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Thursday, October 29, 2020

In Punjab, tractor transforms from a plough-horse to symbol of farmers’ protest

Apart from various tractor marches against the Acts by farmers, tractors were recently set afire in Delhi and Punjab to show resentment against the farm laws. From state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar to SAD chief Sukhbir Badal, several politicians too have participated in tractor marches to show solidarity with farmers.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | October 3, 2020 4:08:40 am
Punjab farmers protest, Farm bills, tractor marches, burning tractor, CHandigarh news, Punajb news, Indian express newsSix members of Youth Congress Punjab were arrested earlier for setting the tractor ablaze at India Gate on Monday. (Express photo)

Up in arms against Centre’s agri Acts, farmers have been driving their point home using their trusted farm workhorse – the tractor – in protests. The ubiquitous tractor has taken centre stage in these protests from Delhi to the streets of Punjab.

Apart from various tractor marches against the Acts by farmers, tractors were recently set afire in Delhi and Punjab to show resentment against the farm laws. From state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar to SAD chief Sukhbir Badal, several politicians too have participated in tractor marches to show solidarity with farmers.

While Thursday saw SAD leaders riding tractors in their kisan marches to Chandigarh, Sunday will see Congress leader Rahul Gandhi kickstart his three-day tractor rallies in the state.

Rahul Gandhi will be accompanied by the Punjab CM Amarinder Singh, AICC general secretary in-charge for Punjab, Harish Rawat, and other senior Congress leaders during his tractor rallies.

Now a symbol of protest in the current agitation against the Centre, the tractor is much more than just a farm equipment for Punjab farmers. It has been a status symbol in the rural hinterland of Punjab for a very long time.

This is one of the major reasons that Punjab with 1.53 per cent of the total land of the country, owns over 8 per cent of the total tractors across India.

According to the Punjab Agriculture Department, the total number of tractors in Punjab is between 5 lakh to 5.25 lakh, against a requirement of just 1 to 1.25 lakh tractors.

Punjab has around 42 lakh hectares (1.03 crore acres) farmland, including nearly 39 lakh hectares under agricultural crop and 3 lakh hectares under horticultural crops.

According to the State Transport Department, every year nearly 20,000 new tractors are being added to Punjab’s inventory but at the same time, around 10,000 to 12,000 tractors are also disposed of in the state because they need replacement because either they are old or some farmers find them non-viable. These are sold in second-hand tractor markets to the neighbouring states like Haryana and Rajasthan.

Even during the pandemic in the past nine months, nearly 13,000 tractors have been purchased in Punjab by the farmers.

“Punjab also sells the highest number of used tractors. It is not that the farmers are giving up on these machines. They sell the old machines to buy bigger, powerful and latest tractors with more horsepower,” said a big farmer, Gurmail Singh, who owns three tractors.

“Punjab already has a surplus number of tractors as compared to the agricultural land because one tractor is viable only if it runs for 1,000 hours in a year for agri-purpose, but in Punjab majority of the tractors are grossly underutilised and run only for 300 to 400 hours annually,” said Baldev Singh Amar, Chairman of All India Agriculture Mechanical Machinery Association (AMMA), a farm implement association, adding that now in Punjab most of the farmers are replacing their small tractors between 30 to 40 horsepower (HP) with 50 HP and above which are costing between Rs 6 to 10 lakh. “Heavy tractors are purchased to run heavy tractor mounted machines including paddy stubble management machines and fewer HP tractors are not successful then,” he said.

Singh said that now India is manufacturing between 7 to 8 lakh tractors annually most of which are used in the domestic market and around 80,000 to 90,000 are exported to various countries.

According to an estimate, there are around 6 to 6.5 million tractors in India.

“Though the sale of tractors in Punjab has reached a saturation point and to discourage it further, no subsidy is being provided on it now for over a decade, but still, farmers are purchasing it as love for the tractor is in their blood,” said Engineer Manmohan Kalia, Joint Director (Acting), Farm Machinery and Nodal Officer, Farm Machinery in the Punjab Agriculture Department.

“The state has often been castigated for its over-dependence on farm equipment which is a fact too and it is burdening farmers but it has not stopped its farmers from buying it,” said Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda), General Secretary, Jagmohan Singh.

“It is a status symbol, the more powerful your tractor is, the more powerful your image among the villagers,” said a Jalandhar-based farmer, Hardeep Singh, who owns two tractors for his 120-acre farmland, including 100 acres taken on lease.

Even small farmers with 5 acres of land are not ready to give up on this farm equipment despite the fact that they can hire it at affordable rates during the sowing season.

“The farmers here do not mind taking huge bank loans to take a tractor to satisfy their ego,” said Paramjit Singh Sooch, a progressive farmer himself and an expert on sugarcane, citrus fruits and former vice president of Farm’s Produce Promotion Society (FAPRO), adding that as per the reports, around 20 to 25 per cent of the total debt on farmers in Punjab is because of overspending on farm machinery including tractors.

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