Farmer distress may come back to haunt BJP in Haryana elections

“I don’t know if they will cross 75 seats (in the Haryana Assembly elections), but they have definitely taken the prices of onion, tomato, and oil to above Rs 75 per kg per litre. That is their achievement.” As he engages in a heated discussion, Karamveer Singh, a farmer in Dulhera village in Jhajjar, rues the spike in prices of onion and tomato, coupled with agrarian distress, have remained unaddressed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state. 

With less than a week to go for the Haryana elections on October 21, unsold produce, high cost of fertilisers, poor water supply to fields, have become key concerns that farmers are refusing to not talk about. 

In the run-up to the Assembly elections, the BJP has left no stone unturned to woo farmers in the state. The Haryana government in September announced Rs 4,750-crore interest and penalty waiver on crop loans taken from cooperative banks, thus benefiting around one million farmers. It also pledged to give interest-free crop loan of up to Rs 3 lakh to farmers and promised to double their income by 2022. The Congress, which is trying to win back the state, has promised loan waivers in its poll manifesto.

According to state-level bankers’ committee data, the total outstanding credit in the agriculture sector as on June 30, 2019, in Haryana is a little over Rs 51,000 crore, which is around 38 per cent of the state’s annual budget of Rs 132,166 crore for FY20. However, the allocated expenditure under the agriculture and allied services head is only Rs 4,740.20 crore. 

However, what has worried farmers more than the recent spike in process of basic vegetables is the; lack of government action. Onions, for instance, were fetching farmers just Rs 7-10 per kilogram last year in most parts of the country. The fate of potato farmers has barely been better.

According to NCRB data, 48,104 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide between 2013 and 2016 across the country. However, the suicide rate has increased from 162 in 2015 to 250 in 2016 in Haryana alone — an increase of 54.32 per cent. 

Interestingly, the department of agriculture, cooperation and farmers welfare brought out its last survey, “All India Report on Agriculture Census” in 2010-11. 

The Khattar government has fixed a limit for procurement of crops per acre on MSP, a move that has created a lot of angst among farmers. This means, the farmers need a host of documents to avail of the benefit. “This process is very difficult for people like us, who are barely educated. And even after all of it, the government is not buying the entire produce. They are buying less than 8 quintals of bajra (a type of millet) for each acre, against about 30 quintals we produce. Where do will sell the rest?” Birender Kumar says. 

Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda rubbished the government’s claims on working for farmers’ welfare. “Voters will keep in mind the failures of this government and the achievements of our previous Congress regimes. The fertiliser bag which was priced at Rs 800 during our time is available at Rs 1,400 now. The pesticide spray, which cost Rs 200 earlier, comes for Rs 1,000 now. This government has worked against farmers' interests,” Hooda told Business Standard.

The government has launched a scheme to provide a minimum fixed pension of Rs 3,000 per month to eligible farmers on attaining 60 years. It is a voluntary and contributory pension scheme, with the entry age of 18-40 years. “This scheme will be disastrous for the farmers as they don’t have any clear mechanism to invest the money deposited by the government and if someone wants to drop out of the scheme, they will not get back the money they have invested. Nothing is clear as of now, this will be another IL&FS, Air India, or BSNL,” said Satyawan, national president, All India Krishak Khet Majdoor Sangathan.

“The BJP promised in their 2014 manifesto that they will implement recommendations of Swaminathan Commission, which turns out to be a complete lie. In fact, the BJP in supreme court had refused to pay farmers 1.5 times of their production cost,” Bhupender Rawat, national spokesperson, Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Sanyukt Union. 

Farmers have also been raising the dropping water levels as a cause for concern. To address the issue the state is taking many measures to keep the water level in check. It has asked farmers to not go for non-Basmati paddy cultivation, and is offering a financial aid of Rs 2,000 per acre to those cultivating maize and pulses, along with insurance and free seeds.  The government is buying the PR variety of paddy at an MSP of Rs 1,835 per quintal. But the farmers are forced to sell at Rs 1,600 in the market. 

“We are growing the 1,509 and 1,121 varieties of paddy, which the government doesn’t buy as it is the finest quality of rice, which comes at a cost of Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,500, respectively,” Jagram Singh, a farmer in Safedar Nagar village says. 

On being asked his reaction on the various issues, Agriculture Minister Om Prakash Dhankar shared the government's schemes for farmers' welfare, and refused further comment.

Singh says he has two options. “Selling it in Rewari mandi, where we get money in 15 days, and in Delhi mandi, where we get paid in just one day.” But he has a third option now — to vote for the party he thinks will change things for him.

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