In an interview with Associated Press, our prime minister called upon world community to write off debt burden of poor countries so as to help them cope with COVID19 epidemic (Dawn March 17, 2010).
The total debt liabilities of the country amount to Rs19, 299.2 billion (as of March 2015). Every Pakistani now owes a debt of about Rs101, 338 as compared with Rs.90, 772 in 2013, Rs80, 894 in 2012 and Rs37, 170 in early 2008.The debt-to-gross domestic product ratio stands at 66.4 percent, in which foreign debt is Rs. 6.4 trillion and domestic debt is Rs.12 trillion.
In dollar terms, Pakistan’s external debt soared to 95097 USD Million in the second quarter of 2018 from 91761 USD Million in the first quarter of 2018.That’s an all-time high, and well above the average of 54065.23 USD Million for the period 2002-2018. Pakistan recorded a Current Account deficit of 8.20% of its Gross Domestic Product in 2018. That’s an all-time high and well above the -2.60% average for the period 1980-2018.
Pakistan’s debt burden has a political tinge. For joining anti-Soviet-Union alliances (South-East Asian Treaty Organisation and Central Treaty Organisation), the USA rewarded Pakistan by showering grants on Pakistan. The grants evaporated into streams of low-interest loan which ballooned as Pakistan complied with forced devaluations or adopted floating exchange rate.
Soon, the donors forgot Pakistan’s contribution to break-up of the `Soviet Union’. They used coalition support funds and our debt-servicing liability as `do more’ mantra levers.
Successive Pakistan governments treated loans as freebies. They never abided by revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. Nor did our State Bank warn them about the dangerous situation.
No formal application for write-off: What a pity! Whenever International Monetary Fund’s delegations visit, Pakistan’s representatives keep mum about politically-motivated odious nature of our debt burden. They lack nerve to tell them point-blank Pakistan’s non-liability to service politically-stringed debts. They government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare. Solution lies in debt forgiveness by donors (James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnell (eds.), Peace and the Public Purse.2008. New Delhi. Viva Books, p. 251).
Benefits of Write-Off: Debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt, despotic and incompetent. Research shows that debt relief promotes economic growth and boosts foreign investment. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment. Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.
In fact, economists have questioned justification of paying debts given to prop up a client regime congenial to a `master’ country. They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts’ (a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian individual (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-nonfinancial, contracted under duress, is null and void.
Apparently, all Pakistani debts are odious as they were thrust upon praetorian regimes to bring them within anti-Communist (SEATO, SEATO) or anti-`terrorist’ fold. To avoid embarrassing unilateral refusal of a country to repay odious debts, UN should declare which portion of debts is `odious’ (Jayachandaran and Kremer, 2004). Alternatively, the USA should itself write off our `bad’ debts.
Sovereignty compromised: People barter away some of their naturally-derived freedom with sovereign ruler to get security and welfare (Thomas Hobbes, John Locke et. al.). When a despot fails to deliver the goods, the contract stands broken, and the people have a right to overthrow him. Thomas Jefferson (North American colonies) enshrined this social contract in the 1776 Declaration of Independence: ` when a long train of Abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism it is their Right, it is their Duty to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their Security’.
But, Pakistani people are too passive to overthrow their despotic unpopular governments.
The successive governments did nothing by way of welfare for the people. They could not even evolve a universal healthcare system akin to Thailand’s (2002).
The government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays (26 per cent) plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare.
A discussion was held at a seminar jointly organised by the Institute for Social and Economic Justice (ISEJ) and the Islamic Relief Pakistan under the campaign ‘Breaking the Chains of Debt’, at Forman Christian College. The crux of discussion was 47 per cent of whatever the government generates in revenue goes to pay off debt against 44 per cent in the previous year. Ideally, this ratio should be less than 30% to allocate more resources to social and poverty-related expenditures.
Speaking on the occasion, ISEJ Executive Director Abdul Khaliq said the debt situation was alarming and the government must review its reckless borrowing behaviour. We must demand an audit of the public debt,” he said. “All new loan contracts should be subjected to a debate in parliament and its approval.”
The government must stop reckless international borrowing and minimise reliance on foreign debt in the future and take measures to get the illegitimate loans cancelled, he said.
Khaliq emphasised the need for synergising efforts for a debt-free Pakistan and making the people of Pakistan the real drivers of the economy.
Three time prime minister Nawaz Sharif during his election campaign made tall claims that on assuming power he will get rid of the ‘cancer of debts’ and promised to break the ‘begging bowl’, however, there is little evidence of measures towards freedom from debt, said political economist Dr Qais Aslam.
The present Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government proved no different from its predecessors and started knocking on the doors of international lenders even more vigorously, he added.
In a country where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and 58% faces food insecurity, this additional burden means more miseries for the generations to come.
Speakers further said the impact of mounting debt burden on the people is horrific. Fiscal space for social spending has drastically squeezed. Pakistan spends just 2 to 2.6% of its Gross Domestic Product on education and health respectively, making it the lowest in South Asia.
International Monetary Fund’s assessment (Express TribuneMarch 16, 2018):
In its post-programme monitoring report, the IMF assessed risks to Pakistan’s economic outlook had increased. Despite changing goalposts twice, Pakistan’s public debt remained higher than the limit prescribed in the revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act.
The policy of building foreign currency reserves through expensive loans and ignoring the export performance haunted the policymakers.
The IMF said the elevated current account deficit and rising external debt servicing, in part driven by China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-related outflows, were expected to lead to higher external financing needs.
External financing would surge to around $27 billion by the end of fiscal year 2018-19 (FY19) and would go up to $45 billion by FY23.
At that time, Pakistan’s external financing needs will be equal to 10% of the national output, which is a dangerous level. “Risks to public debt sustainability have increased since the completion of the EFF (Extended Fund Facility) programme. Public and publicly-guaranteed debt is expected to remain elevated at 68% of GDP by FY23.” Gross fiscal financing needs will likely exceed 30% of GDP from 2018-19 onwards, in part reflecting increased debt service obligations.
However, the more alarming part is the growing challenges to arranging foreign loans. It said Pakistan had so far remained successful in contracting external borrowing that softened the impact of rising external imbalances on foreign exchange reserves.
The IMF’s projections showed a bleak path for the next five years. Public and publicly-guaranteed debt is projected to remain close to 70% of GDP by 2023 under the baseline scenario.
In the absence of strong consolidation measures, the fiscal deficit is expected to remain close to 6% of GDP in the medium term, resulting in elevated debt levels.
Adverse shocks, notably to economic growth and the primary balance, could lead to public debt ratios rising well above 70%, said the IMF.
Contingent liabilities from restructuring of loss-making public sector enterprises represent additional fiscal risks. High gross financing needs may also pose potential rollover risks.
The IMF said high levels of public debt and gross financing needs presented significant fiscal risks and needed to be addressed in a timely fashion through fiscal tightening to improve debt sustainability.
Financial sovereignty threatened: Some people question is Pakistan really a sovereign state? The question is based on premise that government has ceded control of the economy to foreign entities. Both the finance minister and the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan are career officers of respectively the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Is the primary loyalty of these officers to their Washington-based institutions or to their country of origin? And, should we be outsourcing existential financial decisions to people with possibly divided loyalty?
IMF’s changed role: The IMF and the World Bank are products of the Bretton Woods conference of 1944. Both organizations made good sense in the tattered world economy of the post-War period. The World Bank set about financing the rebuilding of Europe; while the primary purpose of the IMF was to promote international trade, which had collapsed during the war. The IMF’s role was to assist member nations to maintain stable exchange rates by providing short-term credit to support their currencies.
However, the `dinosaurs’ changed their roles. Over time fixed exchange rates gave way to floating rates, multiplying debt burden of recipients manifold. Markets replaced governments as the primary arbiters of the value of national currencies.
The arrangement works as follows: A poor country, due generally to mismanagement and corruption, finds itself in dire need of hard currency. Commercial lenders are unwilling to commit their funds without adequate safeguards. Enter the IMF. It offers to lend some of its own money, provided that the host government agrees to a set of economic ‘reforms’. These understandably seek to enhance the borrower’s ability to repay the money loaned. When a deal is struck, the IMF disburses its own funds. At the same time commercial lenders, now reassured that the borrower can repay, step in with additional funds.
Typically, the IMF’s own funds constitute only a small proportion of the borrower’s total debt. Commercial lenders provide the rest. Yet the IMF’s participation is crucial. If it does not ‘certify’ a country by its participation then that country effectively gets cut off from all other sources of credit.
The question which recipients need to brood over is: Does the IMF serve their national interests? The IMF has a single overriding objective. This is to enhance the borrower’s ability to service its debts. It does not care a fig for recipients’ policies about poverty alleviation, price stability, employment, universal access to health care and education, and affordable rates for basic services.
Hypothetical example of debt black hole: Our external debt is $100 billion. Let’s assume that the average applicable yearly interest rate is five percent and that we decide to pay it back in equal annual installments over a period of 20 years. We would need to pay annual installments of $8 billion per year for a total payback over the 20 year period of $160 billion. Of which $60 billion would be interest and the balance repayment of principal.
We run a trade deficit of $20 billion a year. If we had a trade surplus we could theoretically have had the ability to pay back some of our debt. But, with shattered industry, teetered infrastructure, and COVID19 hangover, we can’t. So the only way to find the $8 billion per year to pay back our existing loans is to take new loans. We thus fall in the financial equivalent of a black hole.
Light at end of the `Hole’: While light cannot escape a black hole, we can extricate ourselves from this crisis. Pakistan needs to make the most of its strategic advantages. If we did not get out loans written off as quid pro quo for Soviet collapse in Afghanistan, we should better negotiate US exit now. We should have an answer if the US asks, by way of quid pro quo, for putting permissive action links on our nuclear bombs. If Pakistanis to be denuclearized than its binary India too should be.
Pakistan government should take prime minister lead further. It should hold negotiations with lenders that are commercial banks and the international finance agencies. We should aim at repudiation of about 50 percent of debt. This should be in addition to interest rate waivers, revisions and extended terms.
Simultaneously, Pakistan should dust off burden of debt models in textbooks. Debts should be so utilised as to be able to pay off interest and principal over agreed time span.
Bad debts: Pakistani debts qualify for write-off as bad debts. Why should poor Pakistanis, lacking basic needs, pay them?
World Bank President David Malpass (Express Tribune February 12, 2020) portrayed a bleak situation of loaning policies worldwide. Like a pot calling kettle black, he chided other development banks for lending too quickly to heavily indebted countries, saying some were helping worsen already-challenging debt situations. Addressing a World Bank-International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt forum, he said Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development were contributing to debt problems.
He said the ADB was “pushing billions of dollars” into a fiscally challenging situation in Pakistan. African Development Bank was doing the same in Nigeria and South
Africa. Pakistan was unlikely to meet debt reduction targets. The Manila-based development lender in December approved $1.3 billion in loans for Pakistan, including $1 billion for immediate budget support to shore up the countries
Public finances and $300 million to help reform the country’s energy sector.
The loans came as the country is struggling with billions of dollars in debt to China
from the Belt and Road infrastructure projects, which pushed Pakistan to turn to the IMF for a $6-billion loan programme in 2019.
Malpass said there needed to be more coordination among international financial institutions to coordinate lending and maintain high standards of transparency. “And so we have a very real problem of the IFIs themselves adding to the debt burden and there’s pressure then I think on the IMF to sort through it and look at the best interest for the country,” he stated.
Inference: If Pakistan wants to get its loans written off, it should do more than indulge in rhetoric. `Negotiation’ is a subject taught in all universities as a business course. Pakistan should learn to argue its case and decipher donors’ BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement
Iran has an integral role to play in Russian-South Asian connectivity
Iran is geostrategically positioned to play an integral role in Russian-South Asian connectivity. President Putin told the Valdai Club during its annual meeting in October 2019 that “there is one more prospective route, the Arctic – Siberia – Asia.
The idea is to connect ports along the Northern Sea Route with ports of the Pacific and Indian oceans via roads in East Siberia and central Eurasia.” This vision, which forms a crucial part of his country’s “Greater Eurasian Partnership”, can be achieved through the official North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) and tentative W-CPEC+ projects that transit through the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The first one refers to the creation of a new trade route from Russia to India through Azerbaijan and Iran, while the second concerns the likely expansion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC, the flagship project of China’s Belt & Road Initiative [BRI]) westward through Iran and largely parallel to the NSTC. W-CPEC+ can also continue towards Turkey and onward to the EU, but that branch is beyond the scope of the present analysis. The NSTC’s terminal port is the Indian-backed Chabahar, but delays in fully developing its infrastructure might lead to Bandar Abbas being used as a backup in the interim.
CPEC’s Chinese-backed terminal port of Gwadar is in close proximity to Chabahar, thus presenting the opportunity of eventually pairing the two as sister cities, especially in the event that rumored negotiations between China and Iran result in upwards of several hundred billion dollars worth of investments like some have previously reported. The combination of Russian, Indian, and Chinese infrastructure investments in Iran would greatly improve the country’s regional economic competitiveness and enable it to fulfill its geostrategic destiny of facilitating connectivity between Russia and South Asia.
What’s most intriguing about this ambitious vision is that Iran is proving to the rest of the world that it isn’t “isolated” like the U.S. and its closest allies thought that it would be as a result of their policy of so-called “maximum pressure” against it in recent years. While it’s true that India has somewhat stepped away from its previously strategic cooperation with Iran out of fear that it’ll be punished by “secondary sanctions” if it continued its pragmatic partnership with the Islamic Republic, it’s worthwhile mentioning that Chabahar curiously secured a U.S. sanctions waiver.
While the American intent behind that decision is unclear, it might have been predicated on the belief that the Iranian-facilitated expansion of Indian influence into Central Asia via Chabahar might help to “balance” Chinese influence in the region. It could also have simply been a small but symbolic “concession” to India in order not to scare it away from supporting the U.S. anti-Chinese containment strategy. It’s difficult to tell what the real motive was since American-Indian relations are currently complicated by Washington’s latest sanctions threats against New Delhi in response to its decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense systems.
Nevertheless, even in the worst-case scenario that Indian investment and infrastructural support for Iran can’t be taken for granted in the coming future, that still doesn’t offset the country’s geostrategic plans. Russia could still use the NSTC to connect with W-CPEC and ultimately the over 200+ million Pakistani marketplaces. In theory, Russian companies in Pakistan could also re-export their home country’s NSTC-imported goods to neighboring India, thereby representing a pragmatic workaround to New Delhi’s potential self-interested distancing from that project which could also provide additional much-needed tax revenue for Islamabad.
Iran must therefore do its utmost to ensure Russia’s continued interest in the NSTC regardless of India’s approach to the project. Reconceptualizing the NSTC from its original Russian-Indian connectivity purpose to the much broader one of Russian-South Asian connectivity could help guarantee Moscow’s support. In parallel with that, Tehran would do well to court Beijing’s investments along W-CPEC+’s two branch corridors to Azerbaijan/Russia and Turkey/EU. Any success on any of these fronts, let alone three of them, would advance Iran’s regional interests by solidifying its integral geo-economic role in 21st-century Eurasia.
From our partner Tehran Times
The phenomenon of land grabbing by multinationals
Since 2012 the United Nations has adopted voluntary guidelines for land and forest management to combat land grabbing. But only a few people know about the guidelines, which aim to protect small farmers particularly in Third World countries.
When multinational investors buy up fields for their huge plantations, the residents lose their livelihood and means of support and will soon only be sleeping in their villages. If they are lucky, they might find work with relatives in another village. Many also try their luck in the city, but poverty and unemployment are high. What remains are depopulated villages and the huge palm oil plantations that have devoured farmland. People can no longer go there to hunt and grow plants or get firewood. The land no longer belongs to them!
Land grabbingis the process whereby mostly foreign investors deprive local farmers or fishermen of their fields, lakes and rivers. Although it has been widely used throughout history, land grabbing – as used in the 21st century – mainly refers to large-scale land acquisitions following the global food price crisis of 2007-2008.
From 2000 until 2019 one hundred million hectares of land have been sold or leased to foreign investors and the list of the most affected countries can be found here below:
Such investment may also make sense for the development of a country, but it must not deprive people of their rights: local people are starving while food is being produced and turned into biofuels for export right before their eyes.
In 2012, after three years of discussion, the UN created an instrument to prevent such land grabbing: the VGGTs (Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security:
Detailed minimum standards for investment are established, e.g. the participation of affected people or how to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples and prevent corruption. Formally, the document provides a significant contribution to all people fighting for their rights.
The document, however, is quite cryptic. The guidelines should be simplified and explained. Only in this way can activists, but also farmers and fishermen, become aware of their rights.
Others doubt that much can be achieved through these guidelines because they are voluntary. After all, the UN has little or no say in the matter and can do no more than that. If governments implemented them, they would apply them as they will.
In Bolivia, for example, there are already laws that are supposed to prevent land grabbing. In the Amazon, however, Brazilian and Argentinian companies are buying up forests to grow soya and sugar cane, often with the approval and agreement of corrupt government officials. Further guidelines would probably be of little use.
At most, activists already use the guidelines to lobby their governments. Together with other environmental and human rights activists, they set up networks: through local radio stations and village meetings, they inform people of the fact that they right to their land.
Nevertheless, in many countries in Africa and elsewhere, there is a lack of documentation proving land ownership. Originally, tribal leaders vocally distributed rights of use. But today’s leaders are manipulated to pressure villagers to sell their land.
The biggest investors are Indians and Europeans: they are buying up the land to grow sugar cane and palm oil plantations. This phenomenon has been going on since 2008: at that time – as noted above – the world food crisis drove up food prices and foreign investors, but also governments, started to invest in food and biofuels.
Investment inland, which has been regarded as safe since the well-known financial crisis, must also be taken into account. Recently Chinese companies have also been buying up thousands of hectares of land.
In some parts of Africa, only about 6% of land is cultivated for food purposes, while on the remaining areas there are palm oil plantations. Once the plantations grow two or three metres high, they have a devastating effect on monocultures that rely on biodiversity, because of the huge areas they occupy. There is also environmental pollution due to fertilisers: in a village, near a plantation run by a Luxembourg company, many people have suffered from diarrhoea and some elderly villagers even died.
Consequently, the implementation of the VGGTs must be made binding as soon as possible. But with an organisation like the United Nations, how could this happen?
It is not only the indigenous peoples or the local groups of small farmers that are being deprived of everything. The common land used is also being lost, as well as many ecosystems that are still intact: wetlands are being drained, forests cleared and savannas turned into agricultural deserts. New landowners fence off their areas and deny access to the original owners. In practice, this is the 21st century equivalent of the containment of monastery land in Europe that began in the Middle Ages.
The vast majority of contracts are concentrated in poorer countries with weak institutions and land rights, where many people are starving. There, investors compete with local farmers. The argument to which the advocates of land grabbing hold -i.e. that it is mainly uncultivated land that needs to be reclaimed – is refuted. On the contrary, investors prefer well-developed and cultivated areas that promise high returns. However, they do not improve the supply of local population.
Foreign agricultural enterprises prefer to develop the so-called flexible crops, i.e. plants such as the aforementioned oil palm, soya and sugar cane, which, depending on the market situation, can be sold as biofuel or food.
But there is more! If company X of State Y buys food/fuel producing areas, it is the company that sells to its State Y and not the host State Z that, instead, assigns its future profits derived from international State-to-State trade to the aforementioned multinational or state-owned company of State Y.
Furthermore, there is almost no evidence of land investment creating jobs, as most projects were export-oriented. The British aid organisation Oxfam confirms that many land acquisitions took place in areas where food was being grown for the local population. Since local smallholders are generally weak and poorly educated, they can hardly defend themselves against the grabbing of the land they use. Government officials sell or lease it, often without even paying compensation.
Land grabbing is also present in ‘passive’ Europe. Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Lithuania and Bulgaria are affected, but also the territories of Eastern Germany. Funds and agricultural enterprises from “active” and democratic Europe, i.e. the West, and the Arab Gulf States are the main investors.
We might think that the governments of the affected countries would have the duty to protect their own people from such expropriations. Quite the reverse. They often support land grabbing. Obviously, corruption is often involved. In many countries, however, the agricultural sector has been criminally neglected in the past and multinationals are taking advantage of this under the pretext of remedying this situation.
No let-up in Indian farmers’ protest due to subconscious fear of “crony capitalism”
The writer has analysed why the farmers `now or never’ protest has persisted despite heavy odds. He is of the view that the farmers have the subconscious fear that the “crony capitalism” would eliminate traditional markets, abolish market support price and grab their landholdings. Already the farmers have been committing suicides owing to debt burden, poor monthly income (Rs. 1666 a month) and so on.”Crony capitalism” implies nexus between government and businesses that thrives on sweetheart deals, licences and permits eked through tweaking rules and regulations.
Stalemate between the government and the farmers’ unions is unchanged despite 11 rounds of talks. The farmers view the new farm laws as a ploy to dispossess them of their land holdings and give a free hand to tycoons to grab farmers’ holdings, though small.
Protesters allege the new laws were framed in secret understanding with tycoons. The farmers have a reason to abhor the rich businesses. According to an a January 2020 Oxfam India’s richest one per cent hold over four times the wealth of 953 million people who make up the poorest 70 per cent of the country’s population. India’s top nine billionaires’ Inc one is equivalent to wealth of the bottom 50 per cent of the population. The opposition has accused the government of “crony capitalism’.
Government has tried every tactic in its tool- kit to becloud the movement (sponsored y separatist Sikhs, desecrated Republic Day by hoisting religious flags at the Red ford, and so on). The government even shrugged off the protest by calling it miniscule and unrepresentative of 16.6 million farmers and 131,000 traders registered until May 2020. The government claims that it has planned to build 22,000 additional mandis (markets) 2021-22 in addition to already-available over 1,000 mandis.
Unruffled by government’s arguments, the opposition continues to accuse the government of being “suit-boot ki sarkar” and an ardent supporter of “crony capitalism” (Ambani and Adani). Modi did many favours to the duo. For instance they were facilitated to join hands with foreign companies to set up defence-equipment projects in India. BJP-ruled state governments facilitated the operation of mines in collaboration with the Ambani group just years after the Supreme Court had cancelled the allotment of 214 coal blocks for captive mining (MS Nileema, `Coalgate 2.0’, The Caravan March 1, 2018). Modi used Adani’s aircraft in March, April and May 2014 for election campaigning across the country.
“Crony capitalism” is well defined in the English oxford Living Dictionaries, Cambridge and Merriam –Webster. Merriam-Webster defines “crony capitalism” as “an economic system in which individuals and businesses with political connections and influence are favored (as through tax breaks, grants, and other forms of government assistance) in ways seen as suppressing open competition in a free market
If there’s one”.
Cambridge dictionary defines the term as “ an economic system in which family members and friends of government officials and business leaders are given unfair advantages in the form of jobs, loans, etc.:government-owned firms engaged in crony capitalism”.
A common point in all the definitions is undue favours (sweetheart contracts, licences, etc) to select businesses. It is worse than nepotism as the nepotism has a limited scope and life cycle. But, “crony capitalism” becomes institutionalized.
Modi earned the title “suit-boot ki sarkar” when a non-resident Indian, Rameshkumar Bhikabhai virani gifted him a Rs. 10 lac suit. To save his face, Modi later auctioned the suit on February 20, 2015. The suit fetched price of Rs, 4, 31, 31311 or nearly four hundred times the original price. Modi donated the proceeds of auction to a fund meant for cleaning the River Ganges. `It was subsequently alleged that the Surat-based trader Laljibhai Patel who bought the suit had been favoured by being allotted government land for building a private sports club (BJP returns ‘favour’, Modi suit buyer to get back land, Tribune June21, 2015).
Miffed by opposition’s vitriolic opposition, Ambani’s $174 billion conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Categorically denied collusion with Modi’s government earlier this month. Reliance clarified that it had never done any contract farming or acquired farm land, and harboured no plans to do so in future. It also vowed to ensure its suppliers will pay government-mandated minimum prices to farmers. The Adani Group also had clarified last month that it did not buy food grains from farmers or influence their prices.
Like Modi, both Adani and Ambani hail from the western Indian state of Gujarat, just, who served as the state’s chief for over a decade. Both the tycoons are reputed to be Modi’s henchmen. Their industry quickly aligns its business strategies to Modi’s nation-building initiatives. For instance, Adani created a rival regional industry lobby and helped kick off a biannual global investment summit in Gujarat in 2003 that boosted Modi’s pro-business credentials. During 2020, Ambani raised record US$27 billion in equity investments for his technology and retail businesses from investors including Google and Face book Inc. He wants to convert these units into a powerful local e-commerce rival to Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Inc. The Adani group, which humbly started off as a commodities trader in 1988, has grown rapidly to become India’s top private-sector port operator and power generator.
Parallel with the USA
Ambani and Adani are like America’s Rockefellers and Vanderbilt’s in the USA’s Gilded Age in the second half of the 19th century (James Crabtree, The Billionaire Raj: a Journey through India’s New Gilded Age).
Modi government’s tutelage of Ambanis and Adanis is an open secret. Kerala challenged Adani’s bid for an airport lease is. A state minister said last year that Adani winning the bid was “an act of brazen cronyism.”
Threat of elimination of traditional markets
Farmers who could earlier sell grains and other products only at neighbouring government-regulated wholesale markets can now sell them across the country, including the big food processing companies and retailers such as WalMart.
The farmers fear the government will eventually abolish the wholesale markets, where growers were assured of a minimum support price for staples like wheat and rice, leaving small farmers at the mercy of corporate agri-businesses.
Is farmers’ fear genuine?
The farmers have a logical point. Agriculture yield less profit than industry. As such, even the USA heavily subsidies its agriculture. US farmers got more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019, the highest level of farm subsidies in the last 14 years, and the corporate sector paid for it. The Indian government is reluctant to give a permanent legal guarantee for the MSP. In contrast, the US and Western Europe buy directly from the farmers and build their butter and cheese mountains. Even the prices of farm products at the retail and wholesale levels are controlled by the capitalist government. In short, not the principles of capitalization but well-worked-out welfare measures are adopted to sustain the farm sector in the advanced West.
Threat of monopsonic exploitation
The farmers would suffer double exploitation under a monopsony (more sellers less buyers) at the hands of corporate sharks. They would pay less than the minimum support price to the producers. Likewise, consumers will have to pay more because the public distribution system is likely to be undermined as mandi (regulated wholesale market) procurement is would eventually cease to exist.
Plight of the Indian farmer
The heavily indebted Indian farmer has average income of only about Rs. 20000 a year (about Rs. 1666 a month). Thousands of farmers commit suicide by eating pesticides to get rid of their financial difficulties.
A study by India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development found that more than half of farmers in India are in debt. More than 20,000 people involved in the farming sector died by suicide from 2018-2019, with several studies suggesting that being in debt was a key factor.
More than 86 per cent of India’s cultivated farmland is owned by small farmers who own less than two hectares of land each (about two sports fields). These farmers lack acumen to bargain with bigger companies. Farmers fear the Market Support Price will disappear as corporations start buying their produce.
Modi sarkar is unwilling to yield to the farmers’ demand for fear of losing his strongman image and Domino Effect’. If he yields on say, the matter of the farm laws, he may have to give in on the Citizenship Amendment Act also. Fund collection in some foreign countries has started to sustain the movement. As such, the movement may not end anytime soon. Unless Modi yields early, he would suffer voter backlash in coming elections. The farm sector contributes only about 15 per cent of India’s $2.9 trillion economy. But, it employs around half its 1.3 billion people.
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