— Rahul Varman

On the morning of 27th April I got a phone call from the youngest son of a trade union veteran of Kanpur, that everyone in his large household has been down with COVID-19 (henceforth Covid)-like symptoms. Though the condition of others was stable, his father’s oxygen levels were going down, and they had not been able to find either oxygen, or more importantly, a bed for him in any hospital. I called up the coordinator of a community help group being run for the Covid-affected in my academic campus. He reminded me that his father-in-law, who used to stay with him, had passed away on that very date a year back. That year-old story was repeating itself, of course in a much more grotesque form, with no oxygen, no hospital admission, and a sense of complete loss and helplessness. In the interim a whole long year has passed, when instead of looking at cricket scores we have become used to looking at Covid numbers the first thing in the morning.

What we are seeing, even in the alternative media, is primarily about those who have any sort of access (or think that it is their right to have access) to the ‘system’, in terms of testing, doctor’s attention, medicine, oxygen, ambulance, beds, so on and so forth. The actual reality is far grimmer when we look at those who never enjoyed that access. The neighbouring locality of Nankari, with a population of around 50,000, is separated from our elite and idyllic college campus by just a high security wall. In Nankari – where all those who serve us, from our household workers to contract workers of all kinds, those cleaning, manning security, running the mess, stay in their thousands – there is not access to a single ‘qualified’ doctor. There are only jholawala doctors.

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[A Telugu translation of this article can be accessed here. The translation is by P. Jamuna.]

A tweet by Greta Thunberg (“We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India,”) provided ardent campaigners in favour of the Indian government’s neoliberal farm laws with a target for attack.

The arguments by these campaigners were very similar, rather as if they had been provided a common “toolkit” by the Government. The picture that emerges from their responses is that the protesting farmers, and in particular Punjabi farmers, are a sinister force, a pampered and subsidized “tribe”, depleting the water of future generations, poisoning the land and air, killing and maiming millions.

Shamika Ravi, former member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, tweeted: “The irony! Climate champion standing in support of farming practices that have led to poisoned land, vanishing water-table and the ‘cancer trains’.” Another neoliberal economist tweeted that “these farmers are anti-everything Greta Thunberg wants. They are depleting the groundwater table, causing massive air pollution by burning crops, overusing free electricity & subsidized diesels pumps”. The Economic Times commented: “Thunberg… doesn’t know the sustainability issues that dog Indian agriculture due to political pampering of a small tribe of well-to-do farmers”.

Swaminathan Aiyar, a celebrity economic commentator, declared: “Punjab is a low rainfall region that simply should not grow rice, but free electricity makes rice cultivation very profitable while destroying aquifers…. Why does Thunberg support such horrendous environmental destruction?” He even charged the farmers of Punjab with “killing and maiming millions” by burning rice stubble.

Sunil Jain, managing editor of the Financial Express, tweeted graphs of Punjab’s declining water table, and declared: “This is what Punjab’s farmers are doing to their children and grandchildren… This is why Punjab must move away from rice production”.

Others who chimed in with similar comments included India’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a former Chief Operating Officer of the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All, the Union Minister for Civil Aviation, commentators in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and news sites closely identified with the BJP/RSS, such as OpIndia and Swarajya.

We have reservations about the publicity and importance given in India to the utterances of international celebrities, but the new-found environmental concern of the Thunberg critics cited above is sham. Their target is not Thunberg, but Punjab’s peasantry. The new farm laws they support are intended to bring about corporate-controlled agriculture, and that is inimical to the health of the environment, just as it is inimical to kisans and consumers.

A question of policy

Moreover, the venom directed at the kisans of Punjab is particularly illogical, as the present cropping pattern of Punjab was not the decision of Punjab’s kisans. The Government promoted high-yielding varieties of rice in Punjab as part of the Green Revolution, using Punjab as a base for producing surplus grains for distribution in the rest of  the country. The present situation is the inevitable outcome of that policy. As an extension of this, the problem of pollution created by the burning of paddy stalks is also to a large extent the product of Government policy.[1]

However, two points need to be focussed on in the present context.

Firstly, if it is certain that growing paddy in Punjab leads to environmental problems, there are solutions to the problem that are well known, indeed straightforward, and would be acceptable to kisans.

Secondly, these solutions, nevertheless, will not be adopted by Government authorities.

Why, in the present circumstances, it does not make sense for peasants in Punjab to shift from paddy

The danger of overexploitation of groundwater was highlighted in 1986 by an official committee headed by S.S. Johl. Johl also headed a second committee in 2002 which repeated the same argument.[2]

Although the groundwater situation is not uniform throughout the state, let us accept for the moment that there is an environmental problem on account of excess withdrawal. There would be two reasonable ways of tackling this problem. The first is to promote methods and practices of growing paddy which can reduce water use.[3] The second is a shift away from paddy to other crops. The Johl committee targeted a shift of 1 million hectares away from paddy. How may this be brought about?

It is well known that farmers in Punjab grow rice and wheat because there is an effective guarantee that these crops will be procured by official agencies at the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The reports of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) document the fact that crops other than rice and wheat are bought by private parties at depressed, unremunerative prices. Given the sharply fluctuating prices in India of several crops which are not officially procured, and the devastation these fluctuations inflict on farmers, the Punjab farmers’ decision is rational.

The Johl committee proposed that farmers be provided a subsidy per hectare for making the shift to other crops. But (1) the sum proposed per hectare may not be enough to induce a shift. (2) The amount the farmer would receive for the crop would vary with market fluctuations (since crops other than rice and wheat are not procured by official agencies), and hence, even if the amount of subsidy were attractive at the outset, it may not remain so. (3) Such payments are generally used by governments to smooth a ‘transition’ period, and are discontinued once the transition is made. Thus, at the end of the transition, farmers are worried they would be left entirely at the mercy of market fluctuations. It is not surprising that the Johl committee recommendations find no takers among the kisan organisations.

However, kisan organisations may not oppose a shift away from paddy, as long as there is a similar iron-clad guarantee of official procurement of the new crops. Indeed, Johl himself says in a recent interview that “MSP [Minimum Support Price] and procurement should be provided to other crops such as maize, cotton, oilseed and pulses.”[4]

Addressing nutritional needs

One option is for the Government to promote a shift to kharif pulses in Punjab: moong, urad and tur (arhar). Since per capita protein consumption in India is abysmally low, and has fallen further during the liberalisation era (by 3 per cent in urban areas and 6 per cent in rural areas),[5] provision of pulses in the public distribution system (PDS) is long overdue and desperately needed.

Source: Nutritional Intake in India, 2011-12, National Sample Survey

During the period of the Covid-19 lockdown, the Government announced that every household eligible for subsidized rations under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) would also receive one kilo of pulses per month free, for three months. This is a derisory amount – for a family of five, just 200 grams per person, or less than 7 grams per day per person. Later this scheme was extended, but the Government eventually distributed only a total of 1.2 million tonnes during April-December 2020.[6]

Official procurement of pulses could furnish more substantial supplies for the PDS, as well as other nutritional schemes (such as school midday meals and mother-and-child welfare schemes). Along with a guarantee of public procurement at MSP, the Government would need to improve the quality of seeds and step up agricultural extension services to induce a shift to pulses. Seeds + extension services + procurement at remunerative prices was, after all, the very formula that induced Punjab’s farmers to grow paddy in the first place. Further, given that pulses are more susceptible to blight and pests than paddy, it is important to compensate production losses in one form or the other.

In fact, after 2016, Government agencies did carry out limited procurement of pulses in various states (not in Punjab) under the Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) Scheme. A buffer stock of 2.05 million tonnes of pulses was created through procurement and imports. This is meagre: it amounts to less than 9 per cent of average annual production of pulses in 2016-20. Nevertheless, the Economic Survey 2020-21 claims that “Creation of buffer stock of pulses has helped in moderating pulses prices. Lower prices of pulses lead to consumer savings. Built buffer also led to remunerative prices to farmers as procurement for buffer was undertaken at MSP or higher rates from them. This incentivized production which led to two successive years of bumper production taking country towards self-sufficiency and resulting in reduced imports and concomitant savings in forex.”

The reality is not as rosy. As the Economic Survey 2020-21 itself notes elsewhere, “Pulses inflation has been above 5 per cent since June 2019 and has been on an upward trend since then”.  This was so well before Covid-related restrictions caused a sharp spike in prices in April 2020; it was 15.4 per cent in December 2019 itself (see Chart below).

Source: RBI Database of the Indian Economy

Even as consumers have been paying high prices for pulses, farmers growing pulses have by and large been unable to obtain the Minimum Support Price, since procurement operations have been so paltry. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) notes that procurement of kharif pulses by official agencies in 2019-20 was only 4.8 per cent of the crop, much lower than the previous year, and much below the 25 per cent of actual production allowed under the Price Support Scheme.[7] The CACP also notes that market prices of pulses have fallen far short of the MSP. For example, for tur (arhar), market prices have fallen short of the MSP by 19-28 per cent during the last few years.[8] (These market price data reflect only the purchases in official market yards; since most farmers in major pulses-producing states such as Maharashtra, M.P., Karnataka, and Rajasthan are unable to reach such markets, the prices they receive are frequently much worse, as reflected in news reports.) Meagre procurement delivers meagre benefits for both consumers and producers.

While the Economic Survey’s account may be excessively rosy, it is significant that this official publication of the Government acknowledges that public procurement is an effective means (1) to control retail prices, and thereby bring about consumer savings; (2) to ensure remunerative prices to growers; and (3) to promote the growth of domestic production, resulting in reduction in imports. If this is so, why does the Government not implement public procurement of pulses on a larger scale, with a much larger beneficial impact on the prices received by growers and those paid by consumers? We shall see why later.

Procurement of paddy should expand to other states

A shift from rice to other crops by a section of Punjab farmers would mean a corresponding fall in paddy procurement in the state, and therefore a fall in the FCI’s rice stocks. According to neoliberal economists, this would be a good thing: they claim that India has excess production of rice and wheat, as manifested by the colossal stocks of these two cereals with the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which are multiples of the buffer stocking norms.

However, this is a false notion. Results of the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS), for the year 2019-20, are available for states representing about half the population. These reveal that, in most states, since the earlier NFHS (2015-16),  “there is a worsening in indicators such as childhood stunting (13 out of 22 states see an increase), wasting (12 out of 22 states see an increase) and underweight (16 out of 22 states see an increase).” It appears that growing poverty is responsible for the declining consumption of food: National Sample Survey data show a 10 per cent decline in per capita expenditure on food (after discounting for inflation) between 2011-12 and 2017-18.

Thus large scale hunger continues. In fact, the ‘excess’ stocks of foodgrain with the FCI are merely the result of the failure or refusal of the Government to distribute grain to the people.

Hence, if procurement of paddy in Punjab reduces as farmers shift to other crops, the FCI should be compelled to procure rice elsewhere – in states such as West Bengal, Bihar, and eastern U.P.,[9] which are also more suited environmentally to growing paddy. Farmers in these states are receiving desperately low prices, far below the official Minimum Support Price (MSP): for example, in December 2020 it was reported that paddy farmers in West Bengal were receiving Rs 1,200-1,300 per quintal, as compared to the MSP of Rs 1,868. Indeed, in order to promote production growth of paddy in these states, it is essential that farmers receive the MSP.

The CACP itself claims: “In some States like Punjab (more than 95 per cent) and Haryana (69.9 per cent), coverage [of public procurement] is quite high, while in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, top rice producers, only 3.6 percent and 7.3 percent of paddy growers benefitted from procurement operations. Majority of farmers in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and other Eastern

and North-Eastern States, being marginal and small and having poor access to government procurement, resort to distress sale, therefore, there is a need to bring more farmers in these States under the ambit of procurement operations.”[10]

What stands in the way

In this way, three dire needs could be simultaneously addressed: (1) the shift of farmland in Punjab away from paddy, to crops that consume less water; (2) an improvement in protein consumption by India’s malnourished population; and (3) provision of stable, remunerative prices to millions of paddy farmers in other states, who at present receive unremunerative prices, often below the cost of production.

Although we have spelled out the above argument taking the example of kharif pulses, it could as well be applied to other crops. What is important is the mechanism of public procurement and distribution in an economy with hundreds of millions of small agricultural producers, on the one hand, and hundreds of millions of consumers whose consumption of necessities is depressed and precarious, on the other.

No doubt neoliberal economists favoured by the rulers would complain that such a scheme would increase the food subsidy. Such a statement merely manifests their values and priorities. In fact, such a scheme deserves such an outlay, firstly, since it addresses a critical nutritional gap, assuming we value the health of the majority of the population. Secondly, given the range of other economic and environmental benefits, the costs are not large – perhaps Rs 10,000 crore per year.[11] (By comparison, just the latest addition to the long list of Government subsidies to the private corporate sector – the production-linked incentives scheme – will dole out Rs 40,000-50,000 crore of cash a year to a handful of the largest private corporate firms.)

But the cost of such a scheme is not the actual reason the rulers would be dead against such a solution. For the entire purpose of the three Farm Acts is in the opposite direction – viz, to wind down the system of official procurement of foodgrains and the public distribution system (PDS), in order to hand over the agricultural and food system of India to private big capital, foreign and domestic. As we have written earlier, the present rulers are determined to ram through this agenda.

By contrast, the solution we describe above would instead further expand and entrench the system of official procurement and public distribution. It would expand procurement to additional states; and it would expand the commodities under the PDS to include pulses. Farmers whose crops are for the first time officially procured at MSP would not only welcome this but begin to treat it as a right; as would consumers who begin to receive pulses in the PDS. What the people would view as a positive development would be viewed by the rulers as a disaster.

For example, we must not forget that one of the key ‘reforms’ imposed by the rulers recently was the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020. The Amendment removes commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. According to the Economic Survey, “This aims to remove fears in private investors from excessive regulatory interference in their business operations. The freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply… will attract private sector/foreign direct investment into the agriculture sector.

Quite contrary to the vituperations of pundits on Twitter and in the media, it is not the supposedly pampered kisans of Punjab who are responsible for the environmental damage being done by the present pattern of agriculture. What stands in the way of a solution is the rulers’ own determination to restructure India’s agriculture and food system in favour of imperialism, as we have described in earlier pieces on this blog.

It is this official policy itself that is toxic for the kisans of different states, for the mass of consumers, as well as for the environment.


[1] Briefly: in order to reduce the use of groundwater, the authorities in recent years pushed back the date for sowing and transplanting paddy in Punjab and Haryana closer to the monsoon. However, this also pushes back the date of paddy harvesting to November. This leaves very little time for clearing paddy stalks in order to plant wheat, driving farmers to do so by burning the stalks. And by that later point in the year, the temperature is lower, as a result of which the smoke does not get dispersed, leading to smog.

[2] Report of the expert committee on diversification of agriculture in Punjab (1986), and Report of the Expert Committee on Agricultural Production Pattern Adjustment Programme in Punjab for Productivity and Growth (2002).

[3] Proponents of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a set of agronomic practices that greatly reduce the consumption of water in growing paddy, claim that it improves the benefit-cost ratio for farmers. Resistance to adopting it may be on account of higher labour costs.  This would be particularly a problem for larger holdings.

[4] Samyak Pandey and Urjita Bhardwaj, “Save Punjab from desertification, move paddy-wheat to UP, Bihar, Bengal — agronomist SS Johl”, The Print, January 18, 2021.

[5] Per capita protein intake fell from 60.2 gm/day to 56.5 gm/day in the rural areas, and from 57.2 gm/day to 55.7 gm/day in the urban areas between 1993-94 and 2011-12, according to the National Sample Survey (Nutritional Intake in India, 2011-12, NSS Round 68).

[6] Sandip Das, “Bring pulses under Public Distribution System”, Financial Express, January 14, 2021. Taking the NFSA coverage at roughly 160 million families, or 800 million people, the quantity actually distributed over 9 months comes to 167 grams per person per month.

[7] The percentage, however, varies widely across different pulses, and in some cases is as high as 18-19 per cent. See Harish Damodaran, “Why it’s an underestimate to say only 6% farmers benefit from MSP.” Indian Express, October 6, 2020.

[8] Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), Price Policy for Kharif Crops: The Marketing Season 2020-21.

[9] Under the system of Decentralised Procurement, apart from the traditional procurement states of Punjab, Haryana, western U.P., and certain districts of A.P., paddy procurement was also meant to be extended to West Bengal, M.P., Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, A.P., Bihar, and Telangana. However, of these states, significant levels of procurement are taking place only in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. See Prankur Gupa, Reetika Khera, and Sudha Narayanan, “Minimum Support Prices in India: Distilling the facts”, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3791859

[10] CACP, op. cit. However, the CACP’s statement that only farmers whose crops were procured benefited from procurement operations is mistaken. In the absence of public procurement, private procurement prices elsewhere would be even lower. This can be seen from the fact that the shortfall between market prices and MSPs is even larger in crops where there is no public procurement at all.

[11] The Government’s initial estimate of the cost of distribution of pulses free of cost for three months during the Covid-19 lockdown was Rs 5,000 crore. This comes to roughly Rs 100/kg (presumably including procurement, storage, transport, distribution, and interest), or Rs 1 lakh per tonne. (That is, 1 kg x 160 million households x 3 months = 480 million kg. Rs 5,000 crore/480 mn kg = Rs 104/kg.)  If 1 million hectares were to be shifted to pulses, and we assume a production of 1 million tonnes of pulses from this land, it might require approximately Rs 10,000 crore to procure it and distribute it free through the PDS. This sum can be adjusted upward or downward, depending on (1) the yield of pulses in Punjab (a higher yield would mean higher procurement, and therefore higher costs); (2) the targeted number of hectares to be shifted from paddy to pulses (for example, the area could be raised from 1 million to 1.5 million hectares); and (3) the price charged for these pulses in the PDS. At any rate, this sum is not large compared to the total costs of the existing food subsidy, which were budgeted at Rs 116,000 crore in 2020-21 (before the Covid crisis).

The following are some recent translations of RUPE materials. An earlier collection of links to translations was given here: https://rupeindia.wordpress.com/2021/01/27/translations-of-recent-articles-related-to-agriculture/

We thank all those who have undertaken these translations. They help reach these materials to those who can make best use of them. Continue Reading »

— Rahul Varman[1]

[A Telugu translation of this article can be accessed here. The translation is by P. Jamuna.]

Amid the continuing farm protests, with the farmers completing almost three months camping at the borders of Delhi, the international news agency Reuters published a report based on multiple internal documents of Amazon regarding its India operations over the last few years.[2] Amazon is a global e-commerce giant, and it has already achieved close to $10 billion annual sales (value of merchandise sold) in India. Its CEO is supposed to be one of the richest persons on the planet. What do the documents reveal?

In short, the documents reveal the huge difference between the public face of the company and the actual reality when it comes to complying with government policies and regulations. The documents contain directions and inputs for the senior staff as to what they should claim in their meetings with the Indian officials and policy makers. At the same time they inform top Amazon executives that the company has been systematically flouting many of the Indian regulations and policies, and hence the outcome of the corporation’s actions has been exactly opposite of what those policies were supposed to achieve. All the while, the company publicly proclaimed that it was wholeheartedly supporting and promoting the stated policy objectives.

Continue Reading »

– Yogi Aggarwal

The Government’s chief policy-making body, NITI Aayog, has commissioned a research organisation, CUTS International, to study the “economic impact” of various judgments delivered by Supreme Court, the high courts, and quasi-judicial bodies such as the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The study is aimed at “sensitising the judiciary on the economic impact of their decisions”. The Niti Aayog blames “judicial activism” for stalling projects in different parts of the country. The study findings will be used as a “training input for judges of commercial courts, NGT, HCs, SC”.

By “economic impact” the Aayog actually means the impact on the profits of private businesses. As part of the new study, CUTS has started research on the 2013 NGT ban on sand mining on the Yamuna river bed in Gautam Buddha Nagar, which caused “severe and avoidable losses to the sand mining industry, leaseholders, as well as truck owners.” Other judgments to be studied concern the Vedanta Sterlite copper plant, iron ore mining in Goa, an airport in Goa, and building construction in Delhi. Continue Reading »

In 2017, as the Modi government pushed for legislations against the slaughter of cattle in different states, the following study by Manali Chakrabarti argued that (1) the effect of these laws would be to undermine the livestock economy entirely; and (2) without the supplementary income, the marginal and small farm households would not be able to hold on to their land either. These observations become even more relevant and compelling today, as we see a concerted drive by the rulers to make farming unviable for small peasants and oust them from their land. Hence we are re-posting the piece. — RUPE

Three years later: A brief update

— Manali Chakrabarti

This piece was written in 2017, just after the Union government’s notification banning sale and purchase of bovine animals for slaughter. Even before this notification, cow slaughter was banned in 22 out 28 states in India. Subsequently, the Supreme Court stayed the ban, and the Union government seemed to have withdrawn the ban due to nationwide uproar against it. Continue Reading »

A Telugu translation of all three parts of “The Kisans Are Right. Their Land Is at Stake” is now complete.

Part 1: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/kisans1telugu.pdf

Part 2: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans2telugu.pdf

Part 3: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans3telugu.pdf

P. Jamuna has translated all three parts.

The Mexico Model and Lessons for India’s Agriculture

In the previous two parts of this article, we saw how

(1) the Government is trying to ram through a conclusive determination of property rights in agricultural land throughout the country. This is being done explicitly in order to develop a “vibrant land market”, i.e., in order to facilitate transfers of land;

(2) for the last 20 years or so, there has been an intensifying drive by international investors to get control of land, including agricultural land, in the Third World;

(3) the penetration of organised retail in the Third World, generally linked to giant transnational retail firms, leads inexorably to the ousting of small peasants; and

(4) the existing crisis of the Indian peasantry under neoliberal rule has created the conditions for small peasants to lose their land, either to large landholders or to corporations. Indeed, when the rulers say they plan to double farmers’ income, they mean that they plan to halve the number of farmers.

What will these changes, if they come to pass, mean for India as a whole?

Advocates of neoliberal policies argue that the pain of these changes is temporary. Farmers may lose their land, but the land will be put to higher-value uses, thus increasing total income. And jobs will be created for workers in agriculture, logistics (procurement, storage and transport), food processing, and retail. ‘In the net’, i.e, after setting losses against gains, they argue, this process will lead to greater prosperity and jobs all round.

This is a travesty of the truth. In fact these changes will wreak a terrible and varied devastation. That devastation will not take place all at once; its effects will differ across regions, sectors, castes, genders, and communities, in this, the world’s most stratified society. At first, most who are affected will not realize the interconnections between their own fate and that of others similarly affected; why they are ripped from their tenuous but familiar subsistence and cast on the open waters, as so much flotsam and jetsam; how different sections of working people, though strangers to them, are facing the same confusion and misery; and which classes are responsible for the social calamity. And so, which classes they must join hands with in order to resist the attack.

It is all the more necessary, therefore, to make people aware of these very concrete facts and interconnections.

Continue Reading »

A Telugu translation of all three parts of “The Kisans Are Right. Their Land Is at Stake” is now complete.

Part 1: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/kisans1telugu.pdf

Part 2: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans2telugu.pdf

Part 3: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans3telugu.pdf

P. Jamuna has translated all three parts.

In the previous part of this article we saw that the Indian rulers are actively preparing the legal groundwork for parting peasants from their land. In the following part we place this in an international context.

The world economy is witnessing an intensifying drive by international investors to get control of land, including agricultural land, in the Third World. Why is this so?

The imperialist economies have been afflicted by a long-term trend of slowing growth, for reasons inherent to capitalism in its present stage. Over decades, capitalism has sought to counter that tendency toward stagnation by employing various means. In particular it has sought to do so by expanding financial sector activity – i.e., the activity, not of generating surplus in the course of production, but of acquiring and trading claims over the surplus.

Despite this extraordinary growth of finance, the captains of world capitalism remain pessimistic about the prospects for growth. Indeed, even prominent ‘mainstream’ economists now predict that the advanced countries will undergo ‘secular (i.e., long-term, chronic) stagnation’ for the foreseeable future. (However, they avoid linking this tendency to the nature of monopoly capitalism, which indeed is at the root of it.)

Continue Reading »

We will be posting here links to translations of writings on the current agrarian crisis and agitation, as and when we receive them. We request readers to refer to this page for updates regarding translations.

These and other translations are also collected at the following link: https://rupeindia.wordpress.com/category/translations/

We understand that readers have translated or adapted articles from the blog into other languages as well. If this is the case, we request them to send us the pdf files or web links for posting at this site, so they can reach more readers.

— RUPE


The Kisans Are Right. Their Land Is At Stake (Part 2 of 3)

March 2, 2021


English: https://rupeindia.wordpress.com/2021/02/03/the-kisans-are-right-their-land-is-at-stake-part-2-of-3/
Telugu: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans2telugu.pdf


The Kisans Are Right. Their Land Is At Stake (Part 1 of 3)

January 26, 2021

Telugu: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/kisans1telugu.pdf


When Multinational Grain Traders Told an Official Committee Why They Wanted the FCI to Be Wound Up

January 10, 2021

English: https://rupeindia.wordpress.com/2021/01/10/when-multinational-grain-traders-told-an-official-committee-why-they-wanted-the-fci-to-be-wound-up/

Telugu (translation by Paruchuri Jamuna): https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/graintelugu.pdf


Modi’s Farm Produce Act Was Authored Thirty Years Ago, in Washington D.C.

January 5, 2021

Telugu: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/telugumodi.pdf


Peasant Agitation against Three Acts: Not Their Fight Alone

December 3, 2020

English: https://rupeindia.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/peasant-agitation-against-three-acts-not-their-fight-alone/

Hindi: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/hbooklet.pdf

Telugu (translation by Paruchuri Jamuna): https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/telugupeasant-1.pdf

Marathi (translation by Rashmi Divekar and Vandana Palsane): https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/marathi.pdf

Tamil adaptation: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/tamil.pdf

Tamil: full translation at https://tamilrupe.wordpress.com/ .

Turkish: The progressive Turkish website İleri Haber has published the Turkish translation of “Peasant Agitation against Three Acts” by Onurcan Ülker: https://ilerihaber.org/icerik/ceviri-koylulerin-uc-yasaya-karsi-galeyani-kavga-yalnizca-onlarin-degil-122394.html

_________________________________________________________________________

A publication of May 2017 that remains relevant:

No.s 66-67: India’s Peasantry under Neoliberal Rule

English: https://rupe-india.org/66/contents.html

Hindi translation by the Karwan Collective, which may be contacted at karwancollective(at)gmail.com.

The pdf of the entire book is freely downloadable at https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/aspects66.pdf

Tamil:

Print edition translated and published by New Democratic Labour Front. Distributed by:

Keezhai-k-Katru.
16, Arumalai chavadi,
Cantonment Pallavaram,
Chennai – 600043.
India.
Cell:9444881066

(Note: We could not ascertain if copies are still available.)

Oriya

The Oriya print version, Nabya Udarabadi Sasanare Bharatara Krushaka, has been published by

Subarnashree Prakashini, Neliabag, Shreekanthapur,
Baleswar, Odisha.
Phone: 06782-261020.
Price: Rs 130.

A Telugu translation of all three parts of “The Kisans Are Right. Their Land Is at Stake” is now complete.

Part 1: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/kisans1telugu.pdf

Part 2: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans2telugu.pdf

Part 3: https://rupeindia.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/kisans3telugu.pdf

P. Jamuna has translated all three parts.

Part 1

The protesting kisans on the borders of Delhi repeat one thing over and over: When fighting against the three farm-related Acts, they are fighting to save their land.

“See, they want to capture our land.  Adani, Ambani, corporate houses…” says one young protester. Though wheelchair-bound, he has come from Punjab to take part in the Delhi protest. An older kisan, shelling peas for the protesters’ collective kitchen, declares: “The Britishers, they captured our land. We shooed them away. We have to do the same thing now. We will not rest till we shoo them away.”

Yet the authorities are unanimous in declaring: the kisans are misled. There is no threat to their land. 

  • The Prime Minister asserted on December 15: “a massive conspiracy is underway to misguide farmers in Delhi and nearby areas. They are being intimidated that others will occupy the land of farmers after the new agricultural reforms. Brothers and sisters, I want to know from you whether any dairy owner who enters into a contract with you for milk takes away your cattle. Whether the land of those trading in fruits and vegetables is taken away?”
  • “No corporate can snatch away any farmer’s land as long as Narendra Modi is Prime Minister of the country”, proclaimed Home Minister Amit Shah on December 25.
  • The Chief Justice of India too assured the kisans on January 12, 2021: “We will pass an interim order saying no farmer’s land can be sold for contract farming”. Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Government, informed the Court: “The Attorney General and Solicitor General can assure that these concerns are unfounded….  no lands will be sold off.”
  • The Government’s top policy-making body, the Niti Aayog, produced a paper in November 2020, in which it declared that “apprehensions like corporates usurping the lands of the farmers, or forcibly taking their assets by manipulating the agreement are totally misplaced.”
  • Indeed the alleged land-snatchers themselves, Reliance Industries, issued a press release on January 4, 2021, asserting: “Neither Reliance nor any of our subsidiaries has purchased any agricultural land, directly or indirectly, in Punjab/Haryana or anywhere else in India, for the purpose of ‘corporate’ or ‘contract’ farming. We have absolutely no plans to do so.”
  • Earlier, more candid, statements by the rulers
    However, probing a bit deeper, it becomes clear the kisans are right. What is at stake, ultimately, is their land. The three Acts are an integral part of a larger policy, the result of which will be to part peasants from their land.

    Indeed, just a few months ago, the rulers themselves were keen to advertise this fact to corporate investors. In his speech of May 12, announcing the “Corona package”, Modi said: “In order to prove the resolve of a self-reliant India, Land, Labor, Liquidity and Laws all have been emphasized in this package.” What “Land” was he referring to?

    Two days later, the Chief Economic Advisor, Krishnamurthy Subramanian, spelled out what the Prime Minister meant: “Land and labour are really factor market reforms [in textbook economics, Land, Labour and Capital are the three ‘factors of production’ — RUPE] because these are factor inputs that really affect the cost of doing business and you have seen a lot of changes on these recently at state level. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have announced fundamental labour reforms and other states are also in line to follow up…. Karnataka had just gone ahead and changed the regulation on acquisition of land for business. Land can now be directly bought from farmers in the state and other states will also imbibe the model.”

    The old land reform law in Karnataka prevented direct acquisition of land by private business, in order to protect peasants from force and fraud. The removal of this protection[1] in December 2020 was immediately welcomed by big business.

    In line with this, at the height of the Corona crisis, the Modi government initiated two measures: drone-based mapping of all residential areas in the rural areas; and a model legislation for states to implement ‘conclusive’ land titling. Before we discuss these steps, let us briefly state the argument of this article.


    Summary

    (1) Over the last two decades, international agencies and the Indian government have explicitly been preparing the ground for transfer of the lands of poor peasants. They term this the creation of “vibrant land sales markets” for farmers who “find their lands too small to be a viable source of livelihood.”

    (2) In pursuit of this aim, the Indian government is trying to establish a system of ‘conclusive titling’ of all land in the country, whereby the State would permanently guarantee the title of the title-holder against any other claimants. The Niti Aayog is accordingly pushing state governments to adopt a draft ‘conclusive titling’ bill.

    (3) In our country, land continues to be the single largest source of livelihood and sustenance, and there are often multiple, historically established, claims on it. These claims need to be determined and satisfied through a social process, not a mere administrative one. The present rapid forced-march of conclusive titling and digitizing land records threatens to oust large numbers of poor peasants from the most important rural means of production.

    (4) This process is actually driven, not by the needs of the poor peasants, but the needs of international and domestic corporate investors, who want, from remote locations, to be able to take investment decisions related to Indian land.

    (5) Ongoing changes and growing uncertainties in the world economy, as well as those anticipated in the world climate and environment, have fueled a drive on the part of international agribusinesses and financial investors to get control of land, including agricultural land, in the Third World. At the same time, in the neoliberal era, Third World economies have opened themselves to foreign investment further and further, and (in line with this) scrapped step by step their existent legal restrictions on corporate and foreign ownership of agricultural land.

    One such global trend is the growth of organised retail, generally linked to foreign investment. This is leading to “the corporate takeover of the domestic food systems of the developing countries as a whole.”[2] This process reorients Third World countries’ agriculture away from staple crops for domestic consumption, toward fresh fruits, vegetables, and other produce demanded in the developed world and by the Third World countries’ domestic elites. Domestic food security systems are dismantled, and Third World countries become dependent on imports of foodgrains from developed countries (which have large surpluses of these grains). Foreign and domestic corporate investors’ penetration of the agricultural sector of a Third World country spurs the “concentration and foreignization”[3] of land.

    (6) Three decades of neoliberal restructuring of India’s agriculture have led to an acute crisis, manifested most starkly by the suicides of over 3,00,000 peasants since the late 1990s. Official data reveal that the poor peasantry is squeezed, with their farm income not covering even their consumption needs.[4] At the same time, they are unwilling to part with their land. Their stubborn resistance is due to their knowledge that other secure livelihoods are not emerging (indeed, are disappearing), and that land and access to common property resources can still yield some subsistence for the peasant family.

    However, the corporate takeover of India’s food system will press upon the various sections of the Indian peasantry in multiple ways. The winding up of official procurement will reduce farmgate prices for foodgrains, and force growers in procurement regions to shift to growing crops demanded by corporates, in a desperate attempt to meet their consumption expenditures. But the specifications and investments demanded by organised retail and by exporters are unaffordable for these small producers. Meanwhile, the winding down of the Public Distribution System will raise the consumption costs of peasants in other regions, including in tribal areas. All these trends will intensify the debt crisis of different sections of the peasantry, and lead to parting them from their land.

    The kisans are not misled. Their resistance to this process is in their long-term interest. It is also in the national interest, by defending the food security and land of the country. It is thus a direct heir to the legacy of the struggles of India’s peasantry under British rule.


    We now proceed to elaborate the above.

    The aim: creating “vibrant land sales markets”
    One of the key elements of the neoliberal ‘reform’ process has been the transferring of control over land. As is well known, the Modi government in its first term tried to dilute or virtually scrap various provisions of its predecessor’s Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-settlement Act, 2013[5], against the interests of peasants, and in favour of forcible land acquisition.

    That attempt at amendment had to be dropped by the rulers in the face of opposition both by peasant organisations and parliamentary parties, but the rulers plan to bring it back: According to a former member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC), “With the ruling party expected to be placed comfortably from November 2020 it is hoped to introduce the land bill again.”[6]

    However, the process of separating peasants from their land is not limited to the acquiring of land for industrial, infrastructural, mining or real estate projects. It is also part of the re-structuring of India’s agriculture in the interests of monopoly capital. As part of this process, the neo-liberalizers wish to first fix ownership of the land on some person, whether or not that person has the exclusive right to it, so that ownership can thereafter be transferred to others. For this purpose, they reduce the question of land rights to a purely managerial question of improving the efficiency of land administration, which is the opposite of the truth. They have always been quite clear in stating the aim of this exercise: to facilitate the transfer of land. (Toward the same end, they have also been pushing for a new law for the leasing of land, aimed at promoting the leasing of small peasants’ land to large landholders.)

    A 2001 report by the leading international consulting firm, McKinsey, claimed (without citing any reference) that “most, even 90 per cent by one estimate, of the land titles in India are ‘unclear’”.[7] One reason for this unclear status, it claimed, is the strength of tenancy rights in India: “both legal as well as illegal occupants gain de facto rights on the property they occupy, increasing the time and paperwork needed before the real owner can fully exercise his right to sell the property”.[8] In McKinsey’s view, by implication, all tenants are encroachers, without legitimate claims; only “real owners” have legitimate claims.

    In fact, such tenancy rights as exist in India’s lawbooks are the legacy of fierce struggles by India’s peasantry over decades. These struggles, to one extent or another, established the social claim that those who actually work the land have a primary right on its fruits, not those who extract rent of one kind or another on the basis of paper titles. It is clear that what McKinsey terms a lack of ‘clarity’ is actually a social question, a struggle between classes for possession and fruits of the land.

    In a 2007 document, the World Bank claimed that traditional land reform in India (abolition of intermediaries, tenancy legislation, and ceilings on land ownership), was no longer beneficial; indeed it was now turning harmful.[9] Land reform laws affected “the efficiency with which land is used by land reform beneficiaries as well as landowners targeted by land reform”. In other words, in order to boost ‘growth’, it was necessary to do away with land reform laws. In their place, the World Bank laid out a new charter: “Expand computerization, integration, and use of textual records to ensure full coverage [of land]. Provide a basis for statewide spatial coverage. Allow private sector participation in surveying, focusing government on a regulatory role.” Finally, it said, “Eliminate restrictions on land markets”, by legalising leasing of land; removing ceilings on rent; removing restrictions on the transfer of land, including to non-agriculturalists; and allowing direct acquisition of agricultural land by investors (i.e., without Government mediation).

    Going further, the Columbia University economist Arvind Panagariya, in his best-selling book India: The Emerging Giant (2008), called for “state-guaranteed titles” to land as a prerequisite for a “highly efficient land market in India”:

    Currently, an effort is under way to digitize the existing land records. While this is a useful exercise to ensure that the records that exist are properly documented and preserved, it will not solve the fundamental problem of the absence of state guaranteed titles. The latter requires legislative action. While politically complex, this reform has a very large payoff. Not only will it give millions of farmers peace of mind and avoid millions of law suits in future, it will also give rise to a highly efficient rural land market in India. (p. 322)

    Indeed, it was the Congress-led UPA government that, in August 2008, launched the “National Land Records Modernisation Programme” (NLRMP), with the explicit aim of moving to a system of conclusive, State-guaranteed titles of land ownership.[10] It appears that the state governments gave their assent, and sent in their plans for implementation of this scheme. Progress, however, was slower than the rulers wished, and the Economic Survey 2012-13, prepared under Raghuram Rajan, called for accelerating the NLRMP “to map land carefully and assign conclusive title”, and bring about “greater liquidity for land”.

    In 2014, the new Modi government made Panagariya the head of its central policy body, Niti Aayog, and he set about creating the land market of his dreams. A 2015 paper of the Niti Aayog states:

    …[O]wnership rights in India are also poorly defined. All ownership is presumptive and subject to challenge in the courts. This feature has undermined the development of a vibrant land sales market with the owner unable to get the true value of his piece of land. In turn, this discourages land sales as well when the farmer finds his [sic] piece of land too small to be a viable source of livelihood.[11]

    Thus neither international agencies nor successive governments, from the Congress-led UPA to the present Modi government, were ever coy to state their intent to part the “unviable” farmer from his or her plot of land through “vibrant land sales markets”.

    Making use of the Covid-19 crisis
    In April 2020, as India reeled under the world’s harshest lockdown – the country’s most terrible humanitarian crisis since Partition – commentators in the business press called for the Government to use the occasion to ram through politically difficult measures: “While the need to unleash the power of land was never in doubt, the coronavirus crisis has given us an opportunity to make it happen now.” Panagariya called on the Government not “to let the crisis go to waste”, pointing out “The crisis… gives the government the opportunity to introduce reforms in areas of land and labour markets that are harder in ‘peace’ time.”

    In April 2020, at the height of the lockdown, the Prime Minister launched a new project, ‘SVAMITVA’ (Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas), for drone surveys to map all residential houses in rural areas. Once this is done, state governments would issue property cards for these houses to village households. (Note that this merely formalises existing home ownership; those who do not have house sites will not benefit from this scheme.) Apart from demarcation of individual rural property, other gram panchayat and community assets like village roads, ponds, canals, open spaces, schools, anganwadis, health sub-centres, etc. would also be surveyed and maps would be created.

    Why did the Government accord such urgency to this scheme? The Government claims this would “increase liquidity of land parcels in the market” (i.e., facilitate sales of property). Moreover, it is likely that, having set up a sizeable physical infrastructure and trained personnel for drone-based mapping in the rural areas, the Government may use the same later for mapping agricultural land as well.

    Niti Aayog’s Draft Land Titling Act
    In 2008, the UPA government undertook the National Land Records Modernisation Programme (NLRMP), with the aim of establishing ‘conclusive titling’ of land in India. This was revamped in 2014 by the Modi government as the “Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme” (DILRMP).

    Taking this further, in November 2020, the NITI Aayog released a model Land Titling Act, which it is pressing state governments to adopt (land being a state, not Central, subject). Given that all state governments signed on to the NLRMP, they may well agree to adopt such legislations in their respective states now.

    A bit of background is required to understand the significance of the above step.

    Land accounts for 73 per cent of the assets of rural households (buildings, located on that land, account for another 21 per cent).[12] Who owns, who possesses, who has a right to the fruits of, who has specific use rights in, and who can transfer a parcel of land are not simple questions in India; nor are they merely technical or administrative questions, but social ones, which must be determined through a social process. There are multiple layers of land rights, often belonging to different persons. And these can be questions of life and death for those affected.

    At present, India has a system of ‘presumptive’ land titles, whereby the State does not guarantee land titles; evidence of ownership is provided by sale deeds, tax revenue receipts, etc. The onus of verifying ownership lies on the buyer of a property, for which the prospective buyer frequently carries out a ‘title search’ of existing documents.

    Under a system of ‘conclusive’ titling, titles to property are registered with, and guaranteed by, the State. In order to institute such a system, it is necessary to conclusively determine ownership of all land, including the claims of creditors, and the rights of other parties such as tenants. Once such a determination is made, the State will guarantee the rights of the owner against all other persons. Such a system is known internationally as a “Torrens system.” Not all developed countries have it. Indeed it is not prevalent even in most states of the United States.

    Legal scholar Jonathan Zasloff points out that, since land registration documents are to be accepted or rejected by bureaucrats, the present drive for a Torrens system provides enormous potential for bureaucratic corruption.[13] The official record will be determined by powerful vested interests.

    India’s history provides ample evidence of this.

    (1) Redistributive land reforms, to break the landlord monopoly on land, failed utterly in India. The historic report of the official Task Force on Agrarian Relations (1973) frankly admitted that such reforms never stood a chance: “Considering the character of the power structure obtaining in the country it was only natural that the required political will was not forthcoming.”[14] More recently too, the official Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms (2009) pointed to “deep collusion between the large landholders [and] the political and bureaucratic structure”.

    (2) An estimated 200 million people (Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers) were to be covered under the Forest Rights Act of 2006. To date, just 4.1 million individual titles have been distributed, representing about 20 million people, or 10 per cent of the projected coverage. The situation is even worse with regard to community forest rights (CFR): just 3 per cent of the potential CFR area has been established to date.

    Even the much more modest aim of recording and securing tenants, and improving their share of the produce, was never attempted in most of the country. No doubt West Bengal carried out a major programme (‘Operation Barga’) in 1978-82, during which officials camped at 8,000 sites, and peasant organisations of the ruling Left Front mobilised sharecroppers to get registered. Yet even this covered only half the sharecroppers and half the sharecropped land, and more or less came to a halt by the mid-1980s.[15]

    The final burial of land reform
    Further, as Zasloff notes, if “land owners” are to be protected, “the question of who should own the land cannot be avoided”:

    Among other things, Torrens protects absentee owners against loss of their land to squatters under adverse possession: squatters obviously will lack title registration certificates, and thus lack title. A just land distribution system in India, however, might favor squatters, millions of whom are poor victims of an often savagely oppressive history, and in any event are the ones making productive use of the land, frequently for several years.

    Thus the Torrens system represents the final and formal burial of land reform; for once the State itself is the guarantor of the owner’s title, what question is there of the same State redistributing land to the landless? This despite the fact that there is much land to be redistributed, and (to quote the 2009 Committee on State Agrarian Relations) “The country will never be able to achieve a structural end to rural poverty without land reforms, including redistributive measures and security of tenure and ownership, prevention of usurious alienation from vulnerable segments of people and ownership of house sites.”

    In current times, the word ‘reform’ is used not in its historical sense of progressive change, but to refer to all sorts of utterly regressive neoliberal policies and even outright plunder. So too the phrase ‘land reform’ has been appropriated: It now refers not to the historically progressive task of breaking up the monopoly of land and abolishing all types of feudal extractions, but policies to grab the means of production from poor peasants.

    Indeed, as Zasloff points out, the very drive for titling can become a drive for dispossession:

    Formalization can pose a problem for the poor for several reasons. It forces them to defend their claims, and they may lack the resources to do so. It might undermine customary or collective forms of tenure that work on the ground but are difficult to formalize. The very increase in property value that formalization can achieve might enable a government to levy property tax, and if the poor are unable to pay it, they will be driven from their homes. More darkly, greater land values might encourage those interests with little interest in the niceties of due process to make the poor offers that they cannot refuse.

    But the implications of this process are not limited to dispossession of a section of peasants in the course of conclusive titling. The fixing of conclusive titles is meant to set the stage for a wider dispossession.

    In Part 2 of this article (to follow), we discuss changes in the world economy which have fueled the desire of international investors to get control of land; and how the planned restructuring of India’s agriculture will force kisans to part with their land.

    _________________________________________________________________________ 

    Endnote:

    The theoretician of conclusive titling for Third World property
    The justification for the move to conclusive titling derives from a fashionable theory propounded by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto in an international best-seller, The Mystery of Capital. Since its publication in 2000, the book has become a neoliberal bible, winning praise from neoliberal icons such as Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, two Nobel Memorial prize-winning economists, and a host of other celebrities and authorities. The institute set up and run by de Soto “has been ranked as the world’s second-most influential think tank, with assignments from the ILO, the UN, and some thirty governments in the Third World and former Soviet states.”[16]

    De Soto’s book is specifically aimed at refuting Marx’s thesis of irreconcilable class interests between the working people and capitalists. He is worried that Marxism may still provide the only explanation for the way things are, and so Marxist movements will revive: “Today, there are serious statistics that provide the anticapitalists with just the ammunition they need to argue that capitalism is a transfer of property from poorer to richer countries and that Western private investment in developing nations is nothing short of a massive takeover of their resources by multinationals.”[17]

    De Soto sets out to refute those who point to the misery of the Third World as an indictment of world capitalism. He claims that in the West (the advanced countries), strong formal property systems enable all persons to participate in the economy, hence capitalism is successful there; whereas this is not the case in the Third World. Using questionable methodology, he discovers that the global poor already have ample property: “By our calculations, the total value of the real estate held but not legally owned by the poor of the Third World and former communist nations is at least $9.3 trillion.” (italics in the original)[18] Of this, $6.7 trillion is the value of the property of “informal urban dwellings” (slums and shantytowns), and $2.6 trillion is the value of “informal rural area” (land holdings). But this is what he calls “dead capital”, because “What the poor are missing are the legally integrated property systems that can convert their work and savings into capital.”[19] If only they had the legal titles to that property, they could borrow against it and start or expand their business activities.

    We need not here discuss the whole of de Soto’s bogus theory, but one point is relevant for our present discussion. Contrary to de Soto’s depiction, rural land in India is not entirely undocumented. Moreover, given that rural credit in India is extended by public sector banks, not private ones, decisions on how much credit to extend, and what type of collateral to accept, are determined by Government policy. Rural landholders do possess various types of documents evidencing their right to the plots they hold. On this basis, millions of them already avail of bank credit. According to official press releases, 97 million farmer families have been registered on the PM-KISAN web portal, of whom nearly 67 million have Kisan Credit Cards. (No doubt, tenant farmers are unable to obtain credit against their land, but under any drive to formalize legal titles, they would be excluded from title anyway.) The problem of poor landholders is not that lack of conclusive title hinders them from obtaining credit, but that they face various types of exploitation as well as risks, so much so that they are frequently unable to service their loans, and thus some even face loss of land. Without improving the terms on which they labour, what use are de Soto-inspired drives to enhance the quality of their title, and enable them to borrow more?

    The real import of de Soto’s theory (although he avoids saying it directly) is that, as long as the property of the poor is not part of his “legally integrated property system” (with formal, tradable, legal titles), it cannot easily be taken over by the private corporate sector. When bank officials or private creditors turn up to seize a debt-ridden peasant’s land, they may face the wrath of a peasant community, indignant at the idea that land is to be bought and sold.  In de Soto’s words:

    A good property system… allows assets to become fungible [i.e., mutually interchangeable, like currency notes] by representing them to our minds so that we can easily combine, divide, and mobilize them to produce higher-valued mixtures. This capacity of property to represent aspects of assets in forms that allow us to recombine them so as to make them even more useful is the mainspring of economic growth, since growth is all about obtaining high-valued outputs from low-valued inputs.[20]

    As one commentator notes, “What de Soto actually argues is that these assets would produce significantly more wealth if they were drawn into the formal sector”[21]; but wealth for whom?

    Thus de Soto’s theory, while making seemingly pro-poor noises, actually prepares the basis for separating the poor from their meagre assets.

    _________________________________________________________________________


    [1] The Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2020 removes Section 79A of the Act, that allowed only those earning less than Rs 25 lakh per annum to buy agricultural land, and Section 79B, that said only people earning a living through agriculture could buy agricultural land. 

    [2] John Wilkinson, “The Globalization of Agribusiness and Developing World Food Systems”, Monthly Review, September 2009.

    [3] See The Land Market in Latin America and the Caribbean: Concentration and Foreignization, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2014.

    [4] See RUPE, India’s Peasantry under Neoliberal Rule, May 2017, Chapter III, https://rupe-india.org/66/partthree.html

    [5] The full form is “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.”

    [6] Jagadish Shettigar and Pooja Misra, “Land reforms: The next big game changer”, Hindu Business Line, November 23, 2020.

    [7] McKinsey, India: The Growth Imperative, October 1, 2001, p. 19. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/india/growth-imperative-for-india#. McKinsey named the land market as one of the “three main barriers to faster growth: the multiplicity of regulations governing product markets (i.e., regulations that affect either the price or output in a sector); distortions in the land markets; and widespread government ownership of businesses.” Do away with these, McKinsey said, and annual GDP growth would be 4 percentage points higher.

    [8] Ibid., p. 27.

    [9] India: Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction (2007). The World Bank says: “econometric evidence also suggests that the positive impact of land reform legislation has been declining over time and actually risks becoming negative”. p. xxi.

    [10] “Moving towards clear land titles in India: Potential benefits, a road-map and remaining challenges”, Rita Sinha, Secretary, Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, August 2008.

    [11] Niti Aayog, “Raising Agricultural Productivity and Making Farming Remunerative for Farmers”, December 2015.

    [12] National Sample Survey Organisation, NSS 70th Round (January-December 2013).

    [13] Jonathan Zasloff, “India’s Land Title Crisis: The Unanswered Questions”, Jindal Global Law Review, 2011, Vol. XX Number X.

    [14] Quoted in “Land Reform Is Dead, Long Live Land Reform”, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), May 19, 1973. Further: “In a society in which the entire weight of civil and criminal laws, judicial pronouncements and precedents, administrative tradition and practice is thrown on the side of the existing social order based on the inviolability of private property, an isolated law aimed at the restructuring of property relations in the rural areas has hardly any chance of success….”

    [15] Dipankar Basu, “Political Economy of ‘Middleness’: Behind Rural Violence in West Bengal”, EPW, April 21, 2001. Total land under sharecropping in West Bengal is estimated at 18-22 per cent of arable land; sharecroppers were recorded on 8.2 per cent of the arable land. West Bengal Human Development Report 2004, pp. 31-32.

    [16] Steffan Graner, “Hernando de Soto and the mystification of capital”, Eurozine, January 2007,https://www.eurozine.com/hernando-de-soto-and-the-mystification-of-capital/

    [17] Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, p. 165.

    [18] Ibid., p. 41. These calculations are based on questionable methodology, which we will not enter into here.

    [19] Ibid., p. 173.

    [20] de Soto, op. cit., p. 168.

    [21] Steffan Graner, op. cit.