The Telegraph
Monday , April 21 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

Hope sends farmers to booths

Four of them had laid down their lives in police firing during an agitation here seeking a hike in price of jute fibre.

Two years after the incident, the jute farmers of Besimari are still hoping for an improvement of their condition.

And it is this hope that will motivate them to cast their votes on April 24.

“Soon after elections candidates forget their promises. Still I’ll vote. Who kno-ws, there might be better days ahead?” said Iaqut Ali, 62, a jute farmer, as he stepped out of Besimari market.

On October 10, 2011, when dozens of jute cultivators, unhappy over the low price they received for jute fibre, blocked National Highway 15 (earlier NH-52), police opened fire on them, killing four near the market.

The day has since been observed as Krishok Swohid Diwos by jute farmers of the area.

This is not the harvest season. Jute plants are now hardly one-foot tall.

After a few months, the farmers will be busy harvesting the plant from dawn to dusk and engaging themselves in cumbersome processes like retting of stalks (submerging the bundles in water) and extracting the fibres from them before taking these to Besimari market.

“Now we get Rs 2,500 per quintal as against Rs 1,350 in 2011. Considering the expenditure involved during cultivation, the return is too small. Yet, jute cultivation is something that we cannot do away with. We need dry stalks to build houses and structures to support vegetables, the sale of which supplements our income,” Ali said.

Farmers are victims of middlemen who allegedly hold the state’s jute industry hostage.

A proper marketing arrangement for jute cultivators in Assam is absent despite the state ranking second in raw jute output after West Bengal.

The average productivity of raw jute in Assam is 2,166 quintals per hectare.

“Farmers are now shifting to vegetable cultivation from jute cultivation as the latter does not yield good returns,” said Saha Alam, a jute farmer.

People here said the party candidates have failed to look into the lives of the farmers and so have not addressed their problems. “They are unable to address the genuine grievances of cultivators. Each party is busy pointing at other’s faults. The problems of the farmers have been overlooked,” said a resident of the area.

Alam said scarcity of wetlands and ponds in the area has made the retting process even more difficult. “Ponds cannot hold water here because of its geological condition. Worse still, Gumeru Beel has been encroached. We have been asking the district administration to free it from the clutches of encroachers but in vain. Cultivators, as such, have to carry the jute stalks in trucks or tractors for retting in other places. Even if a pond manages to hold water, farmers cannot use it without shelling out a good amount to its owner,” said Alam.

The fibre from Besimari is transported to West Bengal to cater to the needs of the jute industry at large.

But will the condition of the jute cultivators improve?

“Way back in 1974, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed had laid the foundation of Dalgaon Jute Mill bringing cheer to the cultivators here. But it was never built,” rued Mubarak Hussain, a resident of Besimari.

l Besimari, under Mangaldoi constituency, votes on April 24