A DAY after five farmers were killed in police firing, tension prevailed in Mandsaur and the adjoining district of Neemuch as protesters defied curfew and indulged in arson and violence on Wednesday. The violence also spread to other districts of the state, with protesters torching vehicles and blocking road and rail traffic in Dewas, Ujjain, Sehore and Barwani. Seeking to cool tempers, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who held a meeting of his Krishi Cabinet on Wednesday, announced more sops for farmers, including a loan settlement scheme for defaulters. The government also announced that a commission would be set up to fix a formula to ensure a fair price for crops by deducting agricultural costs.
Chouhan gave orders to immediately constitute a Rs 1000-crore price stabilisation fund. He also announced that tur, urad and moong would be purchased from farmers from June 10 to June 30. Meanwhile, nearly two dozen vehicles were set on fire over the last 24 hours on the stretch between Mandsaur and Pipalia Mandi. All the five farmers who were killed in two separate incidents of firing near the Pipalia Mandi police station on Tuesday were from this area, which has become the epicentre of the protests.
While six deaths were reported earlier, district officials said on Wednesday that one death was not related to the protests. The farmers are demanding better prices for their produce and waiver of loans. The road connecting Mandsaur and Neemuch remained out of bounds for most part of the day with protesters torching more vehicles and a warehouse. At Barkhenda Pant village, Mandsaur Collector Swatantra Kumar Singh was heckled by relatives of one of the farmers who died and other villagers.
Singh had gone to the spot to ask the protesters to clear the road and take the farmer’s body for cremation. The protesters demanded immediate action against police officials involved in the firing. Singh and Superintendent of Police O P Tripathi had to beat a hasty retreat after they were heckled. While video footage showed that Singh was hit on the head, he played down the incident and said he was not manhandled. He claimed that anti-social elements had taken over the protests.
While the district administration claimed that enough security personnel had been deployed in the area, bike-borne protesters roamed freely on the streets, warning government officials and policemen not to venture beyond a toll booth located between Mandsaur and Pipalia Mandi. While those on motorcycles relayed information about the movement of security personnel, others on foot pelted stones at CRPF, RPF and police personnel, who fired teargas shells to disperse the crowd.
“We decided to abandon the toll booth after protesters damaged it and looked set to burn the ambulance parked next to it,’’ said a paramedical staff. “Why would we not be angry? While the prices of produce continue to crash, the wages of labourers have not reduced. We end up incurring losses. All protesters are genuine farmers… their anger has reached a boiling point,’’ said two masked protesters, who refused to identify themselves or their village.
Meanwhile, the families of the other four farmers who were killed agreed to carry out their last rites on Wednesday. The Madhya Pradesh Patidar Samaj had claimed on Tuesday that the cremations would not take place until Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made an appearance. Late on Tuesday, Chouhan increased the compensation from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore and a job to the next of kin of each dead.
The bandh called by the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (RKMS), a group formed by a former RSS worker, and Congress received mixed response on Wednesday.
A senior officer in the Chief Minister’s Office said the police and district administration were asked to be patient and lenient towards protesters earlier on Wednesday as the bodies of those killed had to be cremated. “That was done for strategic reasons, but the administration has now been told to deal with the situation strictly,’’ he said, adding that the people who torched buses near Sonkutch had been identified.
While Chouhan is unlikely to travel to Mandsaur till the situation improves, the district administration is reported to have said that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is planning a visit on Thursday, would not be allowed to enter the area. DGP Rishikant Shukla said additional security forces have been rushed to Mandsaur and the situation would be brought under control soon. He said the arson was confined to Mandsaur and Dewas.
In Delhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it had sent 1,100 anti-riots police personnel to Mandsaur. The Centre has also sought a detailed report on the violence on Tuesday. About 600 personnel of the Rapid Action Force have already reached Mandsaur, said a Home Ministry official, adding that another 500 RAF personnel are being sent.
The state human rights commission has also sought a report on the firing. A two-judge bench of the commission will hear the matter on June 23.