Cattle and cash curbs stoke farm revolt

Joined by DJs, farmers force Rajasthan to waive loans and commit on minimum support price

By Arnab Ganguly
  • Published 25.09.17
  •  
Cattle graze on a field off the Sikar-Jaipur highway

Sikar, Sept. 24: A 13-day agitation by Rajasthan's farmers, joined by about 100 disc jockeys with sound systems blaring, has forced the Vasundhara Raje government to agree to loan waivers up to Rs 50,000 and payment of the full minimum support price.

Some 15,000 farmers had gathered at a mandi in Sikar town, 115km from Jaipur, on September 1 and by the time the government buckled on September 13 night, their strength had grown to nearly one lakh, according to spearhead All India Kisan Sabha.

On September 9, the Sikar district DJs' association sent a cavalcade of over 100 sound system-fitted cars to join the protests.

"We too come from farming families, which too are burdened with loans," explained Babulal, a DJ who performs at weddings and other celebrations.

While the mainstay of the movement was Sikar, where the Kisan Sabha has a strong base, the organisation with less than 4 lakh members in the state managed to mobilise support in 13 other districts too.

Traders observed a day's strike in Sikar in support of the farmers and provided the agitators with food and water.

Vasundhara Raje

"The trader who sells farm equipment is burdened with the goods and services tax. He knows that if the farmer is unable to sell his crop, he cannot buy the trader's products," said Navrang Lal, a trader from neighbouring Neemrana.

Amra Ram, the All India Kisan Sabha national president and a four-time ex-legislator from the CPM, admits that the farmers have merely won the first round.

"A farmer has to first fight to get his demands accepted, and a second time to have them implemented. We are ready," he said in his chamber at "Comrade Bhavan", the district CPM headquarters in Sikar.

A series of central government decisions over the past one year - from demonetisation to cattle sale curbs and the goods and services tax - had left farmers and allied traders reeling. Several decisions of the state's BJP government compounded the problems.

Rajasthan, the only state with a full-fledged ministry dedicated to cows, imposed a 10 per surcharge on stamp duty on non-judicial instruments this year to raise money to protect cows.

But the farmers say they have had enough of cow protection - it's they themselves who need protection now.

Since the central government banned animal markets from transacting cattle sales for slaughter, farmers have been burdened with unproductive cows they can't sell - or have to sell locally at throwaway prices.

Barbed fences, or makeshift barriers made of branches tied together to stave off old stray cattle, are common sights now across crop fields in Rajasthan.

"This isn't all. The government has laid down that a calf cannot be separated from its mother for the first six months of its life," said Ram Partap Bagariya, resident of Rashidpura near Sikar.

"We need the milk - for our families and to sell to customers. How'd we survive without the milk?"

Another problem, the farmers say, was that the state government did not pay the promised minimum support price for their crops.

"Across the border in Madhya Pradesh, farmers were selling onions at Rs 8 a kg while in Rajasthan they got half the price. Nor did the government procure mustard. We suffered heavy losses," said Dhani Ram of Reengus.

Rajasthan produces 11 per cent of India's pulses, second only to Madhya Pradesh, but this year the growers faced ruin.

While they invested Rs 13,000 per hectare of chickpea, the crop sold at Rs 4,800 a hectare. For green gram, the investment was Rs 9,000 per hectare and sold at Rs 3,000.

"Last year, 15 to 20 trucks carried barley from our mandi every day. This year, we have barely seen 4 to 5 truckloads a day," said Sandeep Agarwal, secretary of the Krishi Upaj Mandi in Sikar where the farmers had assembled for 13 days.

"In the case of mustard, the number of trucks has fallen from 30 to 3."

The state government has agreed to pay the minimum support price from October 1 while a task force will work out the details of the loan waiver after studying similar schemes in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab. The report will be submitted in a month's time.

In June, Punjab had announced loan waivers of up to Rs 4 lakh for marginal farmers and Rs 2 lakh for small farmers, with the package expected to cost the exchequer around Rs 10,000 crore.

Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have announced waivers up to Rs 1 lakh, with the expected bills being Rs 36,359 crore and Rs 30,500 crore, respectively.

Implementation has been riddled with controversy, though. This newspaper reported earlier this month how the Uttar Pradesh government had waived sums as low as Rs 27 and Rs 42 on loans of Rs 18,000 and Rs Rs 1 lakh.

Amra Ram has his fingers crossed. "In Maharashtra, farmers with pucca houses have been left out of the waiver scheme. Let's see what the government here comes up with," he said.

The Kisan Sabha chief has a theory why the Rajasthan agitation succeeded at a time farmers from Tamil Nadu have been intermittently squatting at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar for months, waiting to be heard.

"Delhi is not bothered with what's happening thousands of kilometres away in the southern states. People from these states can't come to Delhi in large numbers," he said.

"But when a mass mobilisation happens anywhere in the Hindi belt, everyone takes notice."