the same anti-farmer policies. The aggrieved farmers organized, under the banners of Nimed Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, (a newly formed organization) and the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, have been protesting against these polices. They have long been expressing their resentment against govt. policies which have caused disaster to them.

Abject dependence on nature

Even after more than 50 years of transfer of power the agriculture of the country predominantly depends on nature. About 70 percent of farming is rainfed. Though agriculture contributes 24% of the country’s GDP, it provides directly or indirectly employment for two-thirds of the workforce and supports more than 70 percent of the population. Even then it has always been a neglected sector. While paucity of water and lack of irrigation facilities cause destruction of crops rendering immense suffering to the vast majority of the rural people, the investment in irrigation has been reducing. It has dipped from 22.6 percent in the 1950s to 5.6 percent. Moreover 400 projects worth Rs. 79,000 crore, are pending since 1960. These projects, could have provided irrigation facilities to 21 million hectares out of 100 million hectres of agriland which are still vulnerable to the vagaries of nature. Since transfer of power though the govt has spent as much as $22.5 billion for irrigation projects, even a good percentage the targeted of land is still without water. Thus bad monsoons and heavy monsoons cause disaster to peasants, providing a golden opportunity to the big landowners, a section of rich peasants, money-lenders and hoarders for intensifying their exploitation. This year also it is conspicuous. In Rajasthan out of 32 districts 25 districts have been affected by drought.

In Chhattisgarh out of a total 98 tehsils the govt. has decleared 85 tehsils as drought-affected.

In the last Kharif season the farmers of Punjab had to reduce the land under paddy cultivation due to inadequate rain.

Glut Haunts Cotton Growers

After three years of drought the cotton-growers have had a good crop in this season. It was expected by them that the bad patch was going to be over. And they will have scope to either come out of their debt obligation or reduce the same. But now they are facing the threat of a glut in the cotton market.

It is estimated that in this year cotton production of the country is around 200 lakh bales (of 170 kg each). This is 20 percent above normal production level. The International Cotton Advisory in the United States has estimated a record production of cotton globally at 107.25 million bales (480 lbs) equivalent to 137.28 million bales (of 170 kg Indian bales) compared to 122 million bales production last years.

The production of the USA is nearly six million bales in excess of its normal global sales. The US govt. is planning to reduce cotton prices and dump cotton in the international market.

To protect its domestic market the US govt. admits imports only of specified quantities for a definite period of time. Its domestic production is highly subsidised and farmers can sell cotton in international markets at prices below its cost of production. The cost of production of US cotton is $ 1.70 per kg and it is sold at $ 1.18 per kg. Export subsidies amounted to $ 300 mn for 2002-03. Moreover it provides $ 3 billion per year as per its cotton farm subsidy programme. Greece, Spain and Turkey helped their farmers providing subsidies of $ 718 mn, $ 239 mn and $ 57 mn respectively in 2002-03.

But cotton farmers of the country do not have any subsidy since 2003. Cotton imports are also free—there is no restriction as regards to time and quantity. Import duty is a nominal 10 per cent. There is no subsidy to encourage export. Even then the govt. and the protaganists of free (!) market ask the cotton-growers to develop their efficiency to compete in the international market which is controlled and greatly distorted by the imperialist forces i.e. MNCs. Moreover, the govt. allows the textile industry lobby to manipulate and distort the domestic market. There is a cotton Advisory Board (CAB), which just after every planting season publish an exaggerated figure of cotton supply with the objective of keeping market price at a low level. Then just before harvesting the CAB and textile mill-owners pressurize the govt for import of cotton projecting their new estimated figure of cotton production which is far lower than the previous one. The market is flooded with cheap, subsidised imported cotton which pushes domestic price further down. Through this practice the cotton traders and textile mill-owners ensure huge profit and farmers have to suffer.

As the govt serves the interest of the textile industries, traders and that of the imperialist forces, it does not take any step to address the problems of cotton-growers and to ensure their livelihood. It will not impose any restriction on cotton imports and increase import the duty on cotton.

The cotton farmers are heading towards another crisis. Many farmers of major cotton growing states like Punjab, Maharasthra, Andhra, have committed suicide suffering from the unbearable burden of debt. This time too they are facing the same crisis.


The resentment of the farmers have been increasing. It is gradually taking the form of protest marches, agitations and even violent struggles and spreading throughout rural India. We have stated here some of these movements. The peasants have been raising their voice against the economic reform programme of the govt. which have opened the domestic economy to the MNCs for their plunder. The agrarian economy of the country is now at the mercy of the imperialist forces who control the international agri-commodity market rendering great sufferings to the farmers of underdeveloped countries like India.

Agriculture of our country is still predominantly dependent on nature which causes havoc to farmers’ livelihood. The basic inputs like water and electricity are still scarce. For want of these the farmers have to face bad harvesting or even discontinue cultivation again and again.

As the age old class structure exists the big land-owners, money-lenders, traders and hoarders continue their inhuman exploitation taking advantage of the distressed condition of the peasants.

The ruling class parties and their farmers’ wing have been utilizing the dissatisfied farmers to increase their votebank or to have a better edge in the power structure. To keep the farmers resentment within manageable limits they give some releifs. These parties and their peasant wings favour the economic reform programme which impoverish the peasants and other sections of the people. Thus these parties and farmers’ organigations, led by them, betray the farmers. Now farmers are getting more and more frustrated with these leaderships. This has become a great concern for the ruling classes and their masters. These anti-farmer forces have taken initiative to form a national apex body of farmers to take up issues of the farmers. This organization will work in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industries. The undeclared aim of this organization is to hoodwink the farmers and distract them from the path of greater agitation.

Moreover this apex body will serve the MNCs and important agro-based industries to tap the produce of farmers.

The seething farmers are getting more and more frustrated being betrayed by their leaderships. They need an organization guided by the revolutionary forces who organise them and lead them to develop a mighty struggle against the anti-farmer policies of the govt throughout the countryside. The revolutionary forces need to shoulder this task, and lead them against the imperialist forces and their domestic cronies. In the course of development of these struggle the revolutionary forces can help farmers develop their political consciousness which lead them to realize the necessity of a people democratic state which follow an economic policy of self-reliance.


1. The Hindu 4 Nov. ’04 to 15 Dec., 04

2. India Today, 5 July, 04

3. Agriculture: Policy and Performance — C.H.Hanumanth Rao

4. Sahara Time 8 May, 04

5. Frontline 18 June ‘04

6. Outlook, 15 Nov ‘04

7. Economic and Political Weekly, 23 Oct, 2004





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