Farmers were peacefully protesting against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya to Lakhimpur Kheri district that took an ugly turn at least four farmers were killed and several injured after they were deliberately run over by a car that was part of the convoy of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra. Four persons in the Minister’s convoy were also killed in the violence. Farmers in the Tikonia area of Kheri had gathered at the helipad at Maharaja Agrasen ground to prevent Maurya from landing, and the incident took place as the farmers were scattering from the protest site.
A new video has shown an SUV crashing into the protesters from behind. Farmers say the minister’s son, Ashish Mishra, was behind the attack. The Mishras deny the charge. Two workers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the driver were subsequently beaten to death by a mob of protesters. A fourth person, a journalist, also died in the violence. After a lot of uproar and criticism, authorities in Uttar Pradesh have appointed a retired judge to probe the violence that broke out during a farmers’ protest.
Farm unions say two protesters died when they were run over and two others who were injured later succumbed in the hospital. They are now demanding the purported video footage be treated as evidence against the minister and the son. The violence, which took place in the Lakhimpur district on Sunday, marks a dramatic escalation in a 10-month-old protest against agriculture reforms that the ruling BJP government passed without any substantive discussion in Parliament last year.
One of the major challenges the Narendra Modi government faced was tackling agrarian distress in the face of slack markets, flawed import and export policies, and demonetization. It came up short. That is why since 2016, farmers across the country have held protests against the government, demanding, among other things, that it implement MS Swaminathan Commission Report’s recommendations and increase minimum support prices for various crops.
The Bharatiya Janata Party came to power promising to double farmer incomes, increase minimum support prices to 1.5 times the cost of production, rationalize agricultural markets, make institutions for procurement more efficient, and promote value additions to food production. Agriculture is the engine of India’s economic growth and the largest employer and the BJP commits the highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers’ income and rural development.
One of the BJP’s key promises was doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. In 2016, the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development released a report on how this could be done. The Niti Aayog followed up with its own report in 2017. Yet, in real terms, farm income growth in October to December 2018 quarter was at its lowest in 14 years. The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana was announced in 2015. In February 2019, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that from 2015-’16 to 2017-’18, it created 11,831 organic farming clusters, each of around 500 to 1,000 hectares. Another 20,000 such clusters were added across India in 2018-’19.
Around Rs 800 crore had been released to such clusters since the scheme started, the government added. Much of this money went to Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. A report in Down to Earth notes that while India has the highest number of organic farmers in the world, many of them face problems of limited markets, high production costs and confusing certification systems.
The laws, which have been suspended by the country’s supreme court, are intended to overhaul a system that economists call wasteful and ineffective in meeting the country’s needs. But many farmers fear that the overhaul will undermine government-run markets for grain, leading to plunging prices. A majority of people in India depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and the country lacks job growth in other areas to take up the slack.
The farmer, who too had suffered the curse of black money and complicated tax structure and had suffered the same ‘decisiveness’ of the government in demonetization and GST, has good reasons to be wary of the Farm Bill pushed through the convenient cover of the COVID-induced circumstances.
The condition of most farmers is terrible. About 80% of farmers in India are marginal (less than 1 hectare) or small farmers (1–2 hectare) category. Agriculture supports about 60% of employment but contributes only 17% to GDP. Every day, there are reports of Indian farmer suicides from different parts of the country.