Face to face: Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy
I agree with LK Advani on the possibilityof a non-Congress, non-BJP PM
Amit Sengupta/Akash Bisht Delhi
When he was 15, he became a crucial cog in an agitation seeking blackboards, chalks and books for his school in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. The movement spread like fire and schools across Kurnool started raising similar demands. Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy was later elected twice from the Nalgonda parliamentary constituency. Leader of several mass struggles, and widely admired within the party and outside, Reddy was elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) recently. Born on March 25, 1942, he did his BA in History from Osmania College, Kurnool, in 1964 and LLB from Osmania University Law College in Hyderabad in 1967. Hardnews met Comrade Sudharkar Reddy to discuss the crisis within the Left, drought and food security, communalism, the future of Maoism in India, and the possibility of a third front in 2014, among other issues.
There is a drought like situation in some parts of the country, the Food Security Bill is yet to see the light of the day, inflation is sky high and people below the poverty line have been hit very badly. In this current scenario, you held a big protest at Jantar Mantar. So what was the idea of the protest and what is the action that CPI is planning to take?
On August 4, 2012, we met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on behalf of the Left parties about the Food Security Bill and we asked about the universal Public Distribution System (PDS) of the food grains. We wanted wheat and rice to be sold at Rs 2/kg, 35 kgs of ration for all, and also to do away with the APL/BPL (Above/Below Poverty Line) category. We asked him not to export food grains as the country is facing a drought-like situation. Last year, they had 8 crore tonnes of food grains in godowns, this year they have close to 5 crore tonnes and the procurement for this year is yet to take place. According to our estimation, if 35kgs of rice/wheat is given to 23.96 crore families in the country then it should amount to 10.25 crore tonnes of food grains and these families include urban and poor, APL and BPL. Our estimation is that this will cost Rs 1, 80,000 crore to the government of India, but we don’t want this to be free. Rs 2/kg of wheat/rice can be given and the government will get Rs 30,000 crore back. So, the government will have to spend Rs 1,50,000 crore on food grains for the nation.
There is drought in Maharashtra, Karnataka, some parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where rainfall has been less than 15-30 per cent. Even if there are late rains, it will be difficult to cultivate food grains. We want the government to stop exporting food grains. Sharad Pawar recently said that there are enough seeds that can be supplied to the peasants if there is drought-like situation. Now, drought is a reality, so seeds must be supplied free of cost to the peasants and additional fertilisers should be made available at controlled rates. The crop pattern has to be changed and farmers should be encouraged to raise short-term crops. Fodder is a problem, so is drinking water. The government should make adequate arrangements to ensure that the situation is brought under control.
According to this year’s budget, Rs 5,24,000 crore of subsidy has been given to corporate houses and in the last four years of the UPA government these subsidies and tax reductions have been close to Rs 20 lakh crore. If there is a political will then it is possible for the government to save the country from drought. After the economic meltdown, Indian corporates have been shouting at the top of their voice about the great losses they are incurring. This is despite the fact that they made additional profits of Rs 5 lakh crore and their total wealth doubled in the last five years. Hence, this year corporates should be particularly targeted. There should be a drought tax imposed on them. Those who earn more should pay more to the nation in case of a severe drought.
A drought tax would be unprecedented. Has it been done in any part of the world before?
I can’t say that it is unprecedented because there have been instances where drought tax has been levied. Countries like Somalia and other African nations have adopted such measures under severe drought. We are lucky to be part of a country where we have drought in one region and bumper crop in another. Unfortunately, the government is trying to show that overall the food grain production has increased, but that is not true. The increase in production is because of fertilizers, irrigation facilities, and even double-cropping. This year the drought covers only 35-40 per cent of the country. Hence, this is not a small drought, it is a major one. Some experts are saying that if there are late rains and people use new crop patterns then this area can be reduced to 20-25 per cent. Subsequently, small peasants would be the victims. The rich peasantry and middle class have other sources of income, but small peasants are totally dependant on crops. And if they don’t get any help, they would be in a terrible mess. Hence, government help should go to small and marginal farmers.
Isn’t there a contradiction here that both APL and BPL should be provided aid? There is a view that the economic criteria must be observed because those who have everything, like the big landlords, they should not be subsidised or given free food grains.