Formed on March 4, 1979, by the renowned thinker, trade unionist and social worker Shri Dattopant Thengadi, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. Working for the cause of farmers for the last 24 years, the Kisan Sangh has become a voice of Indian farmers. Not only does it raise their problems but it also fights for their cause. Today it has branches in all states of the country. It has units in 58,424 villages of 432 districts. Its work in Gujarat, Madhya Bharat, Awadh and Jodhpur prants is proving very effective. Organiser representative Pramod Kumar spoke to BKS general secretary, Vasant Vitthal Takwale, popularly known as Baba Saheb Takwale, to know about its activities and also his views on various problems of farmers. A Sangh Swayamsevak since childhood, Shri Takwale is a legal expert. After having worked for Jana Sangh and Janata Party for about two decades, he joined the Kisan Sangh in 1990 and held various posts including the national vice-president and joint secretary general. Excerpts:
How far have the various welfare schemes launched by the NDA government benefited the farmers?
The kisan credit card was a very commendable initiative taken by the NDA government. But, as the Tenth Plan also admits, the credit cards were not made available to all farmers resulting in a very large section remaining deprived of the benefits of the scheme. The credit cards should be provided to all farmers.
We feel that the NDA government also acted under the pressure of WTO. That is why it removed quantitative restrictions from about 1,429 articles that included many items of agricultural produce. Since the Western countries are not opening their markets fully for our produce, the decision to remove quantitative restrictions was wrong. The rich countries are not following the agreement made during the Uruguay Round of Talks. There is also much disparity on subsidy given to Indian farmers. The farmers in USA, Canada and in other European countries get subsidies to the tune of $27,000 per farmer per year, while an Indian gets only $66 per year (in 1999-2000).
We are encouraging organic farming
Do you have any expectations from the UPA government?
Our foremost demand is that the fund for farmers should be raised immediately. Not only the Kisan Sangh but the economic experts too feel that a big fund is necessary for farmers. At the moment there are two kinds of funds?Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) with Rs 28,500 crore and the Jaiprakash Narayan Kisan Fund with Rs 50,000 crore. Both funds are inadequate to meet the challenges of agriculture. Since the last three Five-Year Plans, the government investment on agriculture has been falling. Economic experts have been suggesting allocation of 6.5 per cent of the GDP on agriculture. Out of the GDP of Rs 20,94,013 crore in 2000-2001, at least Rs 1,36,110 crore (i.e. 6.5 per cent) should have been invested. The present investment is just Rs 5,000 crore. There is one suggestion that a fund of $20 billion should be created for agriculture from the country's foreign exchange reserves. No rich country of the world maintains such a huge foreign exchange that we maintain here. The rich countries are utilising our money for their economic development, while our industries are starving for funds. The Tarapore Committee also suggested reduction in the foreign exchange reserves.
Another major problem is of irrigation. At present there is only 40 per cent land under irrigation while 60 per cent is rainfed. Irrigation projects must be completed faster. Another problem that needs serious attention is rural unemployment. Today we are satisfied with the GDP growth, but there is no growth in employment. For that we have suggested the slogan that instead of giving work to every hand, give work to at least every family.
Why is the Kisan Sangh protesting against the Gujarat government?
The Gujarat government has recently hiked power tariff arbitrarily. It was Rs 250 per hp per year for 7.5 hp motors and Rs 300 per annum for more than 7.5 hp motors. Now it has been hiked to more than Rs 1,500 per hp per year. Although, the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has reduced it to Rs 900 per hp, that too is unacceptable to the farmers. Water for irrigation is drawn from a considerable depth, i.e. 700-1,000 feet in Gujarat. It requires motors of 75-100 hp. Five or 7.5 hp is of no use in Gujarat. That is why farmers have to spend too much money on energy consumption. The farmers just want a reasonable tariff.
In the last decade, the farmer movement had made an impact. Most of the leaders like Mahender Singh Tikait in western Uttar Pradesh and Sharad Joshi in Maharashtra have either become aged or have joined politics. How do you see it?
In fact, farmers? interests have never been on their agenda. Their ultimate aim has been to gain popularity and cash on it for their vested interests. Looking at social problems like this will prove to be very dangerous. That is why the main thrust of Kisan Sangh is on organisational work. We want to form an organisation that will take its own care when injustice is done to constituents of the organisation or to any part of the society.
Does the Kisan Sangh have any say in BJP or do the BJP leaders listen to its problems?
We don'texpect that any political party should listen to us. We are doing our work. We are not interested in any political activity. Of course, if farmers get themselves organised, it would become a powerful bloc, which can compel any government to mend its policies.
How do you evaluate the role of cooperative movement in the development of Indian agriculture or for the welfare of farmers?
Cooperative activity is necessary not only for the progress of farmers but also for general activities of the society. But some politicians have put a spoke in the cooperative movement'swheel. It should be purified by removing political interest. A sense of cooperation should be infused in the society.
Are you satisfied with the present storage capacity for agricultural produce?
Certainly not. The farmers are compelled to sell their produce at a throwaway price as they do not have the storage capacity. More warehouses should be established for storing the agriculture produce. Undoubtedly, the national requirement is fulfilled by the existing warehousing capacity but at the village level people don'tfind adequate storage facility. A chain of cold storage units should also be set up.
What are you doing to preserve the traditional seeds?
We are propagating against the terminator technology. Although, the government has prohibited the terminator technology under the Farmers Rights Protection Act, we think the technology, as advocated by Monsanto, has not been totally wiped away from the world. There are many countries that are still adopting the terminator gene. They are aware of its harmful effects but are still silent. If the government has banned the ter-minator technology, it should also ban all trade negotiations between our seed companies and Mon-santo. Trade negotiations are going on between Mahyco, Ankur and Monsanto and the government did not take any step against it. In fact, Monsanto should be completely prohibited from selling its products in India.
Out of the GDP of Rs 20,94,013 crore in 2000-2001, at least Rs 1,36,110 crore (i.e. 6.5 per cent) should have been allocated for agriculture. The present allocation is just Rs 5,000 crore. There is one suggestion, that a fund of $20 billion should be created for agriculture from the country'sforeign exchange reserves.
What is the way out?
We need to develop our indigenous technology. We have some alternatives like improved and hybrid seeds. Scientists need to be given some incentives for making indigenous innovations so that their research should not be based on the funds of MNCs. At present most of the scientists are hired by the MNCs. The government should take proper care of the scientists so that no scientist is compelled to leave the country and also there is no brain drain with scientists joining the MNCs. Unfortunately, no government seems to be serious about it.
What are you doing to save Indian soil from the over-use of pesticides?
We are propagating the use of organic farming. Many members of Kisan Sangh are adopting this method. Our aim is to convert at least some villages into organic villages and we request the government to give special incentives to organic farmers and make special arrangement for the marketing of organic products. Chemical farming must be stopped at any cost. We must keep in mind that some years ago in Ludhiana district of Punjab, the highest percentage of poison was detected in breastmilk of mothers. If we do not wake up today, tomorrow may be too late.
What is the present status of organic farming in India?
People are getting attracted to it. In the starting one or two years, the farmer may suffer a lower productivity through organic faming. But after a period of three years, the production will increase. Quality of soil also improves. At present, due to chemical farming, soil is not getting micronutrients. By organic farming, it gets micronutrients and ultimately it results in improving the fertility of the soil. Organic farming is the only way out in the present situation.
During the last few years, a number of farmers have committed suicide. What, according to you, are the reasons?
Suicides have occurred due to mental depression that develops because of not earning sufficient income from agriculture. When a farmer finds it difficult to repay the loan or fulfill the needs of his family, he has no other option but to take such an extreme step. Measures should be taken in this regard, irrespective of political gains.
How are you celebrating your silver jubilee?
We have decided to make an organisational leap. Although we have reached all the prants, the work is yet ineffective in some states. In this year, we shall expand the work in more and more districts and blocks and will constitute committees there. The number of members will also be increased.