A year after Mandsaur protests, MP govt’s pro-farmer scheme fuels another stir
Last year’s Mandsaur agitation was triggered by the trader-farmer divide; this year, the protests are over the Bhavantar scheme, that has left the farmers fuming and accusing the traders of cartelization to bring down the prices.Updated: Jun 05, 2018 16:38 IST
Madhya Pradesh’s much-hyped Bhavantar scheme under which the government pays farmers part of the difference between the average wholesale price and the minimum support price to alleviate their suffering has instead become the catalyst in this year’s farmers’ agitation in the state ahead of the assembly elections.
Last June’s cycle of violence had started in Mandsaur after traders had beaten up four farmers in Pipliyamandi that had led to retaliatory attacks from the farmers that left several shops gutted and traders crying for police protection. While this year there has been no violence, the farmers are staying put in their villages in a 10-day strike and refusing to supply milk and other essentials to the cities, leading to rise in prices of vegetables across the state ahead of the first anniversary of the police firing in Mandsaur that killed six farmers.
Last year, cash had been squeezed out of the system on the back of the 2016 demonetization, leaving traders with very little money in hand to buy agricultural produce that triggered a price collapse in and fuelled anger and distress among farmers. This year, the Bhavantar scheme has left the farmers fuming and accusing the traders of cartelization to bring down the prices.
“The traders are against us. They form a cartel and beat down the prices. Before garlic came under Bhavantar scheme it was selling at around Rs 8000 per quintal in January this year, but now the price is only around Rs 2000 per quintal and it came down to Rs 200 per quintal in May,´ said Satyanarayan Bhanej of Balaguda village, situated about 20 km away from Mandsaur city.
“Once the traders come to know that a particular lot of garlic is under Bhavantar they will never raise the price. The Rs 800 per quintal we get under the Bhavantar scheme is not even enough to cover the cost of production. Wait and see once purchase of garlic under Bhavantar scheme ends, its prices will shoot up and traders will benefit,” Bhanej added.
Patidar community and farmer leader Amrit Patidar who is deeply involved in the current strike explains reason behind the trust deficit between trader and farmer, “The gulf between the farmers and traders has increased because we believe that all policies of the government finally benefit the trader at the cost of the farmer. The trader mints money due to his financial muscle and the farmer who toils hard gets pittance for his effort.”
But traders say the Bhavantar scheme is not helping them either.
“The farmers might be suspicious of us traders, but Bhavantar is not helping us either and the allegation of cartelization is a myth, because there is no unity among the traders,” says Sunil Ghatiya, a trader in Pipliyamandi and also president of the Kirana Traders Association.
Other traders who did not want to be named said the scheme has only led to corruption. “A group of rich farmers, patwaris and traders are in this together. The farmer pays to patwari to fudge records to show that crop (say garlic) is under Bhavantar and he pays the trader to give him a receipt to show that his garlic has been sold, and then claims money under the Bhavantar scheme. But the poor marginal farmer is not part of this game and loses out.”
Senior Congress leader and former minister in the Digvijay Singh government Narendra Nahata too agrees that with Bhavantar has flopped and has deepened the divide between the farmer and the trader. “They need each other, but also distrust each other because the farmers believe that he is being cheated. Look at the price of soyabean. Under Bhavantar it sold between Rs 2200-2500 per quintal, but now that Bhavantar has ended, the price has risen to Rs 3,500 per quintal, and there is no explanation for this rise. The younger generation of farmers is educated and is aware of ground realities and they are getting restive.”
However, BJP farmer leader and BJP state general secretary Bansilal Gujar said despite some problems, Bhavantar has helped the farmers, but conceded that there is a perception among the farmers that the scheme has helped the traders more than them.
The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh launched the Bhavantar scheme in October 2017, four months after widespread agrarian protests over falling crop prices. Last month, the government brought onions under the ambit of Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana with an aim to provide relief to farmers.