Driven by drought, farmers wait at the Jhansi station to take a train to Delhi and make a living there. (The Hindu, Sept 5, 2009)
For thousands of farmers reeling under the devastating impact of the prevailing drought in several parts of India, the WTO mini-Ministerial that concluded in New Delhi yesterday means nothing. In fact, they haven't even heard of it. Nor will they ever understand how the WTO would strike at their livelihoods. All they know is that they have to make an effort to earn their next meal. In that hope, they leave their homes and travel hundreds of miles to find their next piece of bread. Not knowing that a bigger threat awaits them when they return home. With or without a prolonged dry spell or a drought, WTO as it is being designed would simply kick them out of their farms.
Little do they know that the trade ministers who met at New Delhi on Sept 3-4 are actually working on a proposal to snatch away their livelihoods in the days to come. The impact of the Doha round, if it concludes soon without any radical changes, will perhaps be more deadly than the drought they are grappling with. Drought is forcing them to migrate, but still they are hopeful of returning back. But once the WTO strikes, they would never be able to return to their village homes.
We all know that the New Delhi mini-Ministerial of WTO happened at a time when the country was reeling under one of its worst droughts. Completely oblivious of the ground reality, not bothering to know that nearly half of the country was impacted by drought, the 35-odd Trade Ministers who had assembled in the Taj Palace hotel merrily went about their business. In other words, it was 'business-as-usual' for them.
They paid lip service to agriculture by talking about the Special Products and Special Safeguard Measures (SSM) that developing country farmers needed under the onslaught of international farm trade. As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, both these measures are utterly insufficient to protect the livelihood of millions of Indian farmers. I wish the Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had taken these visiting ministers, including the WTO chief Pascal Lamy and the US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, to the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Probably the widespread farm distress may have opened the eyes of these trade ministers who have a habit of dining in the five-star hotels around the world. Probably they would have got a lesson or two in what developing country farming really means.
At a time when WTO is being re-energised, thousands of farmers in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, are busy migrating to better pastures. Not only in Madhya Pradesh, farmers from the adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh too were migrating in droves. The situation is no different in drought-affected Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal. And this was happening at a time when the intellegentsia was busy painting a rosy picture of NREGA, as if it is a magical solution to all the economic ills prevalent in the rural areas.
Monsoon delays, NREGA fails, and the farmers migration in distress grows across the country.
“Every day 8,000 to 10000 people leave,” says Rakesh Naik, a private operator at the Chhattarpur bus tand. “People have been migrating for the last three years, but never like this. Go to the villages, if you really want to see palaayan [migration],” he says.In villages, rows of houses lie locked, the occupants having migrated. The few houses that are still occupied have only children and old men and women as they cannot work. An enterprising reporter of The Hindu, Mahim Pratap Singh, says in his news report published today.
Poignant stories of human distress are recounted. Crop failure, the increasing indebtedness, and in the hope of finding some menial jobs in the cities, these farmers abandon their households and move out with their families. “All three of my sons have migrated to repay loans,” says Suniya Bai (60) of Akona village in Rajnagar block. Tears roll down her cheeks as she looks at her 17-year old daughter Neelam. Now we don’t have money for her marriage. My sons return once in a while, but how much can they give and for how long? They have their own families to support,” she says.
The Hindu report merely gives us a peep into the plight of the farming communities at a time of drought. While the revival of rains is giving some hopes to the planners, and they have already begun to count how minimal would be the loss to GDP, the magnitude of human suffering goes unrecorded.
Every one seems to agree that distress migration this year is unprecedented. But Collector E. Ramesh Kumar does not agree. “Well, people are moving, but it is definitely not distress migration,” he says. People have a tendency to move out for better opportunities. I have come from Andhra Pradesh because I have better opportunities here. It is simple,” he adds. But a farmer, Shambhu Dayal, asks: "Why would we want to leave our homes? There they call us thieves and murderers. The police keep questioning us and we have to bribe them,” he says. Dayal, from Dheemarpura village in Tikamgarh district, is working in Haryana. Dheemarpura, inhabited solely by the traditional fishing community of Dheemars, is on the verge of occupational extinction.
To read the full report: Distress Migration at its Peak in Chhattarpur click on http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article15349.ece?homepage=true