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The rich-poor farmer divide

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Over the last 2 months, Regional Farm leaders of Northern India have been a mainstay of National television as they have been at the forefront of the ongoing farmer’s agitation against the newly enacted agricultural reforms. Countless authors have written about various aspects of this agitation as well as the agriculture sector in general. I too would like to talk about a particular aspect that most authors have sort of ignored despite the fact that it’s pretty much apparent i.e- these farm leaders themselves.

All these farm leaders are extremely rich and live lavish lives and haven’t stepped into a farm field for years now. Farm leaders like Rakesh Tikait and others own assets worth hundreds of crores of rupees. These are big crorepatis, some even arabpatis. This despite the fact that Indian farmer in general is extremely poor with an annual income of less than a lakh rupees. These leaders say that their fight is with the capitalists though they themselves are capitalists. They run several businesses especially agri companies. It’s true that capitalists have hurt (and would hurt) Indian farmers, but these capitalists aren’t the Ambanis & Adanis. It’s actually these farm leaders(or rich farmers).

Over 85% of our total landowning farmers are small & marginal and are extremely poor. Yet they own less than 45% of total agricultural land. About 50% of total landowning farmers in India own even less than 15% of total agricultural land in India. Not just that, but of all the people employed in farming, over 55% are those who don’t even own a single inch of land. These people are generally called landless agricultural labourers. I would say they too are farmers as they do the real farming. So it’s clear that majority of farmers in India either own extremely small patches of land or no land at all, while about 15% landowning farmers own 55% of total agricultural land. That’s where the real problem is. This is a direct result of the failure of the Nehruivan regime to effectively execute land reforms across the country. Land reforms are one of the biggest failures of the Nehruivan regime and they faced the most resistance in the Northern India where the reforms could be implemented to only a small extent. It’s nothing surprising that richest farmers of the country come from this region. Now where does the public procurement at MSP largely concentrated in?? Northern India obviously. Only about 6% of all farmers in India get MSP. These farmers mostly hail from Northern India. It’s pretty clear who these farmers are. Several reports have made it clear that bulk of govt subsidies is also availed by these rich farmers and only seldomly reaches the poorest.

Almost entire benefits of subsidised agri credit is availed by rich farmers and notably even agri business companies (which have nothing to do with it). Not even 20% of small & marginal farmers have ever gotten access to the subsidised agri credit. Rich farmers have been found to refinance these loans to poor farmers at exorbitant interest rates, often trapping them in vicious debt traps. These rich farmers are strongmen and highly influential in there areas. They are farm leader and have their respective unions. There’s a nexus between them and politicians and local administration, they themselves are local politicians many times, even legislators.

They are local Sahukaars and even act as Aarthiyas. With their money and unions, they are nothing short of strongmen in there areas. The existing system has been extremely beneficial to them, hence why they would always fight for it( that’s why they never asked for direct subsidies despite the fact that direct subsidies have been far more impactful than indirect subsidies and also why they haven’t expressed much interest in DBT). These rich farmers for long have been like some parasite sticking on to the sector and sucking out of it any potential for growth. We have to dismantle this hegemony, because as long as they are sitting at the top, they won’t allow anything to trickle down. Only by dismantling this hegemony can we truly open the gates of prosperity for the farmers at large of India. 

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