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A year after Mandsaur firing, farmers are back on the streets

Farmers have blocked supplies of fruits and vegetables to cities, demanding better price. They say the government schemes benefit the traders more than the farmers

india Updated: Jun 06, 2018 07:43 IST
Punya Priya Mitra
Punya Priya Mitra
Hindustan Times, Mandsaur
Police patrol the Neemuch highway amid burning tyres of a truck in Mandsaur , Madhya Pradesh, on June 7, 2017.
Police patrol the Neemuch highway amid burning tyres of a truck in Mandsaur , Madhya Pradesh, on June 7, 2017.(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT File Photo)

It all started a year ago, with a clash between traders and farmers at Piplya Mandi, in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district.

On June 1, farmers in the state started a peaceful protest, demanding loan waivers and better crop prices. Five days later, the situation turned violent.

According to a report compiled by the state government and submitted to the Union home ministry last year, the protesting farmers turned into a violent mob that the police tried to control first with a lathicharge and then with tear gas shells. Finally, they opened fire. On June 6, three farmers were killed in Piplya Mandi and two, in Bhai Choupati.

A year later

The families of those who were killed maintain that the farmers had done nothing to provoke police fire.

Dinesh Patidar, father of 17-year-old Abhishek, who had died in the police firing on June 6, said, “We are still angry that no action has been taken against the policemen who killed my son.”

Of the five who lost their lives last year, four are from the dominant Patidar community. The Patidars are also angry because the government has not withdrawn the cases registered against about 2,000 people for participating in the protests despite repeated assurances. “Some of us had to go jail even though the police did not have any evidence against us,” said farmer and leader Amrit Lal Patidar, who has 23 cases against him. “Protesting is not a crime,” he said.

Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana

A year later, Piplya Mandi remains tense, with farmers continuing to eye traders with suspicion. “Nothing has changed at the mandi,” said Rajesh Patidar, a farmer leader. “The traders are still cheating us.”

Yet in August 2017, when Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (BBY) was announced by the state government, it seemed like things were looking up for farmers in Madhya Pradesh. Under the BBY, the government would pay farmers the difference between the average wholesale price and the minimum support price (MSP) of the produce sold.

Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana covered seven major kharif crops — soya bean, black gram, maize, green gram, sesame, niger seed and groundnut. Since August 2017, over 6.35 lakh farmers have registered themselves for BBY and Rs 1,900 crore has been distributed till March 2018.

Of prices and protests

However, the impact on the ground is not what either the government or the farmer would have expected when BBY was inaugurated.

Madhya Pradesh’s farmers are again on strike and have blocked fruits, vegetables and milk to cities, demanding better price for their produce.

They say BBY benefits the traders more than it does them.

“Before garlic came under Bhavantar scheme it was selling at Rs 8,000 per quintal in January this year, but now the price is only around Rs 2,000 per quintal and it came down to Rs 200 per quintal in May,” said Satyanarayan Bhanej of Balaguda village, which is approximately 20 km away from Mandsaur city.

What had originally been welcomed as a scheme by which the government would compensate farmers for losses incurred by selling crops at prices lower than the MSP, is now seen a catalyst for ruin. Farmers said the scheme encouraged distress selling because BBY compensations could only be availed for produce sold within a certain window.

“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,” said Bhanej.

A cap was introduced on how much would be compensated under the scheme and there was also no clarity on when the money would be received by the farmers.

Amrit Patidar, who is involved in the ongoing strike, said, “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.” Traders don’t agree. “Bhavantar is not helping us either and the allegation of cartelisation is a myth, because there is no unity among the traders,” says Sunil Ghatiya, president of traders association in Piplya Mandi.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s state general secretary Bansilal Gujar said despite some problems, overall BBY has helped farmers.

He did admit, however, that there is a perception among the farmers that this scheme has helped the traders more than the farmers.

Congress leader and former minister in the Digvijay Singh government, Narendra Nahata alleged the failure of BBY was evident in the low price of soya-bean, Madhya Pradesh’s biggest cash crop of the state.

He claimed the price of soya bean rose from Rs 2,200-2,500 per quintal to Rs 3,500 per quintal after the BBY window closed.

Farmers are now worried that sale of rabi crops will be affected just like the kharif crops were.

On the anniversary of the police firing that killed five, some mandis of Madhya Pradesh saw less vegetables, while many traders stocked up in advance to make sure they met their demand.

A year later, what remains constant for the farmers is their anxiety over how much loss they must accept as normal.