India received a normal rainfall in 2016 – three per cent less than the 100-year average – after reeling under severe drought for two successive years. In addition, the country registered record food grain production in the same year, as per the official figures of the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers welfare. This was 6.37 per cent higher than last five years average production and 8.6 per cent more as compared to 2015-16. The government also boasted of having allocated more budget to agriculture than the previous UPA regime with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself promising to double the income of farmers by 2022. However, all these seemed to have had a little impact on farmers in terms of easing their problems.
Now, farmers in two of the largest states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which are presently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have resorted to agitation over a wide-range of issues concerning their livelihood. So, what has happened since then that the farmers have been forced to protest despite brief ‘spell of relief’?
Ongoing stir and farmers’ demands in Madhya Pradesh
According to latest reports, protests turned violent as three farmers were killed by police in Mandsaur, the epicentre of the agitation which lies 325 kms from the Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal. Subsequently, curfew was imposed in the area and prohibitory orders were issued in other parts of the district. They have been protesting since June 1 demanding minimum support price for their farm produce, among other things. On Monday, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tried to assuage frayed nerves, insisting that his government was taking all the necessary steps to address the issues of the agitating farmers. He said a price stabilisation fund of Rs 1,000 crore would be established to procure the farm produce at the minimum support price (MSP).
The Centre’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes in November last year came as a severe jolt to farmers as cash is the primary mode of transaction in agriculture sector. Moreover, pandemonium prevailed in different parts of the state as the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an organistaion affiliated to the RSS, suspended the agitation while others refused to budge. Calling off the agitation, the BKS said that the government had accepted most of its demands like buying onions at Rs 8 a kg and paying farmers half their dues at mandis in cash and the remaining via electronic transfer to their bank accounts. Meanwhile, Bharatiya Kisan Union, a little-known organisation that is believed to be behind the stir, said the agitation will go on.
Maharashtra farmers stir–a result of UP farm loan waiver and plunging crop prices
In early April, the newly-elected BJP government under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath took a bold step by waiving off farm loan worth Rs 36,359 crore. The move was appreciated by many cutting across various political spectrum. Similar demands were raised by farmers in Maharashtra, which witnessed the highest number of farmer suicides between 2014 and 2015. Between 2014 and 2015, the state saw an 18 per cent jump — from 2,568 to 3,030. Marathwada region of the state also faced drought in both years. The reliance of farmers in Marathwada on water-guzzling cash crops such as sugarcane has been cited as one of the reasons for the distress. The dwindling crop prices is also being viewed as the other reason behind the uprising.
With the farmers taking to the streets and shutting down wholesale markets, vegetable prices have gone up considerably besides the state facing shortage of milk. As mark of protest, they even dumped produce and milk on the street, and blocked highways while preventing delivery trucks from reaching city markets. Amid mounting pressure, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promised a loan waiver to small and marginal farmers who were out of the ‘institutional credit system’. However, the agitation showed no signs of abating as it continued for the sixth day today.