Hyderabad: Anvesh Reddy, a paddy producer from Telangana’s Nizamabad district, decided to burn his produce to mark his protest against the state government’s crop regulation policy, which he had followed.
Anvesh grew sanna rakalu (a super fine paddy variety) on his 3.5 acres of land, in line with the state government’s policy urging farmers to substitute doddu rakalu (a coarse variety). The yield drastically dropped to 30 quintals – 10.3 quintals per acre. With the coarse variety, his usual total yield is about 70 quintals.
The drop in yield is due to devastating pests associated with the particular variety he had sown. Besides, sanna rakalu is a low-yielding variety associated with high costs of cultivation. At the end of the day, his produce failed to fetch him the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,880 per quintal fixed by the government. There are no takers for the produce in the open market and the government has failed to come forward for procurement.
Crop regulation policy
Unveiling the so-called crop regulation policy, chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR promised market facilities for all crops prescribed by his government, saying the policy intended to make the job of cultivation a profitable business. Accordingly, the government prompted farmers into demand-driven crop cultivation.
The promises also came along with a veiled thread – farmers failing to follow the policy would be deprived of Rythu Bandhu and other welfare benefits. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi government has granted Rs 8,000 per acre for each farmer per year across the board under the Rythu Bandhu scheme.
Paddy growers in Nizamabad, Nalgonda, Siricilla and Kamareddy districts burnt their produce to mark their resentment on the government’s reported failure to chip in and procure their produce at the MSP. Protests erupted ahead of the by-election at Dubbaka held on November 3, providing ammunition to the opposition parties.
Excess production and a market glut
The growers are demanding Rs 2,500 per quintal – a price more than the MSP by Rs 620 per quintal. Millers, though, are not purchasing stocks even at Rs 1,400 per quintal – much less than the MSP. Taking KCR at his word, farmers had sown paddy on 58 lakh acres in the current season, 50% more than previous years. The expected output was one crore tonnes.
The TRS government, since the formation of Telangana as a separate state, has succeeded in stabilising irrigation facilities, leading to increased production.
Ramanjaneyulu G.V., director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, a non-profit NGO, told The Wire, “The government, through the crop regulation policy, has done two things which it ought not to have done – promoted cotton and paddy cultivation.”
The Food Corporation of India (FCI), the principal state actor in the business of procuring food grains, is all set to become redundant thanks to the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws.
Cotton stocks produced in the previous year were already piled up in warehouses as China, a major international buyer, backed out and 90% of textile industries and handloom units remained defunct as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When there is already a glut in the market, excess production will only worsen the situation, Ramanjaneyulu pointed out, saying the government should have expected this while pushing its crop regulation policy. The Centre, as per the policy, procures rice at Rs 32.70 per kg and supplies it back to the states through the public distribution system at Rs 3 per kg, in line with its rice subsidy scheme. The Telangana government makes available the subsidised rice at Re 1 per kg to below poverty line families. Any increase in the price of the super fine variety, as per the growers’ demands, means an additional burden of Rs 6-7 per kg on the state government.
Ramanjaneyulu said 30-40 lakh tonnes of the total food grain produced (about one crore tonne) in the kharif season is more than sufficient for local consumption and central procurement agencies are not able to procure the remaining produce.
K. Nageswar, former member of the Telangana legislative council, said the responsibility of ensuring farmers’ income security against market shocks and natural disasters lies with the government, since the growers followed the crop regulation policy.
An irate group of maize growers stoned the house of Jagityal MLA Vidyasagar Rao of the ruling TRS, protesting the regulation policy.
Maize cultivation is not prescribed in the regulated farm policy and that the government will not ensure market intervention to procure maize cultivated by farmers. Regardless of the government’s policy, the growers produced 12 lakh metric tonnes of maize – and more than half the produce is finding no takers in the market.
S. Malla Reddy of the CPI(M) affiliated peasants’ body, Telangana Rythu Sangham, blamed the NDA government and its “lopsided” import policies vis-à-vis food grains for the distress among maize producers. The import duty on maize has been slashed from 50% to 15% and the Centre has imported 50 lakh tonnes of maize, leaving local growers high and dry. Allowing produce from other states into local markets also adds to maize growers’ woes, Malla Reddy said.
Warning signals for TRS?
Farmers’ distress, which appears to be snowballing into a major market crisis, has sent out warning signals to KCR’s party. The TRS already lost face after the humiliating defeat of Kavitha, sitting MP and daughter of the party patriarch, from the Nizamanad Lok Sabha seat in the last general elections. Her defeat was a result of resentment from turmeric famers, after Kavitha allegedly failed to keep her election promise to lobby with the Centre for a turmeric board to ensure a fair price for their produce.
Around 180 turmeric growers contested on the Nizamabad seat, securing an aggregate of around 98,000 votes. Kavitha lost to BJP’s Aravind by 70,000 votes – so she would have won if that farmers’ votes had gone to her.
Issues triggered by the crop regulation policy may also worsen farmers’ suicides in the state. As per data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2019, Telangana recorded the fourth-highest number of farmer suicides in the country last year. According to the report, 491 farmers in the state died by suicide in 2019, of whom 373 were farmers cultivating their own land and 118 were those cultivating leased land.