A WEEK after inter-culturing his pearl millet plot, farmer Babu Kidiya looks dreamy as he irrigates his lush green crop in Ramaliya, a village 40 km east of Rajkot city. But in the second week of the nationwide lockdown to contain spread of novel coronavirus outbreak, his worries have shifted from agricultural inputs to daily essential items.
“On Tuesday, my wife went to purchase sugar. The provision store owner charged Rs 45 for one kg instead of Rs 40 which was the price till last week. This is unfair. In times of emergency, store-owners should be helping us instead of manipulating the situation and looting us,” says the 55-year-old.
Kidiya says that his 10-member family needs at least three kilogram sugar every month and thanks the government for providing him one kg sugar, one kg chana daal, seven kg rice and 17 kg wheat free of cost on Wednesday.
Last week, this farmer was worried as he needed herbicide to kill weed in the pearl millet plantation but shops selling agri-inputs were closed in Sardhar, a bigger village around 8 km away from Ramaliya. “A fellow farmer from the village has helped me with one bottle of herbicide. Now that herbicide has been arranged, I am irrigating the crop,” Kidiya says, adding herbicide in pearl millet can be applied only after irrigating the crop.
Arjan Ghoghari, owner of a provision store in the village, conceded he has increased sugar price by Rs 2 and not by Rs 5. “But this is due to additional transportation cost that I am incurring. In normal days, I go to Sardhar in vehicles plying between Rajkot and my village and they don’t charge much transportation for goods that I purchase from Sardhar. Due to lockdown, these vehicles are not plying and I have to drive my bike to Sardhar to purchase goods. I have to burn petrol, hence I have increased the price by Rs 2 per kg,” Goghari says.
Suresh Gondaliya has installed a new signboard – two cardboard signages that say ‘shaak-bhaaji’ (vegetables) and ‘Meldima Kariyanu (grocery) written on them with indigo – on the doors of his provision-cum-grocery store. “This is to let people know that now I am selling ration also besides vegetables,” says Gondaliya. His son Ajay who has returned home as the canteen in a private university near Rajkot city where he was a cook, closed down due to the lockdown, now sells vegetables in the village in a handcart. “I already had this handcart. I asked my son to go to people’s doorsteps for customers’ convenience in times of lockdown and also to get some business as competition is increasing,” said Gondaliya.
The competition has come from Bharat Sitapara, a farmer who doubles up as a vegetable vendor every summer since there is no work on his farm during the dry season. Another shopkeeper in the village has also started selling vegetables.
But vegetable growers are not all that happy even as agri-input dealers in Sardhar opened their shops for the first time in 10 days on Wednesday. “Prices of brinjal have come down to Rs 8 per kg from Rs 10 per kg a week ago in Rajkot APMC where I sell my vegetables. Traders say they are unable to transport vegetables to other parts of the state hence can’t offer higher prices,” says Vinu Kamboya, a farmer who got Rs 250 by selling 20 kg brinjal and Rs 400 by selling 20 kg of field beans in the past week.
However, his biggest worry, a motor-pump which had developed fault 10 days ago is over for now. “A neighbour helped us with his motor-pump since he has not sown any summer crop. Thanks to his help, I could irrigate fenugreek crop and save it from wilting,” says Kamboya.
The Central government has declared agriculture an essential service and has thus exempted it from the lockdown. Following this, Sardhar village panchayat announced on Wednesday that agri-input dealers can remain open, says Lalit Ruparelya of Shubham Fertilisers in Sardhar.
Village sarpanch Ravji Makwana has issued letters-of-identity to provision store owners and grocers so that police may not stop them when they go out of village to purchase ration and vegetables.
But around 100 daily wagers in the village are worried as they are running out of their meagre savings fast. Prakash Tanecha (32), a centring worker who is the main bread-winner of a nine-member family which includes his two brothers, parents says he has already spent Rs 3,500 out of his savings of Rs 5,000.
“My sheth (employer) pays me Rs 500 per day. But work has stopped since March 22. When I called my sheth for help, he told me he is unable to come out of Rajkot due to lockdown and therefore won’t be able to help,” says Tanecha, adding his family spends average Rs 150 on purchasing daily essentials every day.
However, he too thanks government for giving him free ration this month. Meanwhile, a home guard has been posted in the village for the last three days to ensure smooth distribution of ration in the village.
The sarpanch however, has other concerns. “Not every family in my village has been given PDS ration. Only those whose ration cards have been stamped have been given ration. I will have to speak with government officers and enquire what do they propose to do about the rest,” says Makwana.
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