Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik should listen to farmers or BJD's poll calculations could go awry

Farmers' protest never gained as much steam. Recently in Odisha, more than 4,000 farmers under the banner of NavaNirman Krushak Sangathan, tried to congregate in Bhubaneshwar on 14 December to press for their three-point charter of demands – price, prestige and pension. However, even before they arrived in the city, many of them were driven back and the rest were apprehended by the police. NKS is a farmers' body that has no political affiliation.

Fifty platoons were on their toes not to allow the farmers enter the city precincts, leave alone reach the venue or agitate in front of the assembly that was in session. The DCP was so threatened to maintain discipline that he shot off a letter to the government that farmers’ behaviour during the protests could be embarrassing and lawlessness might rule the roost. His advisory worked and the farmers were hoarded into police vans as soon as they stepped into the city.

Through the year, these crop producers have been organising rallies in various district headquarters alleging raw deal from the government in assuring them proper pricing for their produce, security in the form of pension and recognition for their contribution to the state’s economy. Their demands included proper fixing of minimum support price, subsidy and sufficient mandis to keep their produce safe.

Stray incidents of farmers' suicides have trickled in from some parts of the state over the years but because the situation has not been as bad as in other parts of the country, no heed was paid. The agriculture minister feigns ignorance about anything affecting the farmers and easily passes the buck saying these issues don’t come under his ministry’s purview answering a question in the recently concluded assembly session. The minister and the ministry are not even aware about the number of farmers in the state.

 Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik should listen to farmers or BJDs poll calculations could go awry

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. PTI

While some surveys put the figure at more than 45 lakh, the agriculture census shows 32.79 in 2010-11. Add to it the Odisha Economic survey that puts the figure at 41 lakh. Going by the survey, the total number of cultivators is 67.4 lakh who make for 23.4 percent of the total workers.

At a time when Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, too good at citing figures in interviews about his government’s "achievements", leaves no opportunity to boast that the state that was recording -7.02 percent annual growth rate in the field of agriculture in 2000-2001 when he took over, has reached 13.24 percent by 2014-15. The state government, with pride, projects an average growth rate of agriculture and allied sectors in the state at 4.12 percent as against Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal which are at 4.11, 3.05 and 2.38 percent, respectively. Even the comparative productivity of foodgrains is shown to have grown 18.9 percent from 1950 till 2014, according to the Directorate of Agriculture and Food Production, Odisha.

Isn't it imperative then for the government to look into the demands of the people who have made this "achievement" possible? Instead, it decided to throttle the same farmers who had come to the city to talk about their rights. The issue rocked the Assembly with the Opposition members staging walkout the same day. The House was adjourned and members protesting the decision of arresting scores of farmers including the advisor NKS, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, went to the governor to seek his intervention to release the farmers. Barring two leaders of the Sangathan, others were released the same evening.

It is shameful since the state that has been bagging the Krishi Karman award for productivity for consecutive years, does not allow the people behind the effort, into the capital city.

However, the members of the NKS have continued their agitation by wearing black badges and decided to be on a hunger strike on 3 January and intensify the stir it if the government still does not give them their due.

With the rural poll bugle sounded for February 2017, these incidents do not augur well for the Naveen Patnaik government. Calculated leniently, the 40-odd lakh farmers have the capacity to make the BJD’s poll calculations go awry.

Updated Date: Dec 23, 2016 11:20:59 IST