Farm stir: In north Maharashtra, farmers divided over pvt traders, contract farming
Thirty-year-old Pandurang Kadali who owns a 4-acre plot at Suryagadh, a small hamlet in Nashik, is constantly worried about the fate of his land, which is a part of the forest area. Kadali wants the land rights of this plot, on which he has been cultivating from the past 15 years. “Despite promises and various agitations, the government is not transferring the land in our name. It’s our only asset and source of livelihood,” said Kadali. His father Madhukar was among the 35,000 farmers who had trekked 180km to Mumbai to press for their rights for land in March 2018.
Somnath Aher’s situation is different. Aher cultivates a variety of crops such as sugarcane, onions, tomatoes and soya bean in 5 acres of land and earns at least ₹8- ₹10 lakh per annum. However, he rues that the government has not been supporting farmers like him. “The government announces various schemes such as subsidies on seeds, compensation for unseasonal rains and loan waivers, but they never reach us. We have to struggle as we get electricity for an average of just nine hours daily and at erratic timings. At times, we need to irrigate even at midnight,” said Aher.
Kadali and Aher represent the farmers of northern Maharashtra, who are largely unaware of the three farm laws. They are more troubled by local issues which they face on a daily basis. Over 80 lakh people in this region depend on agriculture and predominantly cultivate onions, sugarcane, grapes, soya bean, tomatoes and bananas.
Sahyadri Farms, a company of small farmers, said the farm laws will hardly create any impact in Maharashtra. “Farmers here have the freedom to sell where they want to and hence it does not make much of a difference to them,” said Vilas Shinde, managing director, Sahyadri Farms. He said even contract farming, which finds a prominent place in these laws, is prevalent in Maharashtra and farmers have already tied up with private parties. “We have grape farmers in Nashik who have inked contracts with wine-making companies. Such practices have been there in Maharashtra for years,” said Shinde.
Aher agreed with Shinde and cited his own example. “I was getting ₹4,100 for 100-kg soya bean outside APMC (agriculture produce market committee), while the same produce was being offered ₹3,900 at APMC. So I sold my produce outside,” said Aher.
Sandeep Ranapratap, who cultivates on his 2-acre land, has to work in a cushion-making unit to supplement his family income. “The produce in our farm is mainly for our household. I have to work outside to sustain my family,” said Ranapratap. He earns ₹300 as a daily wage worker in the unit.
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), enjoys a strong base in north Maharashtra. It said there is lack of awareness on the laws among the farmers. “A majority of the farmers are unaware of the new laws and hence, we are spreading awareness of the ill-effects, among them,” said Sunil Malusare, joint secretary, AIKS (Maharashtra). “It’s true that there is not much opposition among the Maharashtra farmers like that expressed by the Punjab and Haryana farmers,” he added.
Dattatray Ganpat Chile, whose family of five are engaged in the cultivation of the 3-acre land in Sawrichamal village, said he is not fully aware of the new farm laws. “There was neither an attempt by the government nor the opponents to educate us about the laws. Last year, I suffered a huge loss, as our cauliflower crop was destroyed due to unseasonal rains, and we didn’t even get any compensation. We are more worried about our crops than these laws,” said Chile. However, he cautioned that the government needs to ensure that small landholders are also accommodated in the law and that their land is not gobbled up by the corporates.
Former state minister Sadabhau Khot and the chief of Rayat Kranti Sanghatana said farmers are not bothered as the new laws will not affect them.
“The largest contract farming takes place in Nashik in the grape sector. These laws will not enslave the farmers but in fact make them stronger,” said Khot, who has been campaigning in favour of the laws across Maharashtra.