A group of farmers from Tamil Nadu, numbering more than hundred, continued their agitation for 41 days at Jantar Man¬tar, Delhi that had the nation watching in equal measures of awe and horror.
A group of farmers belonging to Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli districts of Tamil Nadu, numbering more than hundred took everyone by surprise when they assembled at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on March 14, 2017. The farmers began their protest against the relief package announced by the centre and a loan waiver. Tamil Nadu has been witnessing its worst drought in 150 years as a result the farmers have incurred heavy losses and finding it difficult to make the ends meet. The farmers are struggling to even to get the bare essentials for their families and their own selves. They claimed that the relief package announced by the centre hardly covers their losses. Besides the farmers have been demanding river interlinking, formation of the Cauvery board, pension of Rs. 5000 for farmers above the age of 60 and waiver of loans by banks and finance companies.
What was started in the month of December, 2016, at Trichirapally, slowly and steadily sprawled in to a major agitation across Tamil Nadu. The farmers were unhappy with a compensation of only Rs 3000 provided by the state and claimed that they were pushed to poverty because the drought had destroyed their crop. Though the protests gained some attention but did not produce the desired results.
Incidentally, Tamil Nadu witnessed a series of turmoil one after another since the demise of the former chief minister Jayalalithaa on December 5th, 2016. Soon, after the demise, the state capital was battered by the furious cyclone “Vardha” which caused unprecedented damage to Chennai as tens of thousands of trees were felled and the capital plunged in to dark for over a week due to power failure. After the nature’s fury, the “Jallikattu” movement emerged. It was also unprecedented in the country as lakhs of youth and general public gathered on Marina beach in Chennai to show their solidarity against the ban of Jallikattu and urged the centre to lift the ban.
Then came the political storm that not only shook the system altogether and it is yet to settle down. From the ousting of the incumbent chief minister O Paneerselvam and the coronation of Sasikala as the General Secretary of AIADMK to the hostage of the MLAs and subsequent arrest of Sasikala and the swearing in of Palanisamy as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu underwent hectic political parleys. Then came the RK Nagar bye election and the two factions of AIADMK were busy staking claims for the legacy of AMMA and finally the Election Commission cancelled the bye-election due to large scale bribing. Following which, TTV Dinakaran was arrested.
As the ruling AIADMK was completely gripped with internal crisis, the farmer’s crisis was pushed to back burner and went unheard. Unhappy with the response from the state government, the farmers decided to pursue the matter with the Centre. As the crisis deepened, the lethargic attitude of the netas really infuriated the farmers and they decided to grab the centre’s attention. Accordingly, a group of farmers owing allegiance to Desiya Thenidhiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam, headed by Iyakannu, set off to New Delhi.
The Cauvery basin has more or less dried up in Tamil Nadu. The majority of the delta region looks parched. In most of the places in Trichirapalli, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam, where river Cauvery flowed beautifully once, one can see only tiny puddles of water here and there now. Tamil Nadu is facing the worst drought in 140 years. Due to severe water shortage, paddy and rabi crops were damaged. Even bore wells in many districts dried up. The severity of the drought affected human life as well as the cattle. While, people had to trek for kilometers to fetch water for drinking purposes, with parched lands it became even difficult for the cattle to survive as the grazing grounds shrunk. All these burdens added up to the life of the farmers, as they were forced to shell out more money for on water resources, feeding the livestock and look after their own survival, that too at a time most of them were reeling under heavy debts. As a result hundreds of farmers lost their lives.
Initially, after assessing the impact in all 32 districts across the state, the Tamil Nadu government had sought a drought relief of 40,000 crore from the Centre. But the central government provided the financial assistance of around ?3,000 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to Tamil Nadu for drought and cyclone relief.
A vast majority of the people of Tamil Nadu squarely blame Karnataka government for the drought situation in Tamil Nadu. Karnataka refused to release enough Cauvery water despite orders of the Supreme Court. As per the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, Karnataka ought to have released 182 billion cubic feet between June and December 2016 but it let out only 67.2 billion cubic feet. Further, the failure of the north-east monsoon in October-December in which the state witnessed a 62 percent deficit of rainfall added to the farmers’ owes.
Among the key demands of the farmer’s agitation is a drought relief package of Rs 40,000 crore and to offer a better support price for their produce. The recent loan waiver worth Rs 36,359 crore announced by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to the farmers of UP added weight to the agitating farmers of Tamil Nadu and they have strongly that the emphasized Tamil Nadu farmers’ loans also must be waived. The fact that many political parties in Tamil Nadu seized the opportunity to raise their voice against the centre lends more credibility to TN farmers’ demands. The political parties say that the centre is treating Tamil Nadu differently from Uttar Pradesh. But the centre maintained that it is the purview of the state and is defined as the responsibility of the state government.
But experts point out that debts in agriculture are a result of increasing costs of production as the cost of as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and machineries have gone up. But the overall prices of farm produces are falling. This phenomenon has pushed the farmers in to ‘debt trap” as the cost of production has undoubtedly outstrips their earnings. As a result most of them have been pushed to brink of object poverty and they had to sell all their belongings like the piece of land and jwelleries to make both ends meet.
The National Human Rights Commission had sent a notice to the Tamil Nadu government in January 2017 which says – “The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports regarding the deaths of 106 farmers during a period of one month in Tamil Nadu which it considers as a matter of concern.” The issue was even raised in the Upper House by Radha Mohan Singh, the Minister of Agriculture in India and the centre promised to provide ‘substantial financial assistance’ to the drought-hit farmers in Tamil Nadu. Combined with drought and debt the TN farmers took to the streets of Delhi.
Over the years India has witnessed several protests across the length and breadth of the country. But the one carried out by the Tamil Nadu farmers at New Delhi was different in many ways. Though, no one questions the intention and cause behind the protests, there has been hue and cry over the way the farmers continued their agitation for over 40 days at the national capital.
The first question that comes to the minds of many people across the nation is: Why did the TN farmers chose Delhi ahead of Chennai, which is the state capital. Headed by Iyakannu, the protestors resorted to various macabre tactics to highlight their pain and agony during their 41 day protest. From dressed in green lungis and petticoats, holding skulls and bones in their hands (claimed to be the skulls and bones of fellow farmers who had committed suicide due to the drought in Tamil Nadu)., dead rats in their mouth to running nude in the South Block, these farmers have made their desperation evident throughout their 41 day strike. Couple of them even attempted to end their life. As a sign of protest, the farmers indulged in hunger strike. On certain occasion, the farmers spread their food on the road itself without using any plates or leaves and ate them too. Couple of them even went further as far as drinking their own urine.
Actually, all these incidents lead to speculation that the protesting farmers are being operated from behind by some vested interest groups who are against the centre. Because, involving in such cheap and attention grabbing dramas have actually diluted the main cause for which the protest was initiated. For nearly six weeks, the farmers continued to grab the nationwide attention. Leaders from all political parties from Tamil Nadu, visited them regularly and registered their presence. Even the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi met these farmers at Jantar Mantar. The representatives of the farmers also met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee but despite the numerous petitions, the centre did not respond to their demands.
The Supreme Court has pulled up the Tamil Nadu government for its failure to come to the rescue of the farmers. The SC clearly stated that a government cannot be allowed to be insensitive towards the plight of the drought-hit farmers who commit suicide and it becomes obligatory on the part of the state government to express concern and sensitiveness to do the needful.
Earlier, in 2016, the state government announced loan waiver scheme worth Rs 5,780 crore that benefited 16.94 lakh marginal and small farmers who owned up to 2.5 acres and up to 5 acres of land respectively. However, the categorization left out other farmers and many considered it as discriminatory and not an intelligible criterion, National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturists Association, Tamil Nadu-based NGO, approached the apex court after the Madras HC had refused to entertain its plea.
The Association alleged that government has shown discrimination in classifying farmers as small and medium and sought a direction to quash the GOs as illegal and to direct authorities to give relief to all farmers for loans taken from cooperative societies, irrespective of extent of land owned. After a prolonged delay, finally the Madras High court directed the Tamil Nadu government to waive loans of all drought-hit farmers and restrained cooperative societies and banks from recovering their dues. The ruling will mean an additional financial burden of Rs 1,980 crore to the Tamil Nadu government and will benefit 3.01 lakh farmers who fall in the 'other' category. The court also stated that in the difficult situation, the central government cannot be a silent spectator and t should come forward to extend the help to the state government to share the burden.
At last, after the assurance of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapadi Palanisamy who met them in person and discussed the issue at length in Delhi, the protesting farmers relented after 41 days. They have called off their protest temporarily. After over 40 days of intense protest, farmers finally relented and temporarily suspend the agitation after Chief Minister Palanisamy met them in Delhi and promised action.
However, the farmer leader Iyakkannu claimed that this it is not the end of this demonstration. He categorically stated that in respect of their words and promises of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu they are suspending their protest temporarily. He has cautioned that if their demands are not met by May 25, protests will begin again.
Indeed the 41 days of the protest had the nation watching in equal measures of awe and horror. It is the gross failure of the state government that has allowed the agitation to reach this magnitude. The irony is that before elections most parties make it a point in their manifestos to address the farmers’ issues and waive their loans. But they are reluctant to do so when coming to power. While several promises were made, there was little or no measures taken to meet the demands of the farmers and the issue only gets bigger and bigger by every passing year.