Farmers dumped grain and poured milk on the streets in massive rallies in Surat and Anand on Saturday to protest the withdrawal of high denomination currency notes and restrictions imposed on district central co-operative banks (DCCBs) on exchange and deposits. In Surat, thousands of farmers under the banner of Gujarat Khedut Samaj (GKS) gathered at Jehangirpura in the Randher area in the afternoon, and travelled nearly 10 km through the city with truck-and tractor-loads of wheat, sugarcane and other agricultural produce to the office of District Collector M S Patel at Athwalines.
They handed over to the Collector a memorandum addressed to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying there was a danger of prices of essentials like vegetables and milk rising, and possible “disorder” that could impact the Assembly elections in 2017.
At the Collector’s office, the farmers dumped wheat, paddy, vegetables and milk on the road in protest.
In Anand, members of the district Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC), farmers and women from milk cooperatives joined a huge rally that the district Congress took out to protest the “unplanned demonetisation”.
The protesters emptied sacks full of vegetables on the streets in a symbolic protest against the government’s decision that has affected their livelihoods. The rally travelled to the District Collector’s office where the protesters submitted a memorandum demanding immediate corrective action in the face of the crisis they were facing.
The memorandum submitted to the Surat Collector said many villages in Gujarat did not have nationalised banks and farmers operated through DCCBs. “It looks as if the government does not trust the farmers, milk producers and their unions, which is why we have been left out of the financial transaction processes,” the Gujarat Khedut Samaj said in the memorandum.
The Reserve Bank of India has asked DCCBs not to accept or exchange the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Of the 370 DCCBs in the country, 18 are in Gujarat. A large majority of the rest are in Maharashtra and Kerala.
The memorandum said that the monsoon crop had reached the APMCs but there was no cash for traders to buy it from the farmer, and the farmer was running out of time to prepare for the rabi season. The restrictions on DCCBs be lifted, and the RBI should open its own counters at cooperative banks to disburse money to farmers, the GKS said.
“There are over 6.5 lakh account holders of Surat District Cooperative Bank, which has branches across the Surat and Tapi districts. The Surat District Co-operative Bank has over Rs 5,000 crore worth fixed deposits of farmers and co-operative societies like Sugar Co-operative Society, Cotton Co-operative Society, Paddy Co-operative Society, Service Co-operative Society, etc. The accounts of co-operative societies are linked to the Surat District Co-operative Bank. There is a daily demand of around Rs 25 crore to Rs 30 crore for co-operative societies, and against that, the RBI has in last 10 days given Rs 21 crore cash. The condition of the farmers is bad, and if the crisis is not resolved, their situation will worsen further in the coming days,” GKS leader Jayesh Patel said.
In Anand, Ravi Patel of the Anand District Congress said, “Our protest march included women from milk cooperatives who arrived with empty milk vessels, and farmers who brought sacks of brinjal and cauliflower from their yields. They were symbolically discarded on the streets to show that the demonetisation has affected their livelihood. Farmers have been unable to sell any produce in the market, and milk cooperatives are running dry due to the lack of cashflows. The thoughtless move by the government has thrown the economy out of gear.”
Their memorandum stated, “The situation of the common class of people is extremely precarious. The normal life has come to a standstill. The common man is depressed. It is imperative that the government must take citizen friendly steps to eliminate this economic crunch, which will snowball into a massive human revolution in the coming days.”