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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

In Madhya Pradesh’s opium hub, farm distress trumps all

A farmer, Lokesh Carpenter (48) of Barkhedapanth in Mandsaur says the price farmers used to get earlier was much higher.

madhya-pradesh-elections Updated: Nov 23, 2018 00:00 IST
Punya Priya Mitra
Punya Priya Mitra
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
Farmers from Madhya Pradesh rest at Parliament Street after a protest against the state government earlier in the day, in New Delhi on October 29.
Farmers from Madhya Pradesh rest at Parliament Street after a protest against the state government earlier in the day, in New Delhi on October 29.(PTI Photo)

Two issues are dominating the election campaign in Madhya Pradesh’s opium belt of Mandsaur and Neemuch: the death of six protesting farmers in police firing in Mandsaur on June 6, 2017, and the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (BBY), the October 2017 scheme under which the state government pays farmers the difference between the average market price across the country and the price they get for their produce.

In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP won six of the seven seats in Mandsaur-Neemuch -- the epicentre of the June 2017 farmers’ agitation -- with the farmers and Patidars solidly behind the party. At that time, farmers were getting at least three to four crops, including the prized opium, in a year with over 70% of the area under irrigation, according to government figures.

But now, farm distress has become a major poll issue, one that the Congress hopes to use to its advantage. Congress candidate from Mandsaur, Narendra Nahata says, “The main issues are continuing farm distress despite BBY, and the killing of six farmers by police. Bhavantar has been a total failure and, as promised in our election manifesto, we will do away with BBY and revert to minimum support price (MSP), along with bonus for farmers. The promise for loan waiver of Rs 2 lakh is part of our plan to give relief to farmers.” According to Nahata, farmers are not getting the right price for their produce.

Nahata’s charges resonate with some farmers unhappy with the BBY, who say the intention behind the scheme might be good but procedural problems and petty corruption were hobbling it. They want a minimum support price to be declared for the main kharif crops. They also point out that price of crops is lower today compared to 2013, whereas input costs have risen between 20 and 30%. Madhusudan Patidar (20) of Chillod Pipliya in Mandsaur, the nephew of Kanhaiyalal Patidar who was among the six farmers killed in June last year, says that under the BBY, the land title has to be clear and linked to a bank account to get registered.

“In many cases, the land is held jointly by brothers and they can’t register. Also, we have to sell the crop in separate lots as all farmers have to be given a chance, often having to wait for two days or more. While 50% is paid in cash, the rest of the amount has to be paid in 28 days. But we got the payment for the soyabean crop four months later... ” he says.

Lokesh Carpenter (48) of Barkhedapanth in Mandsaur says the price farmers used to get earlier was higher. “I sold garlic at Rs 10,000 per quintal in 2015-16 and prices have crashed to Rs 500 per quintal, while the Bhavantar price is Rs 1,600 per quintal. Same is the case with soyabean, which I sold at Rs 4,800 per quintal in 2012-13 and is now selling at Rs 2,500 per quintal, while the Bhavantar price is Rs 3,399 per quintal. MSP was better and transparent.”

Mandsaur-based agriculture expert NS Sipani, who is an Indian Agriculture Research Institute fellow, explains the problem. “Bhavantar is a good policy but has failed because a section of traders in collusion with mandi officials have hijacked it. It is one of the main issues in the elections here.”

A Patidar community leader, Amritlal Patidar, claims farmer anger is likely to harm the ruling BJP’s prospects. “If 70% of the 300,000 Patidars in the seven constituencies in Neemuch and Mandsaur had voted for the BJP earlier, now 70% are against the party. Also, no one has forgotten last year’s farmer deaths.”

Bansi Lal Gujar, Kisan Morcha state president, however, backs the Bhavantar scheme. “Bhavantar has solved most problems. Like this year, there was a glut in garlic production in 2004-05 and again in 2008-09, and farmers had to throw it away and the central government could do nothing. This government is at least buying it and in Mandsaur alone, farmers have got ₹100 crore through this scheme.”

BJP leaders also defend the BBY and list all that the party has done for farmers like waiving power bills and building houses under the Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana . They hold up the benefits of BBY, under which ₹1,952 crore has been distributed among farmers for the 2017-18 kharif crop. They also point to the Rs 500 per quintal bonus for the soyabean and maize crop for the 2018-19 kharif seasons. Yashpal Sisodiya, the BJP candidate from Mandsaur, waves away talk of farmer angst. “Farmer distress is only in the minds of the Congress and not on the ground. I have been to rural areas where farmers are happy with the regular power supply and power bill waiver.” On farmer deaths, he says there was anger but that has dissipated.