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What’s common between bureaucrats salaries, business persons tea and farmer suicides in India?

In the early 1990s, when the new economic policy of reforms was introduced in India, the trickle down theory was more aggressively propagated. Who have actually gained riches and who have been marginalized?

This morning I woke up to few very interesting news.

News 1: Seventh Pay Commission for 23.55 per cent hike in pay of Central Government employees.

News 2: Tomato price skyrocket to Rs 60 (0.90 USD), other veggies on the rise.

News 3: Nita Ambani, wife of India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, starts her day with a cup of tea that is worth Rs 3 lakh (4,500 USD).

News 4: Odisha’s Chief Minister announces a package of Rs 35000 crore (7.35 million USD) in response to growing farmer suicides and distress.

News 5: 55 year old debt ridden sharecropper killed self in Ganjam district of Odisha, India.

All these seem to be different news but in reality they are not. Spare a few minutes and you would realize they are all inter-connected.  Let’s discuss one by one and then see the interconnection.

Discussion 1

A retired IAS (Indian Administrative Officer) (the highest government post of the country) just posted on his facebook wall the following:

On joining the IAS in 1966, the salary per month we got was perhaps Rs 520 (8 USD) that included DA (Dearness Allowance).  Seventh Pay Commission recommendation would make our monthly pension Rs 112500 (1700 USD) with effect from 1st January 2016.

In 2007, while conducting a farmers’ perception study, an old farmer from Rengali block in Sambalpur district in Odhisa (from where many farmers have committed suicide since 2009) said to me, “When we got independence, salary of a school teacher as well as that of a post master was Rs 6 (0.10 USD).  That time, in early 1950s, a farmer was able to buy 10 gram of gold by selling two bags of paddy (75 kilogram per bag).  Now, in 2007, the salary of the school teacher is somewhere around Rs 22000 (330 USD) and no farmer can buy 10 gram of gold even by selling 22 bags of paddy.”

Discussion 2

Tomato prices have skyrocketed but the real farmers don’t get benefit of this.  It is the stockists, mostly rich businessmen or aided by them, who benefit out of such price rises.  Let’s take the price of dal (lenthils) as an example.  Dal prices has sucked the common Indians too much already and is believed to be one of the many reasons that saw defeat of the ruling party in the centre BJP in recently concluded Bihar state elections.

A journalist friend just posted in his facebook wall the following, and says these facts can be verified:

M/s Adani had formed a Joint venture with Wilmar company of singapore last year for marketing of food products in india. Adani Wilmar Ltd, is the producer of fortune brand food products in India. The JV company aimed to collect agri produces on large scale from farmers in major pulses producing states. They could not do it as there was a cap on mass collection and storage of food items. Last April, Adani could manage to get that cap on three pulses Arhar, Moong and Urad removed thru a government order. And since then the company started collecting 300 tons of pulses every day @Rs30/kg (0.5 USD). They accumulated more than 100 lakh tons of pulses in their large scale warehouses. Perhaps the entire seasons produce from three states were collected by the company. The result. In the market only Adani Wilmar was having stock. The wholesale and retail prices was decided by them. They sold the pulses @Rs220/Kg (3.5 USD). Which was collected @Rs 30 (0.5 USD).

Through the well planned hoarding, the company made windfall profits up to the tune of lakhs of crores. When the nations attention was on other issues, they were silently looting every Indian.

Adani is considered to be the closest business tycoon to the current Prime Minister of India.  In fact, the PM was seen campaigning during 2014 general elections on a chartered flight given by Adani; then this businessman was seen with the PM during most of his foreign visits after being sworn in; and the PM has taken special drive to provide 1 billion loan from State Bank of India to Adani for an Australian coalmine.

Discussion 3

The cost of a tea is a private affair and we are not supposed to discuss.  However, when it’s Nita Ambani, the issue needs to be discussed.  Ambani, the richest businessman of India, has build his business empires at the cost of Indian farmers.  This is same with other business houses as well.  Successive governments, both state and central, have displaced millions of Indians for these business houses to prosper.  Land, forests and water have been given almost at peanuts to these tycoons.  The result, even as the common Indian’s family economy has been gradually slumping, their income has been growing by hundreds of times.  It is now established that top one per cent of the globe own more than 50 per cent of it’s properties.  The case is similar in India.  The Ambanis and Adanis are among the super rich one per cent in the country who own majority of the country’s resources.  They have obviously grown at the cost of the farmers and common Indians.

Discussion 4

Yesterday, Odisha’s Chief Minister and his party organized a meeting of farmers in Sohela of Bargarh district, considered the rice bowl of the state.  This is in response to the growing distress of farmers and ever increasing suicides.  He has announced a Rs 35000 crore (7.35 million USD) package to assure irrigation, waiver of loan, etc. etc.  This is a routine affair now.  However, the farmers’ distress is increasing by the day.  Effective irrigation coverage is not increasing ever since industries have been given with water from irrigation’s share from Hirakud dam that made Bargarh the rice bowl once.  The super rich like Birla, TATA, and others own these industries here and have been given a free loot of the water and other resources.  In 2007, when 30,000 farmers formed a human chain covering Hirakud dam in protest against diversion of irrigation water to industries, Odisha’s Chief Minister made similar commitments.  But farmers’ distress and suicides have not gone down.  Rather, there has been an increase.

Conclusion

There is one thing common in all the above facts and arguments.

India was an agrarian country when it got independence from the British rule, it is still an agrarian country.

Majority of the people depend on farm, farm lands, forests and water for their livelihood and sustenance.  However, while all other sections of the society developed by leaps and bounds, the farmers economy shrunk by thousand of times.

Take for example the IAS officers.  They were appointed to serve the Indians, majority of whom were farmers.  But their salary increased by about 50,000 times.  And we all know what has happened to our politicians/rulers.  Some of them have increased their income by thousands of times just within five years in power.  But the farmers’ economy has tanked by thousand of times.  Majority of them are small and marginal farmers who still depend on the natural resources and supply food to majority of the population.  However, they are still fighting for loan waiver and other sops in order to not commit suicide and stay alive, leave aside living in dignity and as an empowered citizen of the nation.

From the early 1990s, when the new economic policy of reforms was introduced, the trickle down theory was more aggressively propagated and it was said that Indians would soon be rich.  However, all the examples are pointers to who have actually gained riches and who have been marginalized.

Tickle down theory pic for blog

Tickle down theory/Credit: Left Wing UK

Well, a small portion of middle class has emerged in this process and have some cash income.  However, the concentration of wealth has gone into the super elite less than one per cent.  Most of these middle class survive on salaries given by these super rich.  The government employees have enjoyed the benefit as well, but the majority of farmers who have diversified into other sectors are still languishing in the unorganized labour market without any income guarantee whatsoever.

In 2007, the same old man of Rengali block who had said given to me an indicator of farmers’ distress by the decreased purchase power of paddy had also suggested a measure to improve the condition of farmers. He had said, “if you want to improve the condition of farmers eliminate the agriculture department.”

The IAS officers, government employees and others who have been serving to improve condition of agriculture and farmers have actually become rich themselves but not the farmers.

Similarly, all others have got rich at the cost of the farmers.

No one would be minding Rs 3 lakh worth tea of Nita Ambani (4500 USD) or Rs 15 lakh (USD 20,000) suit of the PM had the fruits of development percolated down to each farmer of the nation. I have seen how landlords have ended up as labour in factories of Ambanis, Adanis, Birlas, TATAs. While they don’t have basic minimum wages and amenities, Ambanis have built world’s costliest home just for four people to live. And we call it development!!!

Time for supporting a real Indian Farmers and Forest Dwellers economy where the disparity goes down drastically.  It may take time but not impossible.