New Delhi: There is a sea of people at Jantar Mantar sleeping on the roads and the pavements – an unusual scene, especially at this time of the year with blankets and shawls being the only protection shielding them from the chilling Delhi winter. What makes their condition pitiable is that these people (over 5000 in number) from the Cooch Bihar region of West Bengal have been on hunger strike – without food and water – for the past three days demanding a separate state.
Trains filled with these ethnic bonafide Rajbanshi people flocked to the national capital to press their demand for Cooch Behar within the Union of India, carved out of the 10 districts of West Bengal and Assam. In the past two days, as many as 80 protesters have been claimed to be hospitalized due to weakness resulting from the Bhookh Hartal (hunger strike). One person, in fact, swooned in front of this author, who was at once rushed to the hospital.
Rishikesh, a 20-year-old young farmer, has not eaten since December 8. However, he shows an indomitable spirit towards their “legitimate agitation”.
NewsGram spoke to Nirmal Roy, the President of The Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association, to understand the issue.
Roy tells us that like other princely states, His Highness of Maharaja-ruled Cooch Behar joined the Union of India by signing the instrument of accession with the latter on August 28, 1949. Later, Cooch Behar was placed as ‘C’ Camp State in the Indian Constitution adopted on November 26, 1949.
“But on January 1, 1950, our constitutional Cooch Behar state was amalgamated with the ‘A’ Category state of West Bengal by dint of ‘290 A’ British provincial Act of 1935 by Governor General. But this Act was fully abandoned in 1939 during the World War II by the British and was not in existence in 1950. Therefore, the merger of Cooch Behar ‘C’ camp state with the ‘A’ category state of West Bengal was completely illegal and unconstitutional.
“Since that time we have been forced to live in extreme poverty and denied basic necessities as we have no Constitutional identity,”Roy tells NewsGram.
Roy claims five districts of Cooch Behar, namely South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Bihar were merged with West Bengal while other five districts – Kokrajhar, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, and Goalpara – went with Assam.
Roy’s organization was formed in 1998 and the agitation has been going on since 2000 in this regard. It is, therefore, not their first hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, the officially designated place for protests in the national capital. They first dug their heels in here on August 28, 2006. However, the then UPA government did not pay heed to their demands. Therefore, they decided to step up the agitation in 2011, at Jantar Mantar, where after 20 days of hunger strike by thousands of people, as claimed by Roy, the government opened their doors for dialogue.
Despite repeated assurances by the then Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Cooch Behar did not become a reality. On the other hand, the UPA yielded to incessant pressure exerted on them and formed the state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh.
There had been a series of communication between the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office and the group. However, the demand remained unfulfilled.
They were back at Jantar Mantar again on March 10 this year demanding special attention in regard to Cooch Behar’s developmental needs as promised by the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. After two days of protest, the strike was called off following Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s assurances to “look into the matter”.
“After three months when we communicated with the Home Minister, he informed us that a letter was dispatched to Prime Minister Modi in reference to the formation of Cooch Behar, adding that the final decision in this regard will be taken by the Union Cabinet.”
However, their repeated attempts to secure a meeting with PM Modi have been to no avail thus far, Roy rues.
New Delhi, September 18, 2017 : Indian and International media is full of articles regarding large number of farmers in India committing suicide due to debt pressure.
Instead of going to the root of the problem and analyzing the reasons for this phenomenon, Indian politicians have come up with an absurd idea of farm loan waivers.
Majority of Indian farmers under debt trap own very little land. Farming on such small piece of land is not economically feasible. This sector is highly unorganized. Most of the time, no planning is involved in cultivation, irrigation and harvesting.
Middlemen exploit farmers by buying their produce at a very low price and then selling it at a premium to the end consumers.
The irony is that a large number of Indian politicians claim huge incomes from agriculture while farmers starve.
In the province of Madhya Pradesh 24 farmers committed suicide this year over crop loss and failure to repay loans but 18 of the 20 cabinet ministers of the state have shown ‘agriculture’ as their main source of huge incomes.
How come politicians are earning in Billions through farming while the real farmers are struggling to make both ends meet?
Let’s examine the issue in-depth.
The income earned from agricultural land is exempt from income tax under section 10 (1) of the Income Tax Act 1961. Politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen in India launder their money misusing the above income tax clause.
Normally, one cannot own agricultural land in India unless their forefathers have been agriculturists. Rich and influential people in the country obtain agriculturist certificates by ‘greasing the palms’ of the local land officials.
Farmers are not required to maintain detailed records in India. This provides an excellent loophole to pass off unaccounted and undeclared cash as agricultural income. It is done by showing fake sales cash receipts of agricultural produce, which like other certificates can be purchased in India through bribes.
Approximately 800,000 tax declarants in India state exorbitant amounts as agricultural incomes while filing their annual income tax returns.
This income, a whopping INR. 874 Lakh Crores was eight times more than the cumulative GDP of India for the financial years 2011 and 2012.
The average annual income declared by these assesses comes out to be anywhere between Rs. 30-80 Crores, on which they don’t pay any taxes.
It’s obvious that the aforesaid is not agricultural earning instead it’s declared as agricultural income by these assesses just to avoid paying taxes.
According to National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Delhi, with hardly any farming land has more farmers indulging in agriculture than Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal provinces.
Delhi’s so called ‘farmers’ received Rs. 22,077 Crores in agricultural loans during 2009. In reality, these ‘self proclaimed farmers’ are the owners of big farm houses on the outskirts of the capital.
The authorities are well aware of this malpractice. The Tax Administration Reform Committee in its report in November 2014 said, “Agricultural income of non-agriculturists is being increasingly used as a conduit to avoid tax and for laundering funds, resulting in leakage to the tune of Crores in revenue annually”
The Finance Minister of India, Arun Jaitley on 26th April said that the government of India does not plan to tax the farm income.
It reveals that Indian politicians cutting across party lines indulge in this malpractice, 27% of the winning Lok Sabha M.P’s in 2014 elections have declared wealth of over Rs. 1 Crore, majority of which has been mentioned as agricultural income.
Indian opposition politicians blackmail the political party in power by indulging in spurious farmer agitations.
If there is a bumper crop then the opposition parties start shouting that prices have crashed due to over-supply in the market. When farming cultivation fails due to the vagaries of nature, then they start throwing statistics about farmers suicide.
A group of ‘self proclaimed’ farmers from Tamil Nadu province camped at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, the Indian capital city during March this year and indulged in cheap theatrics to draw attention to their protests.
The leader of this group, P. Ayyakannu is demanding that all farmers should be given loan waivers from banks and quoted highly inflated figures of farmers suicides in Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil Nadu government on 28th April, 2017 conveyed to the Supreme Court of India that no famers committed suicide in the state and clarified that a few, who took this extreme measure did it due to personal reasons.
Many farmers died due to old age and other medical issues. Ayyakannu clubbed all of them together to gather national as well as international attention.
Ayyakannu called off this whole play in Delhi on 23rd April after 40 days, when the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu came to meet these protestors.
He said that their group is giving a one month’s time-frame to the government in order to fulfill their demands otherwise, they would resume their protests in the national capital from May 25 on a bigger scale.
This impostor farmer leader Ayyakannu again came back to Delhi again on 16th July with his gang of ruffians to continue their drama.
Ayakannu as per media reports is not even a farmer, but a lawyer, who makes huge amounts of money through out of court settlements and personally owns hundreds of acres of land.
He and his bunch of hooligans all look quite healthy and well-fed. They don’t appear like destitute farmers as claimed by them.
Fake farmers like the aforementioned Ayyakannu are just the front faces of this façade in the name of farmers.
The remote controls of such characters remain in the hands of politicians, who use them for their narrow, selfish, corrupt agendas depending on the political situation at the state and national level.
The governments of Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan & U.P. provinces have waived off agricultural loans worth Billions. This has set up a very bad precedent for the rest of the country.
There are no ‘free lunches’ in this world. These half baked measures like loan waivers just make people lazy parasites.
The following steps would go a long way in helping the real distressed farmers;
Scientific soil and climate testing should be done across all farming regions in India. Farmers can then be educated about which crops to grow profitably, in how many cycles; depending on the soil conditions and climate of the region.
Implement agricultural reforms like farming co-operatives, where farmers having small agricultural land holdings can be encouraged to come together and pool their land plus resources together.
Crop storage infrastructure should be built and maintained in every village so, that farmer can store their surplus produce rather than sell it desperately at a low price.
Crop insurance must be compulsorily introduced all over the country wherein, farmers by paying a nominal amount need not bother about their crops getting destroyed through excessive rain or drought.
Organic farming needs to be encouraged instead of over-reliance on chemical fertilizers. The food waste produced by an entire village can be easily turned into biodegradable compost, through innovative schemes like Vermicomposting.
Vermicast can replace fertilizers in the agriculture fields. This would save money for the farmer and provide high quality chemical free crops.
The APMC’s (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees) have created a coterie of middlemen, who along with the complicity of these committees, form a virtual barrier between the farmer and the consumer, paying the former a pittance for his produce and charging the latter exorbitant amounts for fruits and vegetables.
Vegetables are purchased at Rs. 2 or 3 a kg from farmers and then sold at 30 to 40 rupees per kg to urban consumers.
This setup has been going on for decades in every town and city of India. Millions of urban Indians pay artificially higher prices and majority of farmers are underpaid due to this flawed system.
The profits are made by middlemen, who do not pay taxes on these huge earnings. It is a common practice for them to store money in cash and not in banks.
These APMC’s must therefore be abolished immediately. Farmers should get direct access to the end consumer through the elimination of middlemen. This would ensure a better monetary return for farmers.
Private moneylenders in and around the villages charge a very high rate of interest from farmers. This unscrupulous sector should be bought under government regulation by bringing down the rate of interest to a rational level.
Government schools in villages are in shambles. They need to be upgraded so, that quality education at an affordable price is available to every child in the village.
This would uplift farmers children through educational empowerment. It will enable them to make a transition to non-agricultural professions in future and enhance their family earnings considerably.
The aforementioned steps would cost the government far less than what it is losing in the absurd loan waiver schemes, which anyways don’t help the poor marginal farmer at all.
As regard dealing with the fake farmers of India.
The solution entails; no farm loan waivers and bringing the agricultural income above a certain threshold under the tax bracket.
The aforesaid measures would prevent the fake farmers façade spreading rapidly all over the country, while resolving the agrarian crisis of India by assisting needy farmers of the country.
The author is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.
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