Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan speaks to The Indian Express about the farmer protests in his state and explains his objections to trade of cattle for slaughter. Excerpts:
MP emerged as an agricultural state. What went wrong?
The farmers’ protest was not a pan-state agitation. Out of 51 districts, only Mandsaur, Ratlam and neighbouring regions witnessed violent incidents. Let me clarify that farmers were not behind these violent incidents. Some other elements tried to take advantage of the situation. We estimate 25 per cent agricultural growth in the state. We have taken numerous measures for agriculture, whether it is irrigation or farm credit or improving seed replacement rate or adopting new farming practices. That’s why a bumper crop is expected this year too. That has created a problem. We produced 32 lakh tonnes of onions, resulting in a slump in domestic market price to Rs 2 a kg as against Rs 10 a kg earlier. We have made arrangements to deal with it.
You suggest it was localised problem. What went wrong there?
Slump in prices is a statewide problem. But it was not such a situation to warrant violence. Mandsaur has a specific issue and farmers there did not resort to violence. It is a region that produces opium and its byproduct. Even the byproduct fetched good price. The state government acted sternly against smugglers. They faced difficulty. These elements joined the agitation and made it violent.
But crops like soybean are selling below MSP even before the kharif crop is harvested. There must be a reason?
We used to export de-oiled cake, which has less oil content, that fetched demand for the produce. Now, the de-oiled cake exports have slumped, except to Bangladesh. Soybean prices have slumped because of shrinking export of de-oiled cake. I am concerned about soybean prices given the sluggish export of de-oiled cake.
Shouldn’t duty on soybean oil be hiked to protect the farmers?
That is for the Government of India to examine the situation. But the government makes policies on the overall situation. Like the government feared shortage of pulses, so it stocked pulses. But it got a good pulses output. This resulted in slumped prices. Sometimes unanticipated situations emerge.
Trade plays a crucial role in domestic prices of farm commodities. The government dropped duty on wheat. Since MP is a big wheat producer, do you think it was advisable?
Wheat farmers in MP are assured of MSP. They did not face difficulty.
But did you favour reduced wheat duty?
Sometimes production is good and sometimes it is not. These are decided depending on the situation. Whatever the situation, we must assure prices to farmers. As for import duty, it will be a different situation when we have a bumper crop and when we have drought. The Centre takes a decision depending on the situation. Last time there were natural calamities, pulses prices shot up to Rs 200 a kg.
MP and Chhattisgarh used bonus incentives for enhancing wheat and paddy production, respectively. Do you think the Centre should stop bonus if states are ready to bear the financial burden?
We gave it in past. Then we shifted to farm credit at 3 per cent interest and now we are giving it at minus 10 per cent interest. That means we are not recovering the principle amount. So, willing states do grant relief to its farmers in various other ways. We have continued it.
Are you contemplating loan waiver in MP?
Every state acts according to its situation. We are providing farm credit at minus 10 per cent interest, 72 per cent farmers are regularly paying that. We are bringing a Samadhan Yojana for the remaining 28 per cent. So, MP will make other efforts to ameliorate the difficulties of farmers.
What about the Centre’s restrictions against bonus? Don’t you think there should be flexibility for states?
States have different ways of giving relief to farmers. Some states have chosen loan waiver, we have decided not to recover entire principle amount of farm loan. So, states already have options.
Has the temporary liquidity crisis caused by demonetisation also added to slump in domestic prices?
I did not find it at a large scale. Encashing cheques may have taken some time as against immediate cash payment. But I have not received a feedback suggesting large-scale impact.
Will the new guidelines on cattle trade created rigidity in the cattle trade market?
I do not see any attempt to control cattle trade. But, I would like to say that our pashu sampada (cattle/animal assets) should not be slaughtered. Generally, cows are a matter of reverence and faith. When millions have a reverential faith in something, that belief must be respected.
What about bull/ox? With advent of tractors, their utility for ploughing has dwindled. They could have been traded?
Personally, I am against (cattle) trade for slaughter purposes. People can have different opinions. What people eat and drink is a personal choice. Bulls have agricultural uses. Chemical fertilisers also have harmful effects. Organic farming is gaining strength. If we have cows and oxen, we can produce manure to replace chemical fertilisers.
What about the cost of rearing an ox/bull?
Punjab and Haryana are burning wheat chaff. Cows and oxen are very useful for farming. From cow milk to cow urine, so many things are produced that it cannot be a losing proposition. Economically speaking, too, cows and oxen are means to benefit agricultural economy.
Your political opponents have coined the moniker ‘Shavraj Singh Chouhan’ for you?
I will not take names, but, the viral videos suggesting exhortions to burn police stations exposes their intention. One kind of politics is opposing policies and programmes to win elections, the other kind is resorting to any kind of tactics to come to power.
They seem to be clubbing deaths in Vyapam as well as recent farmer deaths?
The CBI investigation under the watch of the Supreme Court is in the public domain. I do not have much to say after that.
Sedition cases were filed against alleged sloganeering over Pakistan’s victory in the Champions Trophy final. What’s your view on sedition cases against merely sloganeering for Pakistan?
The Indian citizen, irrespective of caste and religion, is part of our heart. Lekin Bharat mein rehkar agar Pakistan Zindabad ki baat kare, toh rashtradroh to hai hi (But anyone in India saying Pakistan Zindabad is seditious). How can any country tolerate this? Why should it even be tolerated? Celebrating the victory of the Pakistan cricket team in India is not tolerable in any situation. India is very liberal and advocates Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam for centuries. But for an Indian citizen to say Pakistan Zindabad cannot be tolerated.
You have large legislative experience, don’t you think sedition involves incitement of violence?
Think like a citizen. Agar koi apne desh ka aadmi doosre desh ki zindabad bole, aur doosra desh bhi wah juske irade hamari taraf saaf nahin hai. Pakistan ka aatankwadi ghatnaon mein haath hai. Pakistan ke bare mein zindabad kehna rajdroh hai.