From Karnataka to Punjab, through Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the producers of the country’s food are very angry about the betrayal of every promise made by the rulers. Each time they have agitated for remunerative prices and crop insurance, the governments in the respective states and at the centre have promised to fulfill their demands, but these have been forgotten once the farmers have called off their agitation and retreated to their fields.
On 16th November, farmers from Belgavi in Karnataka had reached the state capital to demand clearance of their pending arrears by sugar mills for the cane supplied. They withdrew their strike on promise of a meeting with the Chief Minister which was cancelled and re-scheduled for a later date. This angered the farmers who barged into the Vidhan Sabha and forced the meeting. However, the farmers in Belagavi and Bagalkot — that have between them 35 sugar factories — were not happy with the outcome of the Chief Minister’s meeting with factory owners in Bengaluru. The Belagavi farmers decided to continue the ongoing strike because there was no clarity either on the ‘fair and remunerative price’ committed to be paid to them, or on the procedure to be adopted by the government to ensure payment of their arrears. Too many times in the past, the farmers have experienced the betrayal of such commitment made to the government by the sugar mills on payment of arrears, and the failure of the government to ensure implementation of the same.
Fair and remunerative price (FRP) is the minimum price fixed by the Union government based on the minimum support price mechanism. State advised price (SAP) is the announced by the State for each crushing season and usually double that of the FRP. The total dues of all sugar factories in the country, in June this year, was Rs.16,600 crore as per SAP and Rs.8,153 crore as per FRP.
On 17th November, Punjab farmers blocked rail tracks near Dasua to protest non-payment of sugarcane dues by the state government. Nearly 250 protesters, all of a sudden, gathered at level crossing A- 82 between Dasua and Khuda Kurala stations and squatted on the tracks to register their protest.
The farmers were very angry that they were being harassed mentally and economically by the government. They had come to hold such protests, leaving their lands and fields which was an additional burden. Among the agitating farmers, several were marginal farmers who own not more than 2 acres of land, and have leased another 20 acres to grow the cane. The sugar mill owes Rs.25 lakhs to single farmer.
In the absence of the pending amount, the farmers are left to take loans from arthiyas and banks to make both ends meet. They have taken loans amounting to lakhs, and now they are waiting for their payments by the mills so that they could repay their loans. The very survival of their families are dependent on the receipt of these arrears.
In Madhya Pradesh, farmers in Mandsaur’s Mandi are angry with the government. They are rejecting compensation, insurance or loan waivers and demanding the ‘right price’ for their produce. The government has betrayed the promises made in 2017 when farmers in the state came out in force to protest their conditions. Farmers have rejected the “Bhavantar” scheme that the MP government announced to pacify the farmers. This scheme has turned out to be another big fraud like other schemes of the government. Earlier, they were selling soyabean for Rs.4,000 to Rs.5,000 a quintal but now they are barely realizing half of that. Garlic producers are selling for Rs 500-Rs 1,800, which they used to sell for Rs 4,000-10,000.
Meanwhile, thousands of farmers in Maharashtra began marching under the Lok Sangharsh Morcha's banner towards Azad Maidan in Mumbai to press for their demands for compensation for drought, unconditional farm loan waiver and transfer of forest rights under the Forest Rights Act to tribals, who derive their livelihood from it. Condemning the state government for not fulfilling even two percent of its promises to the farmers, they were firm on meeting with the Chief Minister to get their due this time.
This is the third mass protest of farmers in Maharashtra within a year. Earlier in March this year, around 25,000 farmers under the banner of All India Kisan Sabha carried out a protest march, demanding a complete farm loan waiver. In July, dairy farmers too protested, seeking a hike in milk prices.
Crop insurance is another example of a government scheme achieving the exact opposite what it claims as its objectives. Data on this clearly show that it is the private insurance companies that have become richer, while very few farmers have succeeded in getting their claim approved and paid. Since 2016, the central and state governments have together allocated over Rs. 66,000 crores to crop insurance schemes. In the ‘compensations’ paid out to farmers, it is hard to spot any funds that have come out of the pockets of the insurance companies. It is the public, through governments, that have paid the compensation!
It is evident that farmers are going to intensify their protest in the coming days. They have already given notice of their plan to converge on Delhi at end-November and to force Parliament to take up their issues for discussion and resolution.