Farmers’ distress to be the key issue in Rajasthan assembly elections
Farmers from all sections and across Rajasthan have spoken about the “distress” and the “losses” they have faced in recent years. The farming community and its issues are likely to take centre stage in the run-up to the assembly elections.rajasthan elections 2018 Updated: Nov 05, 2018 13:17 IST
When Congress president Rahul Gandhi visited Hadoti and elsewhere in Rajasthan late October, he raised issues concerning the farmers in every public gathering he held, aware that the agricultural community — from farmers working on the field to members of unions fighting for their rights — has repeatedly been at the loggerheads with the ruling government of the Bharatiya Janata Party over the past few months.
As Gandhi, and his party, increase the campaign pitch in the days leading up to the assembly elections, scheduled on December 7, the farming community and their issues are likely to take the centre stage.
Be it the producers of onion, garlic, mustard or those engaged in the production of soybean, urad and moong, farmers from all sections, and across the state, have spoken about the “distress” and the “losses” they have faced in recent years.
The losses faced by garlic producers in the middle of the year saw five farmers commit suicide, although the state government and the police have rejected claims that the deaths had anything to do with their farm debts or crop losses.
The Congress has in the past cited various deaths and media reports to claim that 92 farmers have committed suicide since the BJP came to power in 2013. The BJP has repeatedly denied the claim.
But the farmers have suffered losses, beginning 2015 when the hailstorm and rains significantly damaged Rabi crops. Many began to feel the heat when the produce failed to get due prices in the open market and the government also could not purchase the crops on minimum support price (MSP).
“My brother had around 2.4 hectares of land and he taken 9 hectares on lease for Rs 10,000 per bigha (one sixth of a hectare). He had invested Rs 8 lakh on cultivation but could only recover Rs 80,000 from the sale,” said Anirudh Meena, 31, the brother of Hukumchand Meena, 36, in Kota’s Brij Nagar village.
On May 24, Hukumchand, who had hoped to pay his Rs 25 lakh debt (including Rs 18 lakh loan on Kisan Credit Card) from the garlic’s sale, went to his field and consumed poison. “He got only Rs 5 per kg for his garlic and so he killed himself,” Anirudh said.
“Although the state government bought garlic under the market intervention scheme (MIS), limited purchase and its (government’s) stringent garlic buying norms could not ensure due benefit to the farmers,” Hadoti Kisan Union general secretary Dashrath Kumar said.
Similar was the tale of producers of mustard with farmers in Hadoti and elsewhere in Rajasthan forced to sell their produce in losses in the open market last year after the state government stopped procuring mustard from the farmers at the MSP.
Likewise, farmers have incurred losses in the production of soybean, urad and moong as well over the government’s failure to purchase these crops on time.
Kumar said the 2017-2018 production of garlic stood at around 20 lakh metric tonnes (MT) in Hadoti region, and the farmers faced losses worth Rs 5,000 per MT. Their losses, he said, stood at Rs 10,000 per MT for urad, and Rs 800-1,000 per MT for moong and soybean.
“Farm crisis is the biggest poll issue in Rajasthan as the state was not known for being a region for farmers’ suicides but the failure of the governments at the Centre and the state has led to this crisis,” Pradesh Congress Committee president Sachin Pilot said.
“The central and state governments have only made announcements that they would buy crops from the farmers based on the MSP but they have not done so,” Pilot said.
Besides lack of government procurement, farmers say the state government has also failed in providing seeds of better quality to them.
State agriculture minister Prabhu Lal Saini rejected the accusations and said there was “no farm distress in the state” and “no farmer has committed suicide”.
“Since the majority of the population in rural areas belongs to the farming community, any suicide by a villager is projected as that of a farmer’s suicide,” the minister alleged. He went on to add that “people in urban areas commit suicide as well”, and claimed that “152 farmers had committed suicide when the Congress was in power”. “But we do not want to do politics like the Congress party on the issue of farmer suicides,” he said.
He then listed out the welfare programmes initiated by the Vasundhara Raje government for the farmers. “(The) government has provided Rs 7,400 crore of input subsidies and waived farm loans worth Rs 84,000 crore by waiving Rs 50,000 loan of every farmer. It also provided Rs 6,200 crore of cooperative loans on zero percent interest,” he said.
The minister said his government purchased garlic from the farmers at nearly double the rate at which the Congress government had. “While the previous government procured only 3,000 MT garlic under the market intervention scheme at Rs 17 per kg, the present government bought 90,000 MT of garlic at Rs 32.57 per kg,” he said.
Saini also said that the Raje government “eased up crop compensation norms”, reduced affected area parameter from minimum 50% to 33%, and promoted innovations in agriculture and cultivation through the Global Rajasthan Agritech Meet in Kota and other divisional headquarters to boost farmer’s income.
Farmer organisations, however, believe that Hadoti region’s 38 lakh farmer population will “exercise its influence” on almost three fourth of the 17 assembly constituencies in the region.
First Published: Nov 05, 2018 13:16 IST