Corporate Giants Secure Long-Term Lease Agreements Amid Market Shifts

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance faced significant setbacks in the Lok Sabha elections, particularly in the agrarian belts of the country. The BJP lost at least 38 seats across five states where the farmers’ movement against the policies of the Narendra Modi government was strong. This administration, a continuation of the first two Modi regimes, has been seen as favoring corporate houses and tweaking agricultural policies in their favor.

Farmers’ Expectations from the Budget

Farmers are demanding a radical shift from previous Budgets to address the ongoing agrarian crisis. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 100,474 farmers and agricultural workers committed suicide between 2015 and 2022, a tragic indication of the crisis. The most pressing issue is the statutory minimum support price (MSP) at C2+50%, as recommended by the M.S. Swaminathan Commission. This promise, made by Narendra Modi and the BJP in their 2014 manifesto, has yet to be fulfilled.

To implement this, Budgetary provisions must be made, and discussions with farmers’ movements are essential. Additionally, the rising cost of production needs to be addressed by reducing prices of fertilizers, seeds, insecticides, diesel, water, and electricity. Even with an MSP at C2+50%, high production costs could nullify its benefits.

Public Sector Involvement

The government can reduce these costs by exerting strict control over corporations involved in producing these inputs. Historically, public sector companies produced most of these inputs, and the Budget should support their continued involvement. Despite the government’s rhetoric on self-reliance, actions have not matched words, particularly in the fertilizer sector.

Loan Waivers and Climate Change

Another critical expectation is a one-time loan waiver for farmers and agricultural workers nationwide. Without this, farm suicides are unlikely to decrease. The government has written off loans worth ₹16 lakh crore for corporates but claims it lacks funds to waive farmers’ loans. Loan waivers, reduced production costs, and ensuring MSP at C2+50% must be implemented together to address 70% of the agrarian crisis.

In light of climate change, a comprehensive crop insurance scheme is necessary. The existing Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) benefits insurance companies more than farmers, leading several states to opt out. A new scheme should be developed with adequate Budgetary provisions.

Irrigation and Power

Public sector investment in irrigation and power has declined over the last decade, leading to rising costs as these sectors are handed over to private companies. The Union government must address incomplete irrigation projects to bring more land under irrigation. In the power sector, public investment is crucial for a steady electricity supply. Corporate control over power production and the introduction of smart meters could create issues for both rural and urban consumers.

MGNREGA and Land Reforms

The expansion of MGNREGA is another critical point. Since the Modi government took power, funding for MGNREGA has been reduced, and workdays have dropped to just 42. Increasing wages to ₹600 and workdays to at least 200 would support rural workers and boost their purchasing power.

Land reforms are also essential. The government’s shift from “Land to the Tiller” to “Land to the Corporates” has led to massive acquisitions of farmland by corporate houses, often without compensation. Radical land reforms must be initiated and completed.

Raising Resources

To fund these initiatives, the Union government should impose wealth and inheritance taxes while restoring corporate tax rates. India has one of the lowest corporate tax rates globally. Income tax slabs should be adjusted so that the rich pay more, providing relief to the middle class. Increasing direct taxes and reducing indirect taxes while curbing tax evasion through stringent measures are necessary steps.

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Why did the BJP-led NDA face election setbacks in agrarian belts?

The BJP-led NDA faced election setbacks in agrarian belts primarily due to discontent over agricultural policies, inadequate support prices, and rural distress. Farmers felt neglected, leading to a loss of trust and support, which significantly impacted the electoral outcomes in these regions.

Can the farmers movement significantly impact future elections in agrarian belts?

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