Sikar, Rajasthan: Close to 15,ooo farmers have been protesting at the Krishi Upaj Mandi in Rajasthan’s Sikar district since September 1, under the leadership of the All India Kisan Sabha. Their demands include a complete farm loan waiver, implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, the withdrawal of the 2017 ban on cattle trade, a solution to the menace of stray cattle and a pension for farmers. The protesters have called for a blockade at the district collectorate today (September 11) to assert their demands.
Several other groups including anganwadi workers, traders and various transportation unions have supported the protest. Close to one lakh people, including a number of young people, have marched in solidarity with the farmers.
“We believe committing suicide is cowardice, but we’ll give our life to seek our demands,” said Amra Ram, a veteran CPI(M) leader from Sikar who is leading the protest.
Farm loan waiver
The Reserve Bank of India, in its policy statement last month, pointed out that implementing farm loan waivers across states comes at the risk of inflation and fiscal slippages. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra have announced large-scale farm loan waivers to fulfil their poll promises. This has triggered a similar demand in poll-bound Rajasthan.
“Why are eyebrows raised over farm debt waivers? Nobody speaks when the government support the corporates. An average of 52 farmers commit suicide every 24 hours because the government is not doing anything for us. They can pay more to import grains, but can’t pay us so that we produce here,” Pema Ram, a former CPI(M) MLA told The Wire.
“The BJP, in its manifesto, had promised farmers production cost plus 50% profit in the minimum support price (MSP), and a bonus in case the MSP is less than the production cost, while procuring our produce. They also promised a subsidy to milk producers. Where is everything?” he asked.
“We cultivated chana (chickpea) at the rate of Rs 13,000 per hectare but it was sold at Rs 4,800 per hectare. Similarly, the moong (green gram) crop was cultivated at Rs 9,000 per hectare, but it was sold at Rs 3,000 per hectare. This happens to us every time, but the media highlights only the price hike, not what we go through,” said Sevaram (55), a farmer from Khood village who has been issued notice from the magistrate saying his property will be auctioned if he does not repay his debt.
Many farmers like Sevaram are reeling under debt because they are unable to get back the amount they put in to produce a crop. They have no option other than to borrow money from moneylenders at higher rate of interest, which pushes them into a vicious cycle of debt.
Menace of stray cattle
The Narendra Modi government’s ban on cattle trade for slaughter is only three months old, but is already wreaking havoc in the lives of the farmers. Their income from the sale of cattle has been halved, they say. A cow that was sold for Rs 50,000 is now sold at Rs 20,000, and a buffalo’s price has dropped from Rs 60,000 to Rs 30,000.
“This illogical law has just increased our miseries. It has become a 24×7 duty to protect our farms from stray cattle. They come onto the farm even if there are wired fences. A farmer in Jhunjhunu village recently committed suicide after stray cattle destroyed his crops at night,” said Bhawar (40), a farmer from Jerthi village.
Forced inclusion in the no-benefit crop insurance scheme
Under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana launched by Modi in 2016, “crop loans through Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) are compulsorily covered under the insurance scheme”.
“We were never eager for any insurance scheme as it of no use. The companies have one or the other way to get out of it and make excuses (when farmers make claims), but due to the Modi government’s insurance scheme, it is compulsory to have insurance even if we don’t wish to. The banks deduct a premium for crop insurance automatically from our account,” Jayram, a 45-year-old farmer from Reengus, told The Wire.
The scheme operates on the basis of an ‘area approach’. This means that instead of individual farmers, a defined area for each notified crop is insured. The insurance unit is village, village panchayat or any other equivalent unit for major crops, while for other crops it may be a unit of size higher than the village or village panchayat level, as decided by the state government.
“Most calamities don’t occur uniformly. For instance, in case of winters, every farm isn’t affected but the company pays the claim only if 5o% of the farms in a village are affected – which rarely happens. There is no office of the insurance company in the village, who do we speak to?” added Jayram.
Subsidised power connection
Farmers in Rajasthan are given a subsidised power connection at the rate of Rs 1.15 per unit, but that comes after a wait of at least seven years. At some places, the government has refused to make any tubewell power connections citing the lack of groundwater.
“The Rs 1.15 per unit rate is applied only till the consumption reaches 50 units, beyond which the charge is Rs 3 per unit. That’s the reason they give us two months bill. Every single scheme is flawed,” said Om Prakash, a farmer from Piprali village.
Soil health card
The ambitious Rs 568-crore soil health card scheme initiated by the Modi government in 2015 sought to issue soil health cards to 14 crore farmers across India, which would contain the details of the quality and type of soil on a farmer’s land. It would also contain which kind of crop they can grow on their land to get maximise profit. On the ground, however, farmers are struggling with the scheme’s implementation.
“We took the sample of our soil to the laboratory, but there was no arrangement. They kept our soil in their office for days without properly storing it. Our soil packets got interchanged there. The babu at the office always makes an excuse – either the laboratory equipment is not working or he’s not present. They hand over one report to everyone stating the soil for every village has the same quality,” said Sagarmal, 41, a farmer from Dukiya village.
“Farmers’ problems are deep rooted and a farm loan waiver is definitely not a solution to all their problems, but it is the least that can be done to save them from committing suicide. Almost all the agriculture schemes lack proper implementation because of which the benefit never reaches the farmers,” Mukesh, associated with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, told The Wire.
“An assurance letter was given by the state government saying that it wants to resolve our issues but nothing concrete has happened till date. We stand firm on our demands and will block the district collectorate today,” said Amra Ram.
Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist.