Following is a transcription of the speech given by left-economist, journalist, professor P.Sainath in Chennai, in Nov 2010.
SlumDogs Vs Billionaires - P. Sainath
Thank you. The organizers informed me that they rented this hall for three hours. In those three hours 51 Indian children will have died of malnourishment and hunger. 4 to 5 times to that number will have entered Grade-4 malnourishment. In 3 hours, 6 farmers in the country will commit suicide and between 8 to 10 times to that number, will attempt suicide. In those 3 hours, the Government of India will write off 171 crores in tax relief for the richest people in this country. That is what is going to happen in these three hours. 171 crores in 3 hours is 500 thousand crores for the year. The government has made it very clear that it has no money for a universal public distribution system. It even objects to the idea of a partial universalisation which I don’t agree with that either; but for different reasons; of having a so called Universal PDS in 150 districts they saying there is no money for that.
What does a Universal Public Distribution System cost in this country ? The universal PDS, the estimates vary between 45,000 and 90,000 crores. But lets take the high end figure, to make a Public Distribution System (PDS) that is as universal as it is in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu for instance, across the country, you would adjust just with rice and wheat and nothing else which is very bad in my opinion, but that would cost you 80 to 90 thousand crores per year. 80 to 90 thousand crores per year is the corporate income tax exemption, every year every budget. In this year’s budget, corporate income tax relief is 80 thousand crores. In last year’s budget it was 69 thousand crores. It has grown every year since 1991.
If you read the budget online; get on to the internet, if you don’t want to go out and get yourself a hard copy of the budget; there is a section in the budget which I think my friend mentioned; It is called statement of revenue forgone. It is so simple. It says that this is the revenue that we are canceling. This is not subsidy. Subsidy is separate. Subsidy is what they give the corporate world; it’s Special Economic Zones; in electricity; in water; in bank loans; in credits; in all these things; that is called subsidy. That is what hundreds of thousands of crores. But this is just a write-off on three issues which you can read in this section ‘Statement of Revenue Forgone’, as my friend already explained to you in Tamil, 80 thousand crores corporate income tax and then excise and customs duty come to another 170 thousand and 249 thousand crores totaling about 4 lakhs 99 thousand crores of write-ups.
That is 57 crores per hour or 1 crore per minute but there is no money for hungry people and the prime minister has just told the Supreme Court that they can go jump if they worried about hunger; it’s none of their business. It is so interesting to me that the prime minister who is so passionate about the nuclear deal with the United States that he threatened to resign if parliament would not pass the nuclear deal. There is not a trace of that passion when it comes to dealing with hungry and starving people. He was prepared to resign as prime minister for the nuclear deal. He is not even prepared to perform as prime minister on the issue of hunger.
But let me digress from this unpleasant stuff and as I told you that I am from Mumbai. Let me invite you all who next plan to visit Mumbai. Please don’t get disappoint me by failing to visit our latest and newest tourist attraction. In fact the maximum number of visits by foreign journalists, especially photographers is to our newest tourist spot. This is not a museum. It’s more like a monument. No, it’s not the Prince of Wales Museum or anything like that. In fact, I believe that museums will always find it difficult to make route in India. Because it’s a living culture. In other societies what’s dead is there in the museum. In India what’s there in the museum is also being produced on the streets.
But we are talking about a very very special kind of monument. A single individual. By the way the address is Altomont road so please visit this tourist spot. A single individual has built the world’s costliest residence at a cost of around 2 billion dollars. He is the 4th richest man in the planet you all know him so well. And just 2 days ago Forbes magazine predicted that in 2014 Mr. Mukesh Ambani will be THE richest man in the planet. I cannot describe this house to you. It defies my skills as a writer. You have to see it yourself. It’s got only 27 floors. It’s one house for one family. But the 27 floors are built to a height of 60 floors so that in each floor the roof is twice as high as in a normal apartment. It has 27 floors. Each and every single floor is done in a different style. One is done in the French style; one is done in Rajastan Haveli style. It is in fact, a monument to bad taste. And so far it has only three helipads. I understand he is getting permission for one more so then it will be a complete residence. So that each member of the family can use a separate helipad. This costs 2 billion dollars. Approximate cost. Nobody knows the exact cost. But I am willing to believe that. It is built in an area where the per square foot cost is higher than the square foot cost of Manhattan business district, in the United States. Mind it; it is the residence of one family. The land in Altamount road area is costlier than land in many parts of Newyork.
But 27 floors, three helipads, a house in a city where over half of the city’s population live in slums and on the streets. And those who live in structures in Mumbai, 76% of those who live in formal structures live in one room tenements occupied by up to 15 human beings. Very often people from UP, AP may be; who have come working as taxi drivers, tailors, yochis; 10-15 of them share one room of by 10 feet by 12 feet. It’s only a sleeping place. In such a city, which will by 2030 have the highest population in the world, very likely. If it doesn’t already, Maharashtra already tops the country in this snub population. In this city which also has 21 of India’s 49 dollar billionaires, Mr. Ambani has built this modest residence.
Now, you might wonder is there any connection to what we are discussing here in inequality? Yes. But does it have any connection to the farm crisis, to the food crisis ? Actually it does. If you see the Hindu of August 13 you will see an article by a bank officer, showing you that what is called ‘Agricultural credit’, is entirely being dispersed in the cities. It’s called Agricultural Credit. In Maharashtra, in 2008, over 50% of agricultural credit was disbursed in urban and metro bank branches. Less than 50% was disbursed in the agricultural heartland and in the rural interior. OK !
Now who gets these loans ? Bombay has a very different kind of farming. It cultivates contracts. Building contracts, Supari Contracts.. It has contracts for everything.. Private Contracts always. Never a Govt one. Never a State one. But 50% of Agricultural Credit has been disbursed in urban Mumbai by urban bank branches of Maharashtra. Most of it in Mumbai. If you look at it closer, two companies are getting the bulk of that 50%. Which of those two companies I leave it to you to guess because I am not prepared to tell you since we are about to publish it in a few days. But let me give you a hint. One of those companies is led by a gentleman with a very big residence in Mumbai.
This is the connection. What should have been going in to agriculture is going in to the city, that’s one set of things. The point is that something very fundamental is changed in the Indian State, its functioning, its philosophy, its ethos. Let me measure it for you in this way. The 1960s and 70s in India were marked massive peasant uprisings; massive peasant struggles. They were marked by huge peasant struggles for land reform which resulted actually the distribution of over 2 billions of acres of land in Bengal alone; And in other states also to a lesser extent. Look at how far we have traveled?
In the 60s and 70s we had massive peasant struggles. In the 1990s and 2000s we have mass peasant suicides. What has changed? What has changed so fundamentally? Those of you who are old enough to remember the 60s and 70s will know the difference. The huge peasant struggles then with 2 lakh peasants committing suicides in the last 12 years. In fact, more than 2 lakhs because the 2009 figures will come in January and peasants are committing suicides at the rate of 16,500 a year as against 12000 – 13000 ten years ago. So something very fundamental has shifted. Not only in the way the State functions but even in the forms of protest; in the way the protest succeed or don’t succeed; in the way they coalesce or don’t coalesce; in the way they are co-opted or corrupted or crushed; something very fundamental is changed.
One of the most fundamental things is, prior to 1990s with all its class bias, with all its caste bias the Indian State still tries to function as a mediator between different classes. That’s why you find that from 1950s to 1980s inequality; especially income inequality went down in India. Income inequality declined in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. From the time of the so called ‘Avadi Congress’, the socialist path of the Congress Party. From that time till the mid 1980s the income inequality declined. From the 90s it shoots. Something very fundamental has happened. The state no longer sees it as its duty to mediate between different classes. It is nakedly, brazenly the advocate of one class, of the corporate led sector in this country. Even the pretends, even the fig leafs, even the clothes have been shed of mediating.
Look at this; the same prime minister who was willing to resign on the nuclear issue but did not have a word to say about hunger except to tell the Supreme Court to shut up. The same prime minister does not tell you that millions of jobs have been laid off; millions of workers have been laid off since September 2008. Let me give you the number. Why do we look at the recession? Go back to one of most industrialized states before the global melt down, the richest state of Maharashtra, the state of Mr. Advani, adopted state of Mr. Ambani, adopted state of Yardsley, the Govt of Maharashtra’s economic survey shows me, that, in the richest state, in the most industrialized state, 2 million jobs were lost in 36 months before the 2008 melt down. For God sake, if they lost 1800 jobs a day for three years before the recession. How many jobs they lost after the recession ? It says that clearly in the economic survey of Maharashtra; clearly? Well not quite clearly. It says it clearly in one line at the bottom of page 11. It says total employment fell from 4.3 crore to 4.1 crore. That is 2 million jobs. In that simple line they tell you that ‘yes, we have lost 2 million jobs’. 2 million jobs is 1800 per day. This is the highly industrialized state’s fate. What was the fate of others? we will get into that. Something very fundamental is changed.
Have you ever seen in your news papers or on your television channels the headline that between 4.5 and 7 million jobs are estimated to have been lost since 2008 in this country? The conservative estimate is 4.5 million jobs. As I said if 2 million jobs were lost in one state before the recession, that the Labour Ministry did a study in 2009. It shows that in the last 3 months of 2008 since when the recession begins, October, November, December in those three months India lost half a million jobs. Then the textile and exports sector, the then secretary, I think Mr. Menon or Mr.Pillai said “the expectation was by May 2009 1.5 million jobs would be lost”. Now try understanding what’s happening to millions of households. Please understand that massive job losses directly result in a new hunger, in adding millions to those who are already hungry. Ok!
How have the media for instance behaved on this? I find it, you know, at one level very entertaining and very funny and at the other level extremely depressing, when I see, just as the state has changed fundamentally. The state has moved fundamentally away from its mandate; away from its ideals. The Indian elite have let that movement away from the freedom struggle values, from the promises of the constitution. And the media have moved away, not just moved away; there is what professor Prabhath Patnaik called a change in the ‘Model Universe of the Media’. The ‘Model Universe’ is changed. Whenever you put on the television in any given month, some channel is giving away ‘Prizes’ to business leaders. What business is it of the media to give certificates and prizes to top business leaders?
Do the Media give prizes to the best school Teachers? Do the Media give prizes regularly to the best Nurses? Or to the best Workers? Or to the best Labourers? But every month on some channels and every channel on some months, you’ll see them giving prizes and who comes first by the way? They have to get the main target to accept the prize. Guess who was the last prize winner in the last round of Media Prizes? Mukesh Ambani. Why did he go there? Because they got Pranab Mukerjee to give away the prizes and Ambani gets to meet the finance minister. Or at least said, he can always meet the finance minister but he gets to spend 2 hours with him on the platform. I am trying to understand what business do we have to confer laurels on business?
I am journalism teacher. I teach journalism at SEJ and at Saphires. Now suppose my students in SEJ and Saphires whose answer papers I am going to correct start giving me prizes round the year. You would have a problem with that. You would wonder what sort of situation is this where all the students are every month giving a prize to this teacher who is going to correct their papers. It’s no different. But it is different also. Because the media are not pro establishment. The media are not pro corporate. The media ARE the establishment. The media ARE the corporate in India. Please understand, we are part of the corporate world. We are the frontline troops of the establishment. We dare go where what a single not and that is very daring.
As I said, fundamental things have shifted. You went from massive land protests to massive suicides. And then when the empowered group of ministers meets to discuss hunger and the ‘Food Security Bill’ what is the first line of the minutes? You know? They have the minutes recorded. The EGON has met to discuss the issue of the Food Security Bill. Of course, part of the great and lovable thing about the country is that the document is tagged confidential and it is available to everybody after five minutes. I think that is one of India’s great democratic strengths. I am all for leaking.
What is the first line of the minutes? The first line of the minute says “the proposed Bill is a Bill on Food Security.” I am not joking. It has already been put up on the internet by the people who got it out. The first line of the minute says “the proposed Bill is a Bill on Food Security. This should not be linked to the larger issue of Nutritional Security”. We are not concerned with nutritional security. You know, if you get 2100 calories of stone or ice that’s ok. But we are not concerned with nutrition. The empowered expert group of ministers is telling you in writing that in their discussion, the first thing they agreed on was that it has nothing to do with nutritional security. You start a discussion on food security with this note.
And one of those ministers, a gentle man I have covered for of my 30 years as a journalist. I have had or may be he has had the misfortune of covering him for 26 years. And one of the off the record comments he made is “what is all this noise about food security? We didn’t know all these words 20 years ago. What is this hunger? India is gone far ahead. Come to my constituency and show me who are hungry” that is what he said. By the way, his constituency in Pune area, in those three Talukas has the highest number of BPM cards. Why because he is a powerful politician he can do it as patronage. Highest number of BPM cards in his constituency in that region. But let us try and answer his question of ‘what is that hunger’.
Let me try and attempt an answer. Is hunger your food crisis? Is hunger an academic debate? Even this hunger is an academic debate; even if we take hunger in academic terms the results are dismal. Even if we take it in quantitative statistical terms the results are dismal. Friends, in the four years after the UPA came to power for which we have data. That is, I am taking 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Why am I not taking 2004? Because it was an election year; half NDA; half UPA. We take four years of UPA govt. What is the net per capita daily availability of food grain per Indian in these four years? 436 grams of food grains, cereals and pulses put together. Now, that itself is a disgraceful statistics.
In 1991, when the reform started the per capita availability of food grain per Indian was 510 grams. For the four years 2005 to 2008, average is 436 grams. Ok! Now, that is worse than that it was 50 years ago. 50 years ago; what is 50 years ago? 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958. Those four years per capita daily availability of food grain was 440 grams. The difference of 4 grams is actually a difference of millions of tons of grains. Please understand this. Is that confusing to you? In the per capita food grain, the fall is ‘4 grams X 365 days X 1.1 billion Indians’ and you calculate how many tons that comes to. In 2008, with India shining again at the height of a super power status a nuclear with the United States, your people are having access to less food grains than in 1955 to 1958 when India had emerged 10 – 15 years lead from colonialism and still suffering the effects of the British created famines in this country including the Bengal famine of 1942-44.
Even then the performance was better 1955-58. You can get all these number by going to the government of India’s budget, pre-budget economic survey. There is a table there A-17. Please look at it. Net per capita daily availability of food grains. So even if we take hunger in statistical and quantitative terms the figures are dismal. 510 grams a day in 1991. 422 grams in 2006. And now 432 grams in 2008.
Let’s take it again in academic terms. What is hunger? In these same four years 2005, 06, 07 and 2008 three officially constituted committees have come up from the government. Dr. Tendulkar committee, the BPL expert group led by Mr. N.C. Saxena and the National Commission for Enterprises in the unorganized sector led by Dr. Arjun Sen Gupta. Three very different committees; three very different ideological perspectives; but they come to one identical conclusion. Every one of these commissions placed rural poverty much higher than the government of India’s estimates. The lowest one by a most right wing attitude is Dr.Tendulkar; most conservative economist; he places rural poverty and 42%. The BPL expert group which for missals(39.09) I was a member of, placed it at 50% plus I did not place it at 50% and you can find my dissent note. It is Annexure Number I in the BPL expert group report. And third The National Commission for Enterprises in the unorganized sector available to you online.
The first page says 836 million Indians are living on less than 20 rupees a day. By the way, that does not make them poor. The genius of Indian bureaucracy, Indian academia and Indian politics is that if you are spending 20 rupees a day then you are not poor. To qualify as below poverty line you have got to spend less than 11 rupees a day or 8 rupees a day depending upon where you live. By the way, In Chennai if you spend 17 rupees a day which will give you may be one bottled water and one ‘chai’(tea) you are not poor. According to government of India, In Chennai, you are not poor if you spend 17 rupees a day. 17 rupees is the cutoff point.
But all these three committees said that the poverty is much higher, especially the rural poverty is much higher than estimated. Incidentally, Though Arjun Sen Gupta’s report which says 836 million Indians spend close to 20 rupees a day. Who are these people? 88% of all Dalits and Aadhivasis are in that group below 20 rupees a day. 85% of all Muslims are in that 836 million. You can see the caste, class and religious face of poverty as well in this country.
How many headlines have you seen on this? I must say, the only fellow, first to write about it when the report came out was a union cabinet minister who has since lost his job Manishankar Iyer from the state. He was the first man to write about it, in August 15 2007. I had no knowledge that the report was out. Prime minister signed it on 7 August. Manishankar Iyer being a cabinet minister saw that report and wrote about it in The Hindu on August 15. Next week I was there. With how many newspapers have you seen any discussion of this?
So then again, what is this hunger that we are talking about? Let me try looking at it non-academically. Let me try looking at it from the people’s experience. Hunger is when I am in 49 degrees heat in Telangana, in the villages of Telangana and the word goes around quite wrongly. That I am some very influential fellow if say things to the government it will happen. This is gigantic delusion. But people are desperate so I am surrounded by the mothers of the village; this is you know what date it is. May 29 or 28th. You can imagine the heat in Nalagonda and in those areas. Hunger is when the mothers of poor children at the height of the heat wave are saying “sir, please use your influence with the government and reopen the schools during the vacation”. The government closes the schools early because the children were dieing of heat stroke, the mothers want the schools reopened so that the child gets one meal a day. One decent meal a day the child will get. They are prepared to risk the child’s death by heat stroke. But they are not prepared to watch it die slowly of hunger. This is hunger.
Hunger is when the school teachers; the first school teacher who told me this by the way was in Ramnad, Ramanathapuram district. Since then many school teachers have told me including school teachers on the urban periphery of Mumbai. What is hunger? Hunger is school teachers saying “sir.. neenga konjam pathukonga sir.. collector kitta sollunga sir” (meaning: Please take care of this sir and inform it to collector).. “Monday midday meals should be double rationed”. Why should Monday midday meal should be double rationed? In Mumbai, city of Mukesh Ambani, municipal school; the teachers tell me “sir, Monday midday meal should be double rationed”. Ramnad, Telangana, Mumbai the teachers are telling “Monday midday meal should be double rationed”. Why? They say no school teacher can take a class before one p.m. Monday because the child cannot pay attention, because the child has starved for three days. The last proper meal the child had was at 12 noon on Friday. At home the child got virtually nothing. Its stomach is burning. The children can not pay attention on Monday mornings. No teacher is willing to take class till 1 p.m. Because then the child has had the midday meal. So they say the midday meal should be double rationed, much heavier on Monday because Saturday and Sunday the child has eaten next to nothing at home. I was appalled at this until I realized in a visit of few months ago. That is one of the most well off countries in the world; Finland, which is at the top in the human development index. In many districts of Finland the Monday midday meal is the heaviest. Because even there, there are poor people whose children eat less over the weekend. The children in Telangana will tell you that the midday meal is much better and more nourishing than anything they eat at home.
What we have gone and done? We have now canceled the midday meal to be prepared by the SHGs and handed over midday meals, in one place after another, to the corporate world for pre-pack; pre packed food so that even that little money that went to the poor women who are SHGs; even that money goes to Ambanis or to Brittania or to somebody; I don’t care. This is hunger. When you go there and you see that the Sambar is almost water then you understand what hunger is. Hunger is the unprecedented price rice that makes ‘Thuvaram Paruppu’ (Lentil) 100 rupees per kilo. That is hunger. The unprecedented from 2005 to 2008, which is probably the worst price rice since 1973-74. That is hunger.
You know, I do this comparison every few months with the woman who comes to clean our building. What are her costs? And what are my costs? Then you see the class division, you really understand what class means. If I look at her accounts and my accounts, everything that matters to me, everything that is convenient to me, the cost has come down. Everything that matters to the poor woman who by the way is a farmer from Rayghat; at harvest time she brings us rice from her field. The field cannot support her family so she works as a domestic worker in Mumbai. All the houses in which she works, she comes and gives little packets of rice from her field. Everything in her life has become costlier by 300 to 500 percent.
For me, Computers; cell phone; today my cell phone is 300-400, much more, 400-500 times more powerful than the first computer I had. In plate, it was a PC AT and had a 20 MB hard disk and cost 52000 rupees in 1991. Today in 52000 rupees you will get a super computer, fabulous computer, with one terabyte hard disk, with 8 GB RAM, with a 21 inch monitor. Right! And I don’t need that. My cell phone is million times more powerful that that computer I had few years ago. Cars.. In 1980s, our journalists union used to go on strike demanding additional 200 rupees as conveyance charge. Today all of us who were on those strikes, the office gives us car. In some cases they give us driver also. They give us a car; they give 4000 rupees for the driver. We used to strike for 250 rupees additional conveyance charge.
She, when she came, the minimum bus fare when she came to Bombay was 5 paisa or 10 paisa. Today she gets on to that bus she is going to spend 5 rupees to 10 rupees before she gets down. Look at what the cost increase has been for her. ACs, Computers, Cell phones, Communication, and Internet everything the cost has fallen to almost nothing which is a convenience for every one of us in this audience. For her, everything that is important; electricity, water supply, food has gone up by 300 to 500 percent. She gets bills from Reliance, electricity bills of 700 rupees. She has two bulbs in her house. Take, that’s how much it’s changed. By the way, it is one of the challenges of the people of middle class background not to disconnect themselves and get desensitized by our own comfort. This is a very major challenge. I say to many of you who are part of unions this is the big moral challenge before all of you and me.
So what is this hunger then? Hunger is 74 year old men and 65 years old widows reporting at the NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) site for work in 47 degree Centigrade in Nalagonda to break stones. Some of them can barely stand up right. They can barely stand but they are begging the NREGS officer “sir, give me some work. Aa nooru roovakku pani yeeandi sir(Meaning: Please give me work for 100 rupees). Give me that work sir”. Why? The price rice has destroyed them.
In Andra Pradesh, in Nalagonda district, we interviewed and I don’t know whether I was right or wrong I made him famous and therefore exposed to great deal of torture inadvertently. His name was Kadasu Ramulu. He was 74 years old. In 47 degrees Centigrade heat we found him at a NREGS site. He was on his way home. And we asked him why do you need to go and work? He said my pension is 200 rupees. When Thuvaram Paruppu(Lentil) costs 100 rupees per kilo, and my monthly pension is 200 rupees, what will I eat sir? That is hunger. Dr. Singh! that is hunger. That is 74 years old man has to go and break stones.
And a long line of elderly women. Because NREGS does not encourage single women and widows. They want you to come in a group. A widow is a stranger in her village. That’s not her village. Her own village is her mother’s village. She is living in her husband’s village. She does not have a ‘Guppa’; she does not have a group. So in any NREGS site you go you will find 10-12 old women standing in the queue. Some of them can back or following around the officer begging him for work; “sir, we can work sir. We can work”. The more kind hearted officers give them the work of pouring the water on the soil to make it easier to dig. That is hunger.
What is hunger? In Ananthapur district of Rayalaseema, one fifth of all the NREGS workers surveyed, one fifth of them were above the age of sixty. When the hunger grows, when the food on the table becomes less who gets marginalized first? First, the women; the older people; especially the old widow; they get marginalized because they are seen as non-productive. They may do twice the work of the man. But in theory and ideology they are called down. So, women do 67% of agriculture work in this country. But any way they are supposed to be non-productive. So, when the prices go up when the food crunch comes on and the table shrinks. The first to go are the widows and the old people. The woman of the house is eating less and less and less. Mr. Prime Minister, that is.. that is hunger.
Hunger is when children on farms that are producing milk never drink a drop of milk. All across Vidharba, all across much of Madhya Pradesh where I used to go to farm houses; you know what you used to get when you go to a farm house in the nineties? Up to the beginning of this decade, people give you a glass of milk. Then by 2003-2004 they were giving you ‘Chai’ so that they would give you less milk. Now they give you ‘black chai’. Because if there is one drop of the milk produced in that house it has to be sold on the market in order to buy other necessities. These jokers, these so called economists who say “High prices of produces good for the farmers” don’t know that 77% of Indian farmers are net purchasers of food grain who buy their food on the market and high prices hurt them as well.
Mostly the NREGS is been used not by agricultural laborers but by small and marginal farmers because they have work during the season. And they don’t have during the season they do NREGS. Agricultural laborers migrate because they can’t survive on hundred days work. What will they do in the other 265 days? See when I do work, we associated farms with cows and milk. A generation of farm children is growing up that does not drink milk in the day. That my friends, is hunger.
Hunger is when those who produce food, prime minister, when those who produce food have no food security. That is hunger. Let’s forget discussions about food sovereignty which is a far more complex subject than either nutritional or food security. That’s what hunger is, when the food producers are starving. Hunger is shifting millions of farmers from food crop to cash crop. And the result is suicides.
Hunger is falling farmer incomes. Today the average monthly per capita expenditure of the farm household in this country is 503 rupees. Monthly per capita expenditure of the farm household is 503 rupees. 60% of that 503 rupees is spent on food. Average farm household in India spends 60% of its monthly expenditure on food. 18% it spends are fuel, clothing and footwear. Whose numbers are these? Government of India, National Sample Survey; 59th round; situational assessment report of farming households.
Hunger is indebtedness which has doubled in the peasantry between 1991 and 2002.
From 26% of farm households to 48.6% of all farm households; they are indebted. That is hunger. Hunger is what I see each year in the Adhivasi households, in the tribal households of Rajastan, Madya Pradesh and Chattishghar. Do you know how the Adhivasis cope with hunger? They don’t have food to distribute in the family. They distribute hunger. What do they do? If they have to go and work on the NREGS, they don’t have the strength. See the paradox of the NREGS is that you are asking 9 hours labor from people who are so malnourished that they can not last 9 hours. And then you pay them less because the measurement is no women makes more than 65 rupees a day in NREGS. Then nobody makes hundred. 85 rupees is about the standard or average. You know, you create these kinds of measurements. You are asking the hungry, the sick and the malnourished to do such heavy work. And then penalizing them for their inability to do it.
And so what do these Adhivasis do? They want the full hundred rupees. You know what they do? 8 member family; on one day two brothers eat fully; they eat well. They got to do the work. Next day, they sit at home and starve and two other family members go out and do the work. Is that hunger? Has the food and agriculture minister who says,”Go to my constituency and see”; has he ever gone and seen that? Has your prime minister who asked the Supreme Court to shut up? Has he experienced this kind of hunger? After all, they are asking us what is this hunger you are talking about. Hunger is a society where we…Government of India’s calculation of hunger is based on a very simple calculation. This is hunger.
I was on the BPL expert group. Planning commission gave us an indicator. They said “You do what you like. You do your own study. But please see to that your estimate does not exceed ours by more than 20%”. So what is the methodology of estimating hunger in this country? Government of India is telling us, “We can not feed all the hungry people in this country. So there can only be so many people who are hungry as we are prepared to feed”. Hunger is not how many hungry people are there. Hunger is how many people we are willing to feed. Because there is no money in an economy that is growing at 9% which gives 500 thousand crores in tax rebates; in tax write offs to 4 to 12 people who are on the Forbes Billionaires list. It gives them other write offs; entertainment tax write offs to 4 billionaires; Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya, GM Rao and DK Singh of DNF.
For what does it give them subsidies? For IPL. Indian Premier League gets subsidies from Government of Maharashtra. In every other State, Bengal refused that but in every other Indian State mostly they got entertainment tax exemption. In Maharashtra that was worth 12 Crores. They got subsidized electricity. They got the use of public stadium at throwaway rates and they got police security. You speak to the former DGP of Maharashtra and ask him what? The average police man that day getting as his beta is less than his daily income. Less than his daily income. All these are subsidies to 4 people who are on the Forbes Billionaires list. But we do not have money for the hungry. For the 17 children who die of malnutrition every hour in this country. We do not have any money to lend credit to farmers who are indebted as a goner and who are committing suicide at the rate 2 every hour and 16500 a year in this time.
But there is another way of looking at hunger. I will end the subject of hunger there. In neo liberal terms, in classical terms what is hunger? If have to put myself in the shoes of the food and agriculture minister or Montague Aluvalia and even if I have to look at it in purely cynical terms which I am afraid all of us have to now, hunger and thirst are the two biggest crops produced in this world every day. These are the two biggest crops. Two most richest crops in the world. And the richest companies in the world; 6 companies control the food supply of this world; 4 companies control the private sector in water in this world. How many harvests have been derived from hunger? We have sown risk and harvested hunger. Hunger is already and is going to be even more the most lucrative crop in this country and across the world. We are always looking at the food distribution. We are not looking at who has cornered the production. Half a dozen multinational companies control; 4 companies control the seed of the world. This is hunger. Hunger and thirst are the two greatest revenue sources in our planet in neo liberal terms.
Now, what else? That’s the food crisis. What has happened in the farm crisis? Between 1997 and 2008, 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide. If you want the exact number 1,99,132. I always use the word at least 2 lakh have committed suicide because the figures are very incomplete. The only authentic source of the figures is a body called The National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) which the Government of India has stopped referring to. Because the numbers are so embarrassing they are making their own numbers in Parliament. Till 2007 whenever a question is raised in parliament, Sharad Pawar saheb would quote The National Crime Records Bureau. In 2008, 09 and 10 he is not quoting from NCRB; Not from his own government that is the division of the Union Home Ministry. You cannot get more right with than M.Chidambaram. But Chidambaram’s organization is telling you that this is the situation. I am telling you it is much worse than that. But we don’t have a mechanism to count.
I can show you why? Two thirds of these suicides have occurred in 5 states which include some of what are seen as the better-off states but in poor regions. Because the crisis is always shifted to the poor. Which is the richest state? Where is the stock exchange? Where is the wealth of investors concentrated? Mumbai, Maharashtra. Out of these 2 lakh suicides 41,404 have occurred in Maharashtra which has Mr. Mukesh Ambani’s house; which has 21 of those India’s 49 billionaires have their addresses in Mumbai. They may live in Geneva but have addresses and residences in Mumbai. The same Maharashtra, 41,404 suicides.
Every state has few hundred suicides a year. If you want to make a comparison the state closest to Maharashtra in terms of population would be Bengal. About 90 million population – 100 million. But in fact, though Bengal’s population is less than Maharashtra it’s farm population is much higher. It is far more a rural state. Because of land reforms it has far more farmers. In Maharashtra, 43% of state is already urban. But the farm suicides in Maharashtra are 3.5 times the size of Bengal which has more farmers. So, something is destroying the farmers of Maharashtra completely. Same comparable farm population; though not really because Bengal has a higher one. But the farmers of Maharashtra which is much richer than Bengal are really devastated. Within Maharashtra it is Vidharba, Marathwada and Avinash divisions. Within Andhra it is Rayalaseema and parts of Telangana though Koslam has also shown suicides. Now, What is common in all these zones where suicides are taking place. They are all areas of heavy commercialized agriculture. Almost uniformly cash crops. Very few food crop farmers have committed suicide. If you take in Vidharba, after 7 years of work I have seen one paddy farmer suicide in those households. ONE.
I have been to 750 farm households in 5 states. Negligible; the number of food crop growers is statistically negligible. In my count it does not count to 1%. Why are cash crop farmers committing suicide? You know what? When you are growing food you are subsistence farmer, small farmer, marginal farmer. Worst comes to worst you can eat your food crop. By the way, Tamilnadu is seriously at risk. You(Tamilnadu) are seriously at risk for the cropping patterns, for the crops and for the agricultural practices that many are undergoing you are very seriously at risk. You have a far better welfare state than Maharashtra. Therefore there is some mitigation. But it is not a happy or healthy situation in terms of where your agriculture is heading; in terms of where your food security is heading.
What made this thing? Why did cash crop farmers start committing suicide? Most of them, 10-15 years ago were food crop farmers until the liberalizations and economic reforms cajoled them, coaxed them, coerced them, and bullied them into shifting to cash crop cultivation because the world bank IMF’s prescription is “Grow food for export. That’s where the money is. That’s where the hard currency is”. In the process, we took extremely vulnerable, fragile peasants and locked them into the volatility of global prices which are controlled by half a dozen multi-nationals.
If you look at Bengal, the highest farm suicides in Bengal is because of tea gardens. The Tatas one day just walked up; they just walked up(into tea gardens). In Kerala, they walked up. In Kerala, at least the unions, CITU took over the tea gardens. But they do not have a distribution mechanism. They do not have a marketing mechanism. So they were getting one fourth or one third price of the Malik’s would get. When the global tea prices went bad the corporate world just abandoned the workers and left. And we were treated to the spectacle of Left governments to beg them to come back because people were dieing. And you have to agree to wage history(70:09) for people don’t earn that much. Everywhere it is cash crop. Under the philosophy neo liberal economics, cash crop, export, hard currency, more money. See, if you are a food crop grower, if everything goes wrong you can eat your food crop. Whatever happens you can still eat your paddy. You can not eat your cotton. It is very hard to digest. So instead, the people eat pesticide.
I can show you how fake the numbers are, even the government of India, even the NCRB numbers. I respect the NCRB, they did not do the fakery. But let me show you the fakery introduced in the state. Farmer suicides 1,99,132. Pesticide suicides 2,60,000. Pesticide suicide is always a farmer. Because that is the far easiest weapon for the farmer. So, who are these additional 70 thousand people? They are many of them, women farmers, who are not counted. Because women are not counted as farmers. Because the local society does not give them the status of land owners. They have no land rights. Therefore they are not counted as farmers but they are counted as suicides and you can see them in those 70 thousands. The difference between farm suicides and pesticide suicides has to be very narrow. Do the students keep pesticide in their room? Does an automobile engineer or a business man keeps pesticide in his room? Please note, highest number of farmer suicides in the spraying season because the farmer has the can in his hand. One moment of depression, he is gone. The spraying season has the highest number of suicides.
After that, highest number of suicides is in the marketing of the produce when the traders, the money lenders conspire to bring the prices down. Whether in India, United States or Africa when the produce is in the hands of the farmer the prices are low. When the produce moves to the ‘Baniah’ and the trader the prices are high. You can go to the Midwest of the United States which has very high farmer suicides. Very high. Same principle applies here. Today the village Baniah is committing suicide because the big companies are taking over his work. Reliance Fresh, Godrej Natural. Now the money lender wears a three piece suit and boa tie. These are the new money lenders. The fellow running the ‘Krishi Kendra’ he is the new money lender. He, the fellow who is selling the farmer seed. All the inputs which the cost have gone on so much and charging the farmer interest every day on the credit extended to whim for 90 days.
All these farm suicides are happening. There will always be some suicides in every community, whether it is students. But the rate of suicides amongst farmers is double that of non-farmers. This is the important thing for you. Especially in those 5 states. How do I say this? By the way, there is only one credible study of the data and I am proud to tell you that it is done by one of you. By Dr.K.Nagaraj who was with MIDS and now with the Asian College of Jouranlism. By the way, Maharashtra done 13 studies. They have to keep doing studies because the courts keep scolding them. Now I am very proud to say that the 13th study was commissioned by Sri VilasRao Desmuk entirely in my honor. It was meant to denounce me. So there I was in the front page of Mumbai mirror – “Sainath defames Maharashtra”. Professor Narendra Jadav who is then rewarded for his efforts by being promoted to be a member of the planning commission. And who in the NAC is opposing Aruna Roy and John Drace even on the partial universalization of the PDS. This man writes a report without going to a single farm household. He plagiarizes from Nagarajan heavily and then attacks us with our data without acknowledging. He only acknowledges our database is entitled to us.
Why does the government have these reports? 12 reports earlier. TIS – Tata Institute of Social Sciences went there and said the situation is very bad. They had been asked to go there by the High Court of Mumbai. Then the government of Maharashtra thought TIS is full of wimpish(75:12) liberals. Lets give it to a much more right wing organization. Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, once headed by Kirith Parik, the man, the intellectual who opposed the ‘Enron deal’ and then suddenly supported it overnight for what reason you can guess. What happened? They sent out a young fellow called Srijit Misra. Srijit Misra submitted a report saying situation is even worse than it was at the time of the TIS survey. That’s a huge embarrassment. So they go to another organization. It tells them situation has deteriorated further. By that time, the government of Maharashtra is responding, it’s very funny, to a Chennai news paper. Which does not appear in Marathi and is not published in Maharashtra. Till this point, the Marathi press not yet started covering.
When does it start covering suicides? When Dr. M.S.Swaminathan arrives as chairman of the National Commission for Farmers. Because he is there, he has got cabinet ministerial status. Then the local junior minister has to come to receive him. And therefore coverage starts. By the way, he was there because we went and asked him to come. Then the Marathi press started covering it. Then I got translated into Marathi. Then the prime minister came. That really made them furious. Now, in 2008, for whatever reason of his own, Mr. Rahul Gandhi also came. After that, they asked Jadav committee to go; you know, enough of this guy.. Then Ashoke Chavan on taking over made this statement, “Who is this fellow who comes from Andra Pradesh?”. I am actually not from Andra Pradesh. I am Telugu from Chennai city. When he says “Who is this fellow who comes from Andra Pradesh and talks to us about Marathi farmers research”, I was so happy about that. Because in 2003 March, in the Andhra Pradesh assembly, Chandrababu Naidu asked “Who is this fellow who comes from Bombay and lectures us on Andhra farmers”? Now I suppose I have to go to Chattishgarh or wherever.
This is the intensity in which these suicides taking place. Hundreds of reports, in fact, the leader of the Farmers Organization in Vidharba.. again after all the documentary film makers started coming. After prime minster came, TV started coming. Then with Kishore Tiwari who heads the Farmers Organization said “You have to do something”. There are more film makers than farmers in Vidharba now. There are more commissions of enquiry than cultivators. This can not be over. But we needed it because the cow courts criticizing them on the basis of the report. What I only want to emphasize to you is every one of these calamities came out of national and state agricultural policy. Let me give you the example. I said 50% of Maharashtra’s agricultural credit was disbursed in cities. In metro branches of banks; in urban branches of banks.
Let me tell you something else. There is a brilliant study by Dr.T.Ramakumar of TISS who has shown you along with Pallavi Chawan. They have shown you a study in EPW, you can look at it. There the data is up to 2006 or 07. Remember that, when Chidambaram was finance minister, every day he said, “We have doubled the farmer’s credit; we have tripled the farmer’s credit;” and then he would say “Then it was 300 rupees. Now it is 900 rupees”. Why did they give you numbers? They never give you percentages. They never give you percentages because in percentage terms it was declining. Remember, your increase of 600 rupees means nothing in an economy growing at 9%. You should be adjusting that increase in percentage to know if it matches with the growth of your economy. Right? No. “I gave them 1000 rupees in 2003”, says Pranab Mukerjee. “I am giving them 3500”. Who are you giving the money?
Ramakumar and Pallavi Chawan in their study, bring it out to show you that between 2001 and 2006 loans below 25000, who takes loans below 25000? Poor farmer; marginal farmer; small farmer; these fellows take loans below 25000. Loans below 25000 fell by more than half. So the increased money was not going to them. Loans taken by below 25000 reduced by more than 50%. All poor Dalits, Adhivasis, marginal farmers, farmers without proper land title (Dalits and Adhivasis were never been given proper title); all of them; their loans are gone down. Which are the loans those have gone up? Would any body like to guess? Not loans above 25000. Not loans above 50000. Loans above 10 crores, loans above 25 crores have shot up. Which farmer did you meet last who took a loan of 25 crores and above? Well, you can say Amitab Bachan because he is trying to prove that he is a farmer in India, so that he can buy more land. He also bought land in Maharashtra and is fighting in the court to keep it by producing records from UP that he is a farmer. So the farmers are Mukesh Ambani and Amitab Bachan then that makes sense to me that the loans above 25 crores grow. But, which marginal peasant that you know who has taken a loan of 10 crores and 25 crores. You know exactly where the money is going. Its going back to the corporate world.
In five words let me describe before we close this chapter. What is the farm crisis? What is the agrarian crisis? The suicides are not agrarian crisis. The suicides are the consequence of the crisis not its cause. The suicides are the outcome of the agrarian crisis not its origin. The agrarian crisis in five words: ‘The Corporate Hijack Of Farming’. The corporate hijack of farming is the agrarian crisis.
Tell me something. Ask yourself this question. What is your image of a farmer? And then the second question. Which farmer do you know who controls the various aspects of farming? Does the farmer control seed anymore? Who controls seed? Monsanto controls seed. Nui vuhimo(82:38) controls seed. Indian Seed Association controls seed. The biggest corporates control seed. Does the farmer manufacture pesticide? Once upon a time the farmer manufactured and used natural pesticide management like Neem and other things. Today in pesticide manufacturers, four people dominate the Indian market. Does the farmer even choose what he will grow? No. Under contract farming if they want him to grow rare tomatoes from Brazilia he has to grow that. Does the farmer decide what fertilizer he will use? Or manufacture? No. Fertilizers are manufactured by Tata, Birla, Ambani on that class of manufacturers in real terms. The fertilizers subsidy was also there. Does the farmer control electricity and water in utility prices? Chandrababu Naidu raised the price of water usage 70% in one day which is when the Kissan Sabha of Andhra Pradesh went and broke all the water meters in Andhra Pradesh and did not allow it. But the prices went up 70%. Electricity went up mess. In every state it has gone up more than 100% since 1991. Please tell me, what in farming does the farmer control? Land? Even that they are taking away for one SEZ or for one project or whatever. What does the farmer control that entitles us to call him a farmer? This is your farming crisis. What is the outcome of this farming crisis? The biggest human displacement in history. Much bigger than SEZs. Please understand this. SEZs cause unbelievable human distress. They have to be ended. Because they are a menace to the livelihoods of millions. But in terms of food production this process which a corporate take-over, has actually devastated food security far more in terms of production of food, by major shifts to cash crop. What does the former control that we can call him a farmer?
What has happened since 1991? Till now, all the numbers are going to get worse and then numbers are going to get better. I am willing to accept blame for one thing that is going to happen in the next ‘numbers round’. 2011 January, the farm suicides numbers will come. Several states, all the states which I have been covering will show serious drops in farmer suicides. Because the government is massaging the numbers. But you know what, even then the numbers are going to be much worse because all Nagaraj figures are done on the basis of 2001 sensus number of farmers. In 2011, we are going to get the new sensus which will show us there are millions of farmers less which means that the farm suicide ratio which is number of farmers committing suicide per hundred thousand will be much worse than the figures that comes from Nagaraj’s study. How do I know this? 91 sensus and 2001 sensus if you compare 8 million people quit agriculture. 8 million cultivators. The real problem starts after 2000. I mean, the problem gets much bigger. So, how many more people are we going to see who are quit farming.
So, if Maharashtra had 41000 farm suicides on a farm base of 100. It will now have to take a measure 41000 of farm suicides on the farm base of 60. The numbers are going to be much worse. What can we do about this? You know, I think, it is not just the government, the state, the media that have changed. Something also very fundamental has changed to all of us. I think, our ‘Moral Universe’ has also changed. I was in the most progressive state of Kerala which I love dearly. All the union leaders were telling me and I could see it in the audiences also that the excitement, the conversations were over the cell-phones, over the new vehicles. Somewhere the Indian intelligentsia is losing its historic, organic connection with the masses of this country.
One great quality of the Indian intelligentsia from the time of Gouthama, The Buddha, literally, is the majority of Indian intelligentsia have always been left of center. Their heart is in the left like every human being. You look at how different Indian culture is from the westerly think. In the west, the fellow who had no money and becomes a hero is the success story. In India, Buddha, Ashoka, Gandhi those who had lots of money and gave it up. Gandhi was a barrister earning 15000 pounds in 1913. That’s a gigantic sum. Buddha walked out of the palace to go into the masses unlike the Dalai Lama who has left the masses to enter one palace. But the Indian intelligentsia has this proud history. It is a history that has begone to the road in the 90s and 2000s. There is this tremendous challenge. How do we recapture that 60s and 70s? How do we rebuild democratic state to be democratic for the workers and the peasantry as well. It has got to be democratic. Because anything that is undemocratic hurts these classes. Anything, that is arbitrary and undemocratic devastates these classes.
You look at the growth of income inequality. You know, the national election watch led by a group called ADR shows us that between 2004 elections and 2009 elections the average Member of Parliament’s assets on their own declaration went up by a 349%. In Maharashtra, one gentleman Who became an MLA again for the third time, between 2004 and 2009 added 520 million rupees to his money. And there is a credation, there is a class hierarchy and caste hierarchy. Average MLA, in 2004 in Maharashtra was worth 1.5 to 2 crores. In 2009, just to get elected he has to be worth at least 3 to 3.5 crores. Average MP elected from Maharashtra is worth 5 crores. Average worth of an MP in your Parliament in the Lok Sabha is 5.1 crores. Average wealth of a union cabinet minister is 7.6 crores. As you grow up the ladder, as you sow as you reap. That’s how they do it.
Now we are being completely priced out of these elections. The Left is going to be a major sufferer from this process and sell-out of the media phenomenon called ‘paid news’ which has now corrupted the media beyond recognition. We don’t have the time to go into that subject. I had hope to but we started late. So, I’m not going to go there. But we are watching this gigantic disconnect between the Media, political class, all of us, the intelligentsia and the masses. How do we recover those struggles? Because remember, when the State changes, its not a shift in government. It is not a shift in governance. It is a tectonic shift in the subterranean plates of the State. When it goes from being a mediator to some one who says “I am with the corporate class and you can go jump”. How do we change that? These are the challenges.
There is plenty we can do. The first, is of course your intellectual defense. Not to be swayed by the shear wealth of nonsensical propaganda and consumerous ideologies; throw it away. Not to be sway and desensitize to your fellow citizens. Not to accept, understand this, the levels of inequality that this country is seeing. A country which is ranking 5th in the world list of billionaires and 134th in the UN development report, one slot below Laos, two slots below Bhutan and below every Latin American country in the UN human development index, including Bolivia, which is the poorest Latin American country. None of those countries which are above us is a software super power. None of them is a nuclear super power. None of them is an intellectual super power of India’s boasted scientific personnel and caliber. None of them has 9% growth like India. But they have handled their hunger much better than we. Something is fundamentally changed in this country. And we need to recognize how a Gabon, a Botswana do better than us in human development.
I’ll tell you this; I’ll end with this story for you. Because again it involves Madras and Mysore. In 1876, Queen Victoria got tired of calling herself Queen. She decided to call herself Empress. And that was instigated by the fact that she had recently acquired a very large piece of real estate which we now call India. So she thought it was time, they had a ‘Dharbar’. You heard of the great Dharbar of Victoria where she was made Empress of India. Queen Victoria, 1876, that was the year of the great famine of Madras and Mysore. The Dharbar was held at a time of acute famine across India. Millions died. In that week, in that period, in that month, Madras and Mysore, one lakh, more than one lakh, in one estimate one lakh forty thousand people died of hunger. If you see the news reports of that time, the job of the police has not changed much. The job of the police was to stand at the barricades at the city to prevent the hungry famine stricken peasants from entering the city. Peasants trying to enter the city to find something to eat were clubbed to death at the barricades. You find this, the news papers reported.
Then in that same period Victoria hosts her Dharbar the costliest dinner party in history. 68,000 guests, most of whom are royalty and therefore come with their whole enquerors (94:48). The King does not drop by, the Raja of Jaipur does not drop by, He comes by with 500 people. Because he has got his security, he has got his horses, he has got the fellow who cleans the horses, he has got the fellow who feeds the horses, all these people, 68000 people, mostly royalty. It took I don’t know how many thousand cooks to feed these many people. There must have been cooks to feed the cooks who cooked for the guests. The party went on while in just these two areas, in this axes between Madras and Mysore 140,000 people died of hunger. What is striking? The news papers also (the same as now)… They develop the news papers now in one sense. They were slightly better. They reported the deaths. The reported the famine. The reported the police clubbing the peasants. The reported all these but they made no connection between this and the Dharbar. They reported the Dharbar as if it was the most wonderful thing; Her excellency, royal, highness, everything. The Dharbar was described as a work of art. They were a few people who criticized amongst the nationalists whose voices were hardly heard. Nationalists criticized it bitterly but they were not heard. They did not own the news papers.
The farmers of Vidharba committing suicide, one of their crimes is that they don’t own news papers either they can’t play fare in the news publishing. The news papers of the time reported the famine. They reported the Dharbar. They made no link. You see how easy it is for us to disconnect from what is happening. Not just in the country side but in our cities on the pavements. If you look at the national health survey 3rd round, hunger, malnourishment of children in Mumbai is 1% higher than all Maharashtra average. That’s mainly because so many from rural Maharashtra has come streaming in to the city. But considering, do we, can we afford to be so indifferent to this inequality or do we have to accept that it is not one policy, one idea; but an entire range of policies and structures that we have to fight, damage, defeat and reverse. Thank you.