Ahead of polls, Himachal government invites apple farmers for talks - Hindustan Times

Ahead of polls, Himachal government invites apple farmers for talks

By, Shimla
Jul 27, 2022 02:30 AM IST

Himachal Pradesh chief minister invites protesting apple and fruit growers to discuss their demands, including rollback of GST on apple cartons, a higher MSP, on July 28

Strap: Himachal CM invites protesting fruit growers to discuss their demands on July 28

Protesting apple farmers will meet Himachal Pradesh chief minister on July 28. (HT Photo)
Protesting apple farmers will meet Himachal Pradesh chief minister on July 28. (HT Photo)

In a bid to placate protesting farmers in the electorally-influential apple belt, chief minister Jai Ram Thakur has invited Sanyukt Kisan Manch — the umbrella organisation comprising 24 farmer unions for a discussion on July 28 after the cabinet meeting.

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The farm unions have been invited for consultations one year after they submitted a charter of demands, including a higher minimum support price, rollback of goods and services tax (GST) on apple cartons and restoration of agricultural subsidies on chemical sprays, to the state government.

Notably, the Sanyukt Kisan Manch had a meeting in Shimla and gave a call to “gherao” (surround) the state secretariat on August 5.

“It’s only when farmers have taken to roads protesting the government’s attitude that we have been invited for talks for one year that the government did not pay any heed to our demands. We have chalked out the strategy further on how to go about agitation,” Harish Chauhan, convener of Sanyukt Kisan Manch, said.

20-point charter of demands

In the earlier union meeting, farmers had decided to mobilise one member from each apple grower’s family to participate in the protest. Sanjay Chauhan, former Shimla mayor co-convener, said rollback on the GST, full implementation of the Marketing Intervention Scheme (MIS) on the lines of that in Kashmir and fixed support prices — 60, 44 and 24 for grades A, B and C respectively were the major demands, adding “Talks with the government will focus only on a 20-point charter of demands.”

Payments of arrears collected on apples by HPMC and Himfed, a ban on the import of foreign apples and the excluding the crop from the Free Trade Treaty (FTA), strict implementation of Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee (APMC) law should, open bidding in mandis were also listed as major points to be discussed.

“Payment should be made immediately to the farmers due to the arthiyas and buyers and under the provisions of the APMC Act in the mandis, their payment should be ensured to the farmers on the same day their produce is sold. Strict legal action should be taken against the buyers and arthiyas who have not paid the dues,” Deepak Singha. Plum Growers Association president, said.

Protests sweep apple belt

Apple-growing regions, which comprise nearly 17 assembly segments in Kinnaur, Kullu, Mandi and Shimla, have played a significant role in drawing the political contours in the old Himachal. The belt has given the state two chief ministers — Virbhadra Singh and Thakur Ram Lal.

Apple contributes to 13.5 % of the top states’ GDP and boasts of a 6,000 crore economy. Growers are demanding an increase in MSP akin to that in Kashmir, restoration of subsidies on fungicides, insecticides and other chemical fertilisers, while also seeking the reduction of GST on packaging material and a ban on foreign apples.

Sanyukt Kisan Manch has held two protests on July 11 and on July 20, across the apple-growing regions, while the opposition Congress too has stepped up its agitation, with Shimla rural legislator Vikramaditya Singh led two protests, one in Rampur and another in Rohru against the spiralling cost of packaging material.

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