In more than 8 districts of Vidarbha & Marathwada regions of Maharashtra, tens of thousands of cotton farmers are involved in mass protests at this time. They are demanding that the minimum procurement price for cotton be revised to at least Rs.6000/- per quintal. They have declared that the minimum support price announced by the Central government, of Rs.3300/- a month ago, does not even cover the cost of production. It is more than a month since farmers harvested the cotton crop. The Cotton Corporation of India has not procured any cotton since the open market price is higher than the Centers announced support price.
The Center has declared that if the Maharashtra government wants to raise the procurement price, it must bear the difference. The political parties in Maharashtra are making a lot of noise about their concern for the cotton farmers. Meanwhile, the farmers are being ruined, and the big traders and cotton mill owners are making a killing buying cotton cheap. In this same Vidharbha region, one farmer has been committing suicide every 13 hours during the past one year.
The ruling class parties like Congress, BJP, NCP, Shiv Sena and so on represent the interests of the biggest capitalist houses and trading companies of Maharashtra and India. The course being pursued by the ruling class is one of squeezing the working class and peasantry for maximum profits. The Indian state has openly declared that it has no responsibility to ensure security of livelihood to the farmers. It is only concerned with growth of profits for the biggest capitalist houses, even though this growth is being achieved through the intensified exploitation of the workers and peasants.
Sugarcane farmers of Western Maharashtra, the biggest sugarcane belt of India, are also experiencing similar conditions. They, too, are forced to come out on the streets almost every alternate year. In the month of October tens of thousands of sugarcane farmers started blocking various State and National highways. In Baramati, the so called stronghold of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, thousands of sugarcane farmers camped with their leaders on a hunger strike.
The Central Government has declared Rs.1370/- per ton as first payment for sugarcane procured by various sugar industries. In response, the sugarcane farmers started their agitation by demanding that their first payment should be at least Rs.2300/- per ton. Farmers’ representatives cited various studies which indicate that depending on the yield, the sugarcane production cost itself varies between Rs.1750/- to Rs.1950/- per ton. In the case of sugarcane, the bulk of it is bought by sugar mills, who are supposed to make the payment in two installments - the first one at the time of purchase, and the second one at the end of the season after taking the profitability into account. This means that the farmers have to be at the mercy of the sugar mill owners and the prevailing market price of sugar. A large number of Maharashtra Government Ministers and big leaders control most of the co- operative sugar factories of Maharashtra. Hence it is no wonder that the Maharashtra government has been following this policy which is to the benefit of those controlling the sugar cooperatives.
Meanwhile, using the excuse of the farmers’ agitation, the Maharashtra and Central government have lifted the ban on exports of sugar. The same Maharashtra government which was earlier crying that the sugarcane industries cannot afford to pay more than Rs.1370/-, declared rates varying between Rs.1750/- to Rs.1900/- for different areas! The farmers’ agitation was withdrawn.
Who has benefited from this? Once again it is the big trading companies and the sugar cooperatives, who hope to make a killing by exporting sugar. The price of sugar in the domestic market will rise as a result, which will also be a source of super-profits. The vast masses of workers and peasants who consume sugar will have to pay more.
The Sugar Cooperatives and big trading companies have been demanding over the years that the government end control of sugar prices in the domestic market and sugar exports and removing of compulsory levy sugar quota (this is the quantity which each sugar mill is supposed to sale to government at controlled rates which government is supposed to distribute through PDS system). Working people have been demanding higher quantity of sugar distribution at affordable rate through PDS system. The Central government has taken major policy decisions to satisfy the desire of the Sugar mill owners and severely impacting the sugar availability in PDS. In most of Maharashtra in ration shops sugar is just not available for consumers. (See the Box). The policies of the Central and State government are dictated by the interests of the trading monopolies for maximum profits through the plunder of the whole of society. They pretend at one time to be acting on behalf of workers, and at another time to act on behalf of the peasants. They try to make out that the interests of workers and peasants are antagonistic. This is not true. It is the interests of the workers and peasants on one side, and the monopolies on the other which are antagonistic. The farmers must not be fooled by the policies of the government. Security of livelihood and prosperity of farmers can be guaranteed if the orientation of the economy is not one of maximum profits for the monopolies, but ensuring wellbeing of workers and peasants. This can be done by the peasantry joining hands with the working class as its firm ally and fighting for the establishment of the rule of workers and peasants.
The Politics of Availability of Sugar