07/20/2017: Farmers from India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu protest for the 5th day at New Delhi. They protest in demand of loan waivers and drought relief. On top of their demands, they’re also not happy regarding the salary hikes for the state legislatures. So they employ a new means of protest – slapping themselves with their own sandals. But is this the first time they’re protesting?
Drought in Tamil Nadu
The state of Tamil Nadu has approximately equal industrial and agricultural lands. TN is facing what is one of its worst droughts in over a century. This has subsequently led to lesser water for drinking and sanitation. The global re-insurer from Switzerland, Swiss Re, pegged the losses to the state due to drought at $3 billion. TN had 82% lesser rainfall in 2017.
Adverse Effects of Drought on Farming and Agriculture
The drought also affected agriculture in plenty of ways. The scorching heat either dried or burned innumerable crops such as paddy, samba, rice, etc. Due to this, plenty of farmers were forced to end their lives.
Farmers’ Protests from April 14 to May 25
Farmers of TN protested at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar during April and May in demand of help. During this time they protested in various ways, all of which were futile. And they ended protests on May 25 when TN CM Edappadi K Palaniswamy promised to take up this issue with PM Narendra Modi. But they promised to protest again if their demands weren’t met.
Central Activities That Affected Farmers
- On 11/08/2016, PM Narendra Modi came on national television and declared 500 & 1000 denominations invalid after midnight. Although he aimed this move at black/counterfeit money holders, it actually hurt farmers. Farmers (and small businessmen) suffered because they held hard cash that the PM now invalidated. But the real culprits held money in various forms both in India and abroad, and escaped. So not only did it do little to help India, but it also made India more corrupt. Or rather the most corrupt in the Asia Pacific region.
- On 05/28/2017, the Government of India announced a ban on beef in order to stop cattle smuggling. They brought various rules restricting cattle trade to farmers only. This adversely affected farmers and people who rear cows for milk. Of course, this draconian law was struck down by the Supreme Court on 07/11/2017.
- On 07/01/2017, PM Narendra Modi passed the Goods & Services Tax (GST – full details here). Of course, GST is an essential government tax and all nations have it. But in India, the center split GST into 5 slabs – 0%, 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. And the center split each of these slabs into two equal parts for center and state governments. In this scheme, homemade cereals, fruits, vegetables and nuts had 0-5% GST, but chemicals, fertilizers, tractors, etc, had 12-18% GST. In other words, manufacturing cost was higher than selling cost. Even cars for handicapped people carried a GST of 18%! We are yet to see the long term impacts of GST on agriculture.
State Apathy Leading to Further Hardships for Farmers
The TN government under CM Edappadi Palaniswamy didn’t do much to help the situation of farmers. Also, the Madras High Court directed the state government to waive off loans. KA Sengottaiyan said the government waived off over INR 50 billion of farmer loans.
We can only wish the best for our TN farmers. Here’s hoping the center and the state cooperate to bring an end to their agony and also bring a permanent solution to this problem.