Sikar Zila Vyapar Sangh, Sikar Zila Petrol Pump Union, LIC agent union, R.O. Filter Plant Union, Mini City Bus Union, Sikar Zila DJ Union, Dugdh Dairy Union, Bakra Mandi Union may have eclectic agendas, but when farmers in Sikar took to the streets earlier this month for a 13-day agitation, each of these organisations, and dozens more, joined in — either financially, physically, or in both ways.
Explaining the mass support for the stir, which brought Sikar to a complete halt, CPM district secretary Kishan Parikh says, “For the past couple of years, agriculture in Shekhawati region has been deteriorating. Government apathy and increased restrictions around cattle have hurt the farmers further. This has affected their purchasing power and hence, other businesses in the region, all of which came out in support.”
The farmers sought a debt waiver, fair price for their produce, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, withdrawal of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2017, a solution to the menace of stray cattle, free electricity, and Rs 5,000 monthly pension to those of them over 60. The agitation, led by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) national president and four- term MLA Amra Ram as well as former MLA Pema Ram, ended only after the Rajasthan government agreed to a debt waiver up to Rs 50,000 each, though farmers had sought a sweeping Rs 39,500 crore.
Udaram Thore, 60, of Sangliya village says their loans have been mounting. The region last saw good rainfall three years ago. While compensation is announced by the government if there is poor rainfall at the tehsil level, farmers point out that there are vast differences in rainfall within a tehsil.
“The cost of pesticides, manure, diesel etc. has been rising, but the prices for our crops haven’t increased proportionally,” says Thore. “I have 3 hectares where I grow peanuts, bajra, guar, moong. There is not one crop on which I don’t make losses.”
Mahaveer Singh, 55, took to politics to advocate farmer causes after seeing his six brothers “toil hard for meagre returns”. He terms it a “deadly” cycle. “First, the interest on your loan is 7%, then 14% the following year, and then they send you a notice.”
Indra Singh, 51, says the moong dal he once sold at Rs 9,000 per quintal now goes for Rs 4,000, peanut prices have fallen from Rs 5,000 per quintal in 2015 to about Rs 3,800, while onion has remained at Rs 3 per kg. Even milk prices have fallen, he adds — from Rs 28 a year ago to only Rs 19 a litre.
Mohan Lal, 45, who grew onions on 3 bighas, says he was so frustrated that he crushed his crop with a tractor. “It was selling at Rs 1 per kg,” he says.
Evolving labour patterns have also affected farmers, says Pannalal, 45. “Earlier we would give our land to another farmer, who would work on the fields for, say, four months, keep half the crop and give us the other half. Around a decade ago, this practice declined. People chose to work on farms on a daily basis as the pay was immediate. This increased our input costs,” he says.
The farmers are also seeking implementation of the M S Swaminathan Committee’s 2006 report, which recommends minimum support price (MSP) for crops at “at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production”. Farmer after farmer points out that any waiver would be “useless” in the long run if there isn’t a reasonable MSP for their produce.
Without directly addressing the MSP formula of the Swaminathan panel, the government claims to have implemented “80 per cent” of its recommendations. Water Resources Minister Dr Rampratap, who was in the meeting with farmers, reiterates this. “We won’t call it [the agitation] farmer ‘anger’, because we sat down and discussed every issue with them. And of course there is politics involved,” he says.
Among the protesters, incidentally, were local BJP leaders, who shared the stage with the Congress and Left. All of them argued that the issues farmers faced were greater than their political affiliations.
The third demand was security for cattle traders and withdrawal of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Rules, which proposed that animal markets no longer be used to sell or buy cattle for slaughter.
“Whenever a farmer was in distress earlier, or when there was a drought, a farmer would sell his livestock for cash. But since Yogi Adityanath took over as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, there are no takers for our old buffaloes even at Rs 5,000, which earlier sold for Rs 20,000,” Amra Ram says.
“Cow vigilantes” have made matters worse, farmers say. “Earlier, businessmen would come and buy cattle by the dozens. Now cattle traders are afraid,” says Pannalal.
In June, cattle trader Mohd Majid was killed and his father assaulted by robbers, who took away Rs 2 lakh, in adjoining Nagaur district. Though a section of the locals said the attackers included gau rakshaks, police deny this.
In its meeting with farmers to end the Sikar crisis, the government assured safety of cattle traders while pointing out that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Rules had already been put on hold by the apex court.
On the complaint regarding stray cattle, the government said it had started a grant to build fences along fields and that a cabinet panel would submit a report on decreasing the age of calves for export, from three years to two.
Pointing out that old cows are being set out in the open as there are no takers for them, Indra Singh says, “The number of stray cattle has risen sharply in the last two years. I took a loan to reinforce the fence of my farmland of about 30 bighas, but even that was not enough. So we now keep a man at the farm throughout the night to protect the crop.”
Last month, Rajasthan Minister for Food and Civil Supply and Consumer Affairs Baboo Lal Verma had been injured and his personal assistant Rajendra Prasad killed when their vehicle had hit a road divider while trying to avoid bovines on the highway near Kota.
Verma says the government “is sensitive towards the issue of stray cattle”. “I think it’s a collective responsibility of the people and government. The stray cattle did originally belong to someone, so there is a need to make people realise their responsibility.”
Amra Ram counts demonetisation followed by GST as the law straw. “Manure, seeds and agri-instruments have not been spared by the GST. Motors, pump-sets, spray machines, electric cables, tractors, all of which didn’t have a tax earlier, now have 14% to 28% GST,” he says.
Another demand by the farmers, of a monthly pension of Rs 5,000 to those over 60, was met halfway by the government. It said it will “consider” a Rs 2,000 pension. However, on free electricity, it said power was already supplied at 90 paisa per unit to farmers.
The Left, which doesn’t have a single MLA in the state, is taking heart from the support the agitation drew, in a region that was earlier known as the lal taapu (Red island) of Rajasthan. Throughout the agitation, farmers danced and sang paeans to Amra, Pema and other AIKS leaders.