The forthcoming tenth ministerial conference of World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi beginning December 15 could sound the death knell for farmers of India, especially of Punjab, which has an agrarian economy and about Rs 40,000 crore is given to farmers every year for procuring paddy and wheat in kharif and rabi seasons, respectively.
Other than Punjab, farmers of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh will be major sufferers in case India succumbs to the pressure of WTO. Developed countries, including the US, Canada, European Union and Japan, are pressing the emerging economies, especially India and China, to give up pre- and post-harvest subsidies.
On the contrary, Indian farmers are demanding Special Safeguard Measures (SSMs) against dumping of foodgrains in India by developed countries, which means in case the import of foodgrains from developed countries upsets market dynamics in India the government could impose duties on imports. The developed nations are also seeking withdrawal of the SSMs clause.
Union minister for commerce Nirmala Sitharaman, who will participate in the conference, is under tremendous pressure from farmers, farm organisations and experts in the field. “We don’t want to compromise with the interests of Indian farmers which comprise 52% of 1.25 billion population and their livelihood, in the forthcoming WTO negotiations,” food security analyst Devinder Sharma told HT.
In an agreement India signed on July 31, 2014 after the Bali ministerial conference of 2013, India was granted the peace clause, which meant a waiver that no country could challenge exports from India’s food stocks holding as long as it didn’t distort international market and India could also continue to give minimum support price (MSP) on crops to procure foodgrains.
But now developed countries are building pressure on India to stop giving input subsidies to farmers. India gives a subsidy of Rs 1 lakh crore for fertiliser. They want that the MSP be reduced to de-minimus, which means only aggregate measure of support (AMS) capping it at 10% of the value of production.
“It means in case the Centre is distributing Rs 40,000 crore MSP, the Punjab farmers would only be liable to get Rs 4,000, which is actually suicidal for Indian agriculture which is already in a crisis,” said Sharma, raising apprehensions.
He said the subsidy the Indian farmer gets on an average is only about Rs 1,000 per month, while the average subsidy of the farmer in the US is Rs 2.5 lakh per month, which spoke volumes about the massive difference in the way farmers were treated in these two countries.
What farm bodies are planning
About 250 volunteers of the Bhartiya Kisan Union led by newly formed umbrella body Kisan Ekta would go to the official residences of all MPs seeking their intervention on the matter, explaining the issue in the form of a letter. BKU (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal, who leads the campaign, said, “If India does not stand firm at the ministerial conference, Indian agriculture will face disastrous consequences.”