( April 15, 2017, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Supreme Court has issued a stern message to the Tamil Nadu government that silence would not be the answer to the farmers issues.
While there is no doubt that farmers have suffered in Tamil Nadu in recent months due to failure of monsoon and drought conditions, it is certainly not the case that the governments are silent on farmers’ issue.
Further, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to Tamil Nadu government that it should respond within two weeks to announce schemes and measures intended to help the farmers. The fact is that several schemes have already been announced by the governments.
When the Supreme Court says that Tamil Nadu government should not treat the litigation before the court as an adversarial litigation but a participative one to relieve the agony of the farmers, everyone would agree with this sentiment. At the same time, many would wonder as to whether the Supreme Court has taken into consideration the ground conditions and the limitations faced by the state government in the present extremely severe drought conditions.
The farmers in Tamil Nadu :
There are around 75 lakh farmers in Tamil Nadu and the farmers affected by drought in the delta regions is around 30 lakhs. Of this, it is estimated that around 90% of the farmers have less than 5 acres of land who are affected by the drought. It is reported that around Rs. 86000 Crores has been the loan amount availed by the farmers all over Tamil Nadu , including the farmers living in the drought affected areas.
What has state government done ?
On 28.2.2016, Tamil Nadu government has waived the loans to farmers by cooperative banks of Rs. 5780 Crore benefiting 16.94 lakh farmers having less than 5 acres of land.
Later on, Madras High Court ordered that 3.01 lakh farmers in the affected areas who have more than 5 acres of land should also be given the benefit of loan waiver that would amount to Rs. 1980 crore. Tamil Nadu government has not contested this order.
Further, Tamil Nadu government has extended relief amount between Rs. 3000 and Rs. 7000 to each affected farmer that would benefit 30 lakh farmers , with an expenditure of Rs. 2247 crore for the state government.
Further,on 13th April, 2017, the Chief Minister has ordered an additional disbursement of Rs. 20 crores to procure animal feed in April- May from the State’s Disaster Relief Fund to mitigate the fodder shortage caused by the drought in the state which will also benefit the farmers.
What has the Central government done?:
Central government has approved sanctioning of Rs. 1793.63 crore to Tamil Nadu for the Khariff drought and has released Rs.1499 Cr. to Tamil Nadu after adjusting Rs. 345.64 Cr. lying in the State Disaster Response Fund.
Crop Insurance Scheme :
Government has introduced liberal crop insurance scheme for the farmers with very low premia of 2% of the insured value for Khariff crop and 1.5% for the Rabi season . Around 15 lakh farmers have registered themselves for crop insurance in Tamil Nadu but the amount is yet to be disbursed in most cases. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has ordered quick disbursement of drought relief to farmers under the Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme.
What demand by farmers ?
The farmers have demanded that around Rs. 39,000 crore of farm loans should be waived. Further, long term issues such as inter linking rivers, and formation of Cauvery Water Management Board have been demanded.
Farmers’ protest in Delhi:
Around 50 farmers from delta regions have been sitting in protest in Delhi insisting on the above demands for more than thirty days now. Several central ministers including Finance Minister have met them and have assured relief measures shortly. But the farmers insist that the Prime Minister should meet them.
Several opposition political leaders have met the agitating farmers in Delhi, spent some time with them, sat for photograph with them and issued public statements supporting the farmers and decrying the government. To draw the media attention, the farmers have done all sorts of things including undressing themselves in public.
Many wonder as to whether the farmers agitation has become political in character and style ,which will not help the cause of the farmers. It is also not clear as to whether all the farmers in Tamil Nadu in drought affected regions ( round 30 lakh farmers) approve the methods of protest indulged in by around 50 farmers in Delhi, which may ultimately affect the image of the farmers themselves as well as Tamil Nadu state.
Supreme Court’s observations:
While insisting that the Tamil Nadu government should not be silent on the problems of the farmers, Supreme Court has not given an impression that it has recognized the measures already taken by the governments.
While the farming community has a special place in the hearts of everyone, it has also to be said that there is a limit upto which the governments can help them in overcoming the present acute stress conditions due to financial limitations and the funds needed for various other schemes.
While the fact is that the finance of the Tamil Nadu government is in an extremely bad shape due to various reasons, one cannot deny that the Tamil Nadu government has extended financial support to the extent possible for it in the present circumstances. The government has not shied away
The farmers demand that the central government should waive Rs. 39,000 crore of loan extended by public sector banks to the farmers. One has to keep in view that there are 27 states and 7 union territories in India and such demands are being made by farmers of several states. There is a limit beyond which the central government cannot oblige the demands of all the states fully.
It is also necessary to keep in view that there are 27 crore people in India who live below poverty line and who do not know as to where their next meal would come from. The government has responsibility to serve the needs of these deprived people too.
What can the governments and society do additionally now ?
With regard to the demand for loan waiver , in addition to what has already been provided by state government by waiving the cooperative bank loans , the Central government can issue order that the banks would not insist on repayment of loan for the next two years. The accrued interest should be completely waived off.
In such severe conditions , the government does not have a magic wand to solve the problems in one stroke. While drought has happened now, the rains will come in the coming months, that would give big relief to the farmers.
There are many people in Tamil Nadu including cinema actors as well as political parties who have huge funds at their disposal, as we have seen in the R K Nagar by polls in Chennai. They are all expressing sympathy for the farmers. Why not they go a step further, collect atleast Rs. 500 crores between themselves and extend relief to the farmers.
The farmers’ distress conditions call for response from the entire society in Tamil Nadu and there is no indication so far that Tamil society has realized it’s responsibility which should be by way of adding to the government relief schemes.
What about agri workers ?
Apart from the farmers, there are lakhs of agricultural workers in Tamil Nadu, who work on the farms as daily wage earners.
When the drought conditions affect the agricultural operations, the agricultural workers consisting of men and women also suffer enormously. Why nobody has brought their plight into limelight? Why do the farmers remain silent on the plight of these unfortunate workers, who do not have not farm land or perhaps any other worthwhile possession.