Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

15th May - DNA

Chamanlal Bhimabhai Chavda is a marginal farmer in Khamblav village in Surendranagar. He owns four acres of non irrigated land which, for generations, he has tilled for desi cotton, or kala as it is colloquially called. Kala has a longer growth and harvesting cycle than BT cotton and is ready for selling in late March or April. Unseasonal rains late last year destroyed cotton on three of his four acres. What nature didn’t ruin, government policy did. An export ban on  cotton was lifted for a few months and producers of BT cotton which was by then ready for sale earned Rs 1000 to Rs 16000 for 20 kilos. Kala was not then ready. By the time it was, the ban had been reimposed. In spite of the fall in the production of kala because of the rains and because acreage dedicated to it has shrunk, today the over two lakh farmers who grow this are in a desperate situation. No one is lifting their cotton, not even at the throw away price of Rs 500 for 20 kilos.

Chamanbhai’s economics do not work. The input cost of his cotton, not counting his and his family’s labour (they could have earned Rs 10,000 had they availed of MGNREGA – if fraud didn’t take that away of course) comes to Rs 15040. Even if he is able to sell his 20 mounds (400 kilos) at Rs 500, all he gets back is Rs 10,000. That is a clear financial loss of over Rs 5000. Add to that the family’s wages and the figure easily comes to Rs 30,000. What must the family have eaten all year? What are they eating now? What are they wearing? Do the children go to school? How? How is Chamanlal going to pay back the bank loan which has fallen due? Without a further loan how is he going to plant again? Will he turn to the money lender and get a further loan at exorbitant rates to pay back the bank? Will he and his family ever get out of this cycle? Shouldn’t we be concerned?

There are over two lakh farmers who still grow the cotton that once made us the Manchester of the East. On an average family size of five ( probably a huge underestimation) that makes over ten lakh people, practically starving and destitute, spread over Saurashtra and Kutchch,  What hope and action can save them? Are we just waiting for more suicides, leaving even more women and children homeless?

When the mandarins in the Planning Commission pontificate about poverty, have they tried to follow what they have deemed fair? Just last week this august body declared that anyone in the urban areas who could earn Rs 20 a day or Rs 18 if in the rural areas, would not be considered below poverty level! Have any of the members actually gone to the shops, or to a school or hospital, and seen what this amount buys, or rather can not buy? Is this some kind of a joke? Will they try and live on this sum for a week with their families?

How can we get the decision makers to see the reality, the people behind the numbers, their actual lives, so that there is understanding of human suffering rather than of statistics and robust figures that hide misery and truth? How can we prevail on them that a very urgent and totally new look  needs to be directed towards actual people and their state to alleviate human suffering, agony, humiliations? That plans and policies need to have them as the focus and not numbers that can be jiggled or manipulated?

As for the cotton farmers, the governments, both at the Centre and the State must step in to immediately purchase their desi cotton at a respectable price of Rs 1200 or more per 20 kilos. If super rich profit making industries can be gifted lakhs of crores every year as tax breaks and subsidies, do the poor and suffering of India have to be left to starve?

May 15th, 2011, DNA


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