Growers gherao Himachal Secretariat for five hours, govt agrees to some demands
Sanyukt Kisan Manch, fruit growers and farmers from across the state convened in Shimla and gheraoed the Himachal Pradesh state secretariat for around five hours on Friday, demanding fulfilment of their long-pending demands.
Notwithstanding the drizzle, orchardists from the apple growing regions of the state gathered at the crossroad near St Bede’s College in Shimla, and marched to the Secretariat in Chotta Shimla, which is around 2km away from the college.
The growers are demanding an increase in minimum support price as per the quality of the fruit along the lines of Kashmir, restoration of subsidies on fungicides, insecticides, and other chemical fertilizers, reduction of Goods and Services Tax on packaging material, a ban on imported apples or a 100% increase in the import duty of apples, strict implementation of the Agriculture Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act, 2005, and clearance of farmers’ pending dues.
They have also requested the government to waive off farmers’ loans, constitute an expert committee to fix the price of apples in CA (controlled atmosphere) stores of private companies and reserve 25% space in these stores for apples.
The farmers, who alleged that the government had failed to protect their interest, were led by CPI(M) legislator Rakesh Singha, Congress’ Jubbal-Kotkhai MLA Rohit Thakur, and conveners of the Sanyukt Kisan Manch (SKM) – an umbrella body of around 24 farmers’ associations – Harish Chauhan and former Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan. As promised the Aam Aadmi Party also extended support to the farmers’ cause under the leadership of its Kisan Wing head Aninder Singh, in-charge of the Shimla parliamentary seat Rakesh Azta and spokesperson Gaurav Sharma leading the party workers during the protest.
Police had set barricades at the gates of the Secretariat, but had a tough time containing the large crowd. Several protesters also attempted to enter the premises after jumping over the barricades.
The agitation also hampered the movement of traffic on the main circular road, with cops sealing the stretch between Sanjauli and Chotta Shimla. The blocking of the stretch stopped traffic on the circular road. Schoolchildren, on their way home, were stuck in traffic.
SKM convener Harish Chauhan said, “We have been raising farmers’ issues before the government, but to no avail. The government has agreed to a few demands, but nothing us being seen on the ground.”
Meanwhile, co-convener Sanjay Chauhan said, “The government held a closed-door meeting, invited some of its own people and then blamed the Manch for not participating in the meeting. We have already submitted a 20-point demand charter to the government.”
On the Congress’ hesitance in taking part in the protest, Rohit Thakur said, “We are with the farmers, and do not want to politicise the agitation, which is purely a farmers’ protest.”
Theog legislator Rakesh Singha said apple farming was no longer profitable. “Apple farming is no longer profitable, nor is any kind of farming. The government that works behind closed doors is blind to the hardships being faced by the farmers, who are exploited by commission agents in Mandis, while the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) remain a mute spectator. It is time the government stepped in.”
“Both the central and state government is anti-farmer. Our party has been demanding that the government look into the grievances of farmers for a long time, “ the AAP spokesperson said.
The government later invited a delegation of apple growers for talks. The government has constituted a committee under the chairpersonship of the chief secretary to look into the farmers’ grievances. The committee members will include an additional chief secretary (finance), principal secretary (excise and taxation), secretaries (agriculture and horticulture) and representatives of farmers’ associations.
The fruit growers’ protest was the biggest since the agitation held in 1987 and 1990. IN 987, farmers had been cane charged for protesting outside the Himachal Praadesh secretariat for an increase in the minimum support price for apples. In 1990, the protest spread across the apple-growing regions of the state so much so that the army had to carry out a flag march in Shimla to control the agitated crowds. Three farmers were killed on July 22 in 1990 in Kotgarh, the fruit bowl of the state, when police opened fire on agitating apple growers.
Apple growing regions which comprise nearly 17 assembly segments in Kinnaur, Kullu Mandi with Shimla being the major apple-growing region have played a significant role in drawing the political contours, particularly in the old Himachal. There have been two chief ministers from apple-growing regions - Virbhadra Singh and Thakur Ram Lal. Apple contributes to 13.5% of the GDP of the state, which boasts of a ₹6,000-crore apple economy.
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