Farmers dump vegetables on roads but strike mostly peaceful; prices of produce up by 10%

Mumbai: Vegetable prices jumped as much as 10 percent in major Indian cities, including Mumbai and Delhi, as a four-day old strike by millions of farmers curtailed supplies.

Farmers began their 10-day protest on Friday to press demands such as farm loan waivers and higher prices for produce such as cereals, oilseeds and milk.

“Wholesale prices of some vegetables like tomatoes and french beans have risen due to lower supplies,” said a Mumbai-based vegetable vendor Mahesh Gupta.

Outbreaks of rural discontent poses a challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised when he came to power in 2014 to double farm incomes in five years.

Farmers in eight states, mostly ruled by Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party, have restricted supplies of vegetable and milk to the cities’ markets.

“We are distributing milk and vegetables to the poor and needy, but we’ve decided not sell. The basic idea is to highlight the plight of farmers who have been overlooked by the government,” said Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer based in Punjab.

Prices for many crops have fallen sharply, while the price of diesel has gone up, squeezing millions of India’s mostly small-scale farmers.

Last year six farmers were killed in similar protests that became violent in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

In recent days, farmers blocked highways in some places and poured milk onto roads. The protests have been peaceful so far, although organisers are planning to increase the intensity in coming days.

“The government hasn’t fulfilled promises it had given last year. We have no option but to intensify our protests,” said Ajit Nawale, state general secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, one of the farmers’ union participating in the strike.

A vendor speaks on his mobile phone as he maintains his ledger book at a stall selling vegetables in Mumbai. Reuters

A vendor speaks on his mobile phone as he maintains his ledger book at a stall selling vegetables in Mumbai. Reuters

Two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people depend directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihood, but farm incomes only account for 14 percent of gross domestic product, reflecting a growing divide between the countryside and wealthier cities.

“I am stocking up vegetables for the entire week,” said Anjali Salunkhe, a housewife in Mumbai, fearing prices could double as they did during protests last year.

'Gaon bandh' agitation in MP

Madhya Pradesh remained largely calm on the third day of the 10-day agitation by farmers demanding remunerative prices for their produce and waiver of farm loans.

BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha, former union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, and ex-VHP leader Praveen Togadia are likely to join the stir in Mandsaur, the epicentre of last year's agitation in which six people were killed in police firing, on 8 June.

"Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Praveen Togadia would attend our Dhikkar Diwas (condemnation day) programme and condolence meeting which we have rescheduled to 8 June  instead of 6 June," said Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh president Shivkumar Sharma Kakkaji.

The Mahasangh, a federation of 130 farmers' bodies from across the country, is spearheading the nationwide protest.

Sharma alleged the police have been trying to break the ongoing Gaon bandh agitation by forcing farmers to come out of villages with agricultural produce.

"This is a village shutdown agitation and farmers are not coming out of their villages. However, police are trying to make farmers leave villages by adopting various means. At places, the administration is sharing fake videos showing that farmers are not participating in the agitation," he alleged.

Meanwhile, the police have beefed up security in Mandsaur ahead of Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's visit on June 6 to mark the first anniversary of killing of six farmers.

Mandsaur SP Manoj Kumar Singh said drones were brought from Bhopal "to keep an eye on traffic movement for security reasons during Gandhi's public meeting".

Mandsaur Mandi (agriculture market) inspector Samir Das said the arrival of vegetables was normal. Bhopal Krishi Upaj Mandi secretary Vinay Prakash Pateria said there was not much impact of the ongoing agitation.

"Today [Monday] was a holiday in mandis. However, about 2,500 quintals of vegetables arrived in (Bhopal) mandi as usual. There is no impact of the ongoing agitation," Pateria said.

Prices go up by nearly 30% in Rajasthan

In neighbouring Rajasthan there were reports of vegetable prices registering a steep rise.

"The prices of vegetables have increased by 25-30 percent in the last two days because the supply has been disrupted due to farmers' agitation," Krishna Kumar, a vegetable vendor in Muhana vegetable market said in Jaipur.

Vegetables are supplied in Muhana mandi, Lal Kothi mandi and to other retail markets in the city from areas like Sanganer and Chomu. At present, farmers are not supplying to the mandis.

The vendor said there was little impact on fruit prices, but vegetable supply was affected.

Vegetable supply to Muhana mandi was today nearly 20 percent less than usual, another vendor Rahul Tanwar informed.

In Chomu mandi, vendors supported farmers, and did not open shops.

Not much impact in UP

However, there was not much visible impact in Uttar Pradesh of the 10-day strike with the supply of fruits and vegetables remaining normal across the state.

The Rashtriya Kisan Manch, an organisation working for the welfare of the farmers in UP, has distanced itself from the protest, its spokesperson said here today.

Meanwhile, farmers in Punjab and Haryana continued to dump their produce on roads as a mark of protest, while vegetable prices soared in several cities of the two states.

At several places in Punjab and Haryana, including Ludhiana, Moga, Muktsar, Kurukshetra, Fatehabad and Sonipat, farmers held protests.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said protesting "will not serve any purpose" and asserted that government was working for farmers.

"Be it schemes related to crop compensation, crop insurance or shielding the farmers from price fluctuations or schemes related to irrigation, we have launched many initiatives for their welfare," Khattar told reporters.

He said farmers would never forgive "those who force them to throw their vegetables and spill the milk on the roads".

Responding to a question, Khattar said "those who are stopping farmers from bringing their produce to markets and forcing them to throw them on roads, would be sternly dealt with".

'Centre being apathetic'

However, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh criticised the Centre for allegedly being apathetic to the distress in the agriculture sector.

"When farmers, who feed the nation, are forced to take to streets to draw attention to their pitiable condition, then it does not augur well for the country," he said in a statement.

The farmers are suffering as a result of the central government's failure to waive their debts, which many state governments, including Punjab, had been repeatedly seeking, and also to give them the due price for their produce, he said, reiterating his demand for implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report.

Former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda claimed that policies of the BJP government at the Centre and in the state had delivered a "death-blow" to the farmers.

Due to the protest, 5,862 litres of milk reached Vita Milk plant in Ambala City yesterday against a daily average of 76,000 litres of milk, officials said.

However, a senior official at the plant said they have sufficient stock of milk and the supply was not affected much.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 18:41:36 IST

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