COMMENTARY

Farmers Struggling for Survival in Ganganagar

As the time for preparing to sow the rabi (winter) crop draws closer so too grows the desperation of the farmers of Sriganganagar and other districts in Phase I of the Indira Gandhi Canal Project (IGCP).

For the past week Gharhsana and the areas around have been continuously in the news as farmers, traders and activists take on the Rajasthan government once again. Monday saw the two-year old agitation being renewed with road blocks throughout the IGCP districts of Sriganganagar, Hanumangarh and Bikaner which forms Phase I of the project. When the agitation was announced the Rajasthan government clamped a curfew in this area to dissuade farmers and traders from participating in it. But thousands of farmers and traders defied the order and the first day saw massive clashes between them and the police. The leaders of the Kisan Mazdoor Vyapari Sangarsh Samiti (KMVSS) have been detained, many activists are in jail with FIRs lodged against them and the government is doing all it can to break up the struggle. The farmers, on the other hand, are determined to fight for the right to the IGCP waters and the agitation is continuing. A delegation of CPI(ML), CPI and CPI(M) handed a memorandum to the State Governor on the 18 th in Jaipur, demanding the withdrawal of the army from the area, release of the leaders, removal of the curfew and that the farmers get their rightful share of irrigation water as per the agreement that was signed in December 2004.

According to this agreement, Phase I was to get 58% of the total IGCP waters released while Phase II got 42 %. While the government stoutly declares that it is implementing this, the problem lies in the fact that the total water received is much less than it used to be. The water comes from the Pong Dam in Punjab which has not been filled to its full capacity of 1410 feet for the past two years and hence has been releasing 0.4 maf (million acre feet) less to each of the three states of Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab that depend on this water for irrigation. Not only will Rajasthan get 0.4 maf less but will get a total of 0.8 maf less this year because it borrowed an extra 0.4 maf last year to make up for deficient rainfall and has to pay it back. This year too we have had a bad monsoon in this area which added to -0.8 maf is going to make the plight of farmers even more precarious.

With water now going to Phase II areas in Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jodhpur, this once-rich area of Sriganganagar district has been facing acute shortage of irrigation water since 1998 turning this rich fertile farmland once more into the desert waste it used to be decades ago. The district, which borders Punjab and Pakistan was traditionally arid and non-productive till the waters of the IGCP turned it into one of the most successful agricultural stories in the 70s. Gharhsana town became one of the biggest agricultural mandis in Asia . Before 1998, more than 3 lakh bales of cotton poured into this mandi and the price of cotton for the whole country was decided here. Now, the mandi lies dusty and deserted as production of cotton has dropped to less than 30,000 bales. Mustard production, which saw 5 lakh tonnes pour into the mandi, has dwindled to 1500 tonnes. The farmers are reeling under debts and even the prosperous farmers and traders are now deep in debt some of them as much as between 2 to 10 crores! Labourers no longer migrate here for work. They are leaving for other areas.

There does not seem to be any solution to the crisis unless the State and Central Governments change their policies towards the farmers. But that seems impossible as their only answer to these types of problems is state repression. The State is busy trying to split the farmers by dividing Phase I into four sections which will each get water by turns and will fight with each other so that each of them is not done out of their share. We are also witnessing a collusion between State and Centre in denying water to the farmers as last year they faced a major problem when there was a bumper mustard harvest which they had to buy at MSP at tremendous cost. An experience that they don't want to repeat this year.

It is rather ironical that the Centre which is being supported by the CPI and CPM sent the army to control the situation. This should make these two parties, once again, review where the policies of collaboration are taking them!

However, one of the most positive results of the agitation which is now in its third year, is that in spite of the crisis being faced by farmers and the high percentage of indebtedness one is not hearing of any suicides that the rest of rural India is reeling under. No doubt that an organised protracted struggle for positive political gains gives farmers an alternative plan of action than to take ones own life.

Srilata Swaminathn