In Chhattisgarh, Congress' promise to hike MSP stalls procurement

Bhagwati Verma, a medium farmer in Chhattisgarh's Checheda village, had tears as he loaded paddy bags on a pick-up van. This was the first week of November and the vehicle was to drive the load to the village’s state-run cooperative society. Selling this would fetch Verma minimum support price (MSP) for the yield.

Going to the society with produce has always been a festive moment for Chhattisgarh farmers, including the 40-year-old Verma whose village is in the Bilaspur district. The state is among a few in the country that procure paddy at MSP. “But this year, it was a painful occasion,” he said. Holding the paddy for over a month would have been a better deal but he had to sell as he urgently needed money for the treatment of his ailing mother, Verma added.

The Congress has announced waiving off farm loans and an MSP of Rs 2,500 per quintal, if it succeeds in ousting the BJP-led government that has been in power for last 15 years. The Congress's last-ditch effort that came just two days before the first phase of polling on November 12 was seen as a master stroke.

The second phase of polling was held on November 20. Results will be declared on December 11.

A large number of farmers in the state are stocking paddy even as procurement in the state started on November 1. In all, 1,998 centres have been set up for paddy procurement across the state. But most wore a deserted look. Chhattisgarh farmers are eligible to get Rs 2,070 for a quintal of A-grade paddy procured. For the common-grade quality, the seller will get Rs 2,050 a quintal.

The price includes Rs 300 per quintal bonus, as announced by the BJP government to woo the 1.5 million registered farmers. The state has 3.2 million farmers. A target of procuring 7.5 million tonnes of paddy had been set for the kharif marketing season 2018-19.

Despite a bumper crop, farmers are reluctant to sell the produce even as they will be getting bonus. While the societies were supposed to get 1.3 million tonnes of paddy, only 549,000 tonnes have arrived to date. Harvesting in most of the areas had also been completed.

“I was in need of money so I sold paddy but most farmers in the village were avoiding,” Verma said. Those selling paddy in the societies are limited in number. 

“Many farmers even take loan from private lenders and have to repay at the earliest,” Ramu Chandravanshi, a farmer in Kabeerdham district, said. So, they are compelled to sell the produce, he explained. Besides getting a higher MSP, farmers are also avoiding selling paddy in the society as the Congress has promised to waive off loans in 10 days. 

“If the paddy is sold, the society will deduct the loan amount granted for seed and fertiliser,” Chandravanshi said, adding that once the loan was waived off, they would be eligible to get full amount. If the farmers holding paddy is any electoral indicator, the Congress has every reason to smile. In the rural areas, the issue has given the party an edge over ruling BJP that will be crucial for the election 2018 outcome. 

The BJP managers also realised and swung into action. The party dragged Karnataka and alleged Congress cheated farmers in the state despite assurance.

“The Congress manifesto has the least impact on the elections and the farmers very well know it is the BJP that will provide them an MSP of Rs 2,600-2,700 on paddy,” Chief Minister Raman Singh said. Bhupesh Baghel, Chhattisgarh Congress chief, contested and said the party fought the election on farmers’ issue and had received a positive response.
Just before the second phase of polling, a letter went viral in which the Congress underlined that farmers holding less than two acres would benefit from the waiver. The party said the letter was fake and lodged a complaint with the poll panel.

“We are also filing a police complaint against an agency working for the BJP for misusing the Congress’s letter pad and drafting the letter,” Baghel said. It shows how frustrated the BJP is to control the damage caused by the Congress manifesto, Baghel added.

Another theory circulated was the Congress’s failure to effectively canvass the loan waiver in the rural pockets. The voting percentage was comparatively high in the rural areas in 2018 as compared to the 2013 elections. The polling had decreased by 1.05 per cent as compared to previous elections as 76.35 per cent electorate exercised their franchise.

The BJP has been banking on the Third Front, headed by former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC). The party formed an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). It has a crucial sway in the Bilaspur division comprising 24 of the 90 assembly constituencies. Farmers have a major sway in the division where paddy is a major crop.

BJP managers believe that Jogi’s alliance would eat into Congress votes. It would ultimately split the anti-BJP votes and help the ruling party. Jogi had offered an MSP of Rs 2,600 per quintal for farmers, but no farm loan waiver.

Read our full coverage on Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2018.