Thousands of farmers from across the country reached Delhi on Wednesday evening and will participate in a daylong protest on Thursday to demand a special session of Parliament to discuss agrarian distress and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.
Anger and frustration among farmers has found voice in protests and demonstrations in several states in the last two years even when state governments have tried to assuage them with loan waivers and promises of purchasing farm produce at increased minimum support price (MSP).
In Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls, farm distress has become one of the most emotive issues. A visit to these states revealed how loan waiver is, if at all, a temporary solution and the ailments of farm sector are numerous.
In Churu district of Rajasthan, prone to extreme weather conditions, 40-year-old Umed Choudhary, a farmer with a large land holding, complains about the poor implementation of the Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme.
“Earlier, I would get compensated if my crop was destroyed when temperature fell below 0°C. Now, insurance companies say compensation is due only when it drops below minus 2.7°C, which it does rarely while crops have get damaged even at 0°C,” Choudhary said.
Ghanshyam Dandotiya, a 49-year-old farmer from Devri village in Morena in MP, said he has not received the 10 per cent discount due to him if he made timely repayments of his loan taken for purchase of fertiliser and seeds from a local agriculture cooperative society. The discount stopped after 2015-16 even when Dandotiya was regular with his repayments.
For Choudhary in Rajasthan’s Churu and Morena’s Dandotiya, as for millions of farmers in the two states, stray cattle are the latest menace to their crops. Farmers complain how government-run gaushalas, or cow shelters, allow their cattle to forage in the nearby fields at night.
Ashok Sihag, a farmer in Nokha in Bikaner district, laughed when asked about recent announcements on the government promising to purchase bajra, urad, and moong at increased MSP. “Bajra is selling at Rs 1,100-Rs 1,200 per quintal when the MSP is Rs 1,900. Similar is the case for urad and moong,” said Sihag.
Falling prices of farm produce, cash crunch in rural areas, and agrarian distress hung heavy on the minds of a significant section of the MP’s electorate, the state has a little over 50 million voters, as they queued up outside polling booths on Wednesday. The mood is likely to be similar among most of Rajasthan’s 47 million voters when they cast their votes on December 7.
In MP, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana and bonus on wheat, along with direct procurement, resonates with farmers. However, they complained of local level corruption and poor implementation to have deprived them of benefits.
In neighbouring Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government, after sustained farm protests, waived cooperative bank loans up to Rs 50,000 of 2.93 million farmers worth Rs 84 billion. It also claims to have spent Rs 50 billion to procure the rabi crop of 433,000 farmers at MSP, and to have given Rs 330 billion worth of electricity grant to farmers. However, complaints are similar, including how only a small percentage of farmers got their loans written off, water scarcity, and purchase at MSP being negligible.
Both Rajasthan and MP are primarily rural. According to the 2011 Census, 29 per cent of its 70 million lived in urban areas in MP, while 25 per cent of Rajasthan’s 68 million lived in urban areas.
This awareness among farmers has much to do with farm protests across the country in the last couple of years, led by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). Thousands of farmers, under the auspices of AIKSCC, will be on road on Thursday in Delhi. “The current BJP government has benefited private insurance companies in the name of crop insurance scheme, and farmers know the reality of their promises of increased MSP,” Amra Ram, vice-president of All India Kisan Sabha, said. Both Swaraj Abhiyan and Kisan Sabha are key constituents of the AIKSCC.
Cutting across party lines, politicians are waking up to farmers no longer divided among castes, but increasingly behaving as one cohesive class demanding their rights.