NEW DELHI — Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday added to the opposition offensive on the Modi government, saying farmers' land should not be taken away without their consent. He was addressing the farmers' rally organised by his party at Jantar Mantar on Wednesday, right after a farmer tragically attempted suicide in the gathering. He was pronounced dead on arrival shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital.
Kejriwal asked the Modi government to implement recommendations made by the Swaminathan committee report, including making the Minimum Support Price (government's price) for crops at least 50 percent more than the weighted average cost of production.
"Before the general elections, the Modi government had promised that they would implement the Swaminathan committee report, but now they have forgotten," said Kejriwal.
Kejriwal has joined Congress party's Rahul Gandhi and a broad spectrum of opposition forces in attacking the Modi government on its move to introduce amendments to UPA's land acquisition law. The government has asked its MPs to be armed with facts and go to the people and explain why the amendments are beneficial to the farmer.
The National Commission on Farmers, chaired by Prof. M. S. Swaminathan, was formed in 2004 where they submitted five reports — the final one dealing with causes of farmer distresses and the rise in farmer suicides. The committee had recommended addressing these issues through a national policy for farmers. One of the recommendations was to give 50 percent profit to farmers for their harvest. Kejriwal on Wednesday strongly backed these recommendations.
"If the central government puts this into practice, then people from Delhi too will start farming," he said. "Suicides will stop. I've asked my officers if we can do this in Delhi. If we can do it here, we will be the first in the country."
The chief minister also asked the government to provide enough compensation for all farmers whose harvest were spoiled due to unseasonal rain, so that they could at least feed their families.
While Kejriwal has pledged his support to farmers in Delhi, reassuring them that their land would not be taken away without their consent, he said that he would also write to all other state CMs and appeal to them to do the same. He said it would send a clear message to the central government as to how many states felt strongly about the issue, and that it would also provide relief to people in those states who would rest easy knowing that their government will not snatch their lands.
Strategic Attack On Modi
Kejriwal launched a frontal attack on Narendra Modi on Wednesday, alleging that he had let down farmers despite capturing their vote last year.
"A year ago when people voted for Modi with great expectation, I saw a reporter asking a farmer on television around this time who he would vote for," Kejriwal recalled. "He said he would vote for Modi because every farmer's condition was very bad, they were committing suicide, and that Modi will reduce such suicides and help them."
Kejriwal alleged that the same farmers had "lost their faith in BJP and Modi's government", and demanded to know what had changed in a year that it had become an anti-farmer government.
"What has happened that they don't care about the poor of the nation but only for the big businessmen and rich people?" he said.
He said that the amendments proposed in the Land Bill by the BJP were the worst blow yet to farmers.
The government has diluted the extent of consent required from land owners before land could be acquired for public projects, arguing that the requirements put in by the UPA's bill was onerous and would endlessly delay public projects.
He demanded an explanation for the ordinances brought in by the government — twice — to support the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition bill, saying that this would only be legitimate during some kind of an urgency, emergency-like situation.
"If there is no such situation, then it means it's because of the big, powerful businessmen, for whom it was brought in," he said. "For those who spend 24 hours hobnobbing with Modi."
Delhi As A Role Model
Kejriwal held up Delhi as a shining example, saying that it was the only government which gave Rs 50,000 per hectare as relief to those who suffered because of the unseasonal rain. "I feel that if Rajasthan government too had done this it would have helped farmers there," he said.
He advised the central government to try to find out why farmers were ready to sell their land. Giving Delhi's example, Kejriwal said that many businessmen had decided to leave their factories in industrial areas. This was because of unavailability of water, electricity and roads in those areas.
Drawing a parallel, he said that he "could also have said like the central government, that businessmen are leaving their factories, capture their lands."
"Instead I sat the businessmen down and asked them what their problems were. We will bring them back, give them electricity, water, roads."
He said that the government needed to address the reasons why farmers were leaving their lands, instead of jumping at the opportunity and snatching them away. "The farmers have no interest to leave their lands and come to Delhi and become a rickshaw puller. A farmer wants to stay in his village and till his lands with dignity," he said. "The biggest reason why farmers are leaving their land is because they are unable to make gains from their harvest. A farmer works hard, through sunshine and rainfall, round the clock. Yet he is not given his due over his harvest."