Madhya Pradesh bypolls: 'Timely' introduction of BJP govt's populist agrarian policy suggests farmers mere pawns in electoral game
Ahead of Madhya Pradesh bypolls, Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal on procurement price of wheat & paddy by farmers for 2016-17.
"Too often, poverty and deprivation get covered as events. That is when some disaster strikes... when people die. Yet, poverty is about much more than starvation deaths or near famine conditions. A person lacking minimal access to health at critical moments can face destruction almost as surely as one in hunger."– P Sainath; Everybody Loves a Good Drought (2000).
Suffering cannot be quantified in the manifestations it prods against it, neither can it be fully contained in the solutions designed to repair it. Farmer suffering in India is nuanced and agrarian policies must mirror the contours of that nuance. Case in point: Madhya Pradesh. Here, neither can farmer distress be reduced to the incident that took place in Mandsaur in June 2017 – where five farmers agitating for a better price for their produce were shot at by security personnel following violent clashes in places like Sehore, Indore and Bhopal. Nor can the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana announced in October 2017, safeguarding the farmers against price crash by offering them the ‘bhav-antar’ or the difference in price between the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the market price, be considered the one and only resolve.
Electorally, 2018 is a crucial year for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's government, which is serving its third term. The assembly elections, where its 230 constituencies will go to polls, will be held towards the end of the year but on 24 February, bypolls will be held in Kolaras and Mungaoli districts. Since the seats had been held by the Scindias and their close associates since 1957, the bypolls are being viewed as a litmus test for Jyotiraditya Scindia’s preparedness ahead of the state elections.
Ahead of the bypolls in a state, where three-fourths of the population is dependent on agriculture and peripheral agro-activities, the chief minister announced a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal on procurement price of wheat and paddy for 2016-17 under the Chief Minister's Agriculture Productivity Scheme. He also declared that the government will procure wheat and paddy at an MSP of Rs 2,000 per quintal. Among the 23 promises made was an alteration in the populist Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana to offer free warehousing to farmers.
"What we need to understand is how the policy performs in the long run. The government has set a two-month timeframe for selling black gram and soyabean and since the stock comes into the mandis at the same time, there’s a decline in prices.
"Recently, we have noticed traders buying up the stock for Rs 2,200 and Rs 2,500 and selling it for Rs 4,000 after the designated period of 60 days, when the price rises," explained Abhishek Raghuvanshi, a farmer from Ganj Basoda, District Vidisha. He shared that his earnings from the Bhavantar Yojana were Rs 220 per quintal and came into his account after a wait of two months.
"My earnings didn’t reach Rs 3,000 and the MSP is Rs 3,050 per quintal for soyabean and Rs 5,400 for black gram, then where is the bhav-antar I am being promised?” he asked. Another one of his grievances is the lack of government procurement centres for commodities aside from wheat. "There’s one such centre for every 50-100 villages and the one closest to me (in Gurod) doesn't procure lentils and the infrastructure for wheat there is makeshift too, with barbed-wire fencing," he told Firstpost.
As mentioned in a 2013 Madhya Pradesh press statement: "The government is providing a Rs 100 per quintal bonus to farmers on wheat and paddy in addition to the support price declared by the Union Government so that they get a fair price for their produce. The state government is making direct transfers of funds to farmers' bank accounts against subsidy and bonus provided to them under various schemes. This has ensured total transparency in transfer of subsidy amounts to farmers."
The BJP-ruled state government used to offer a bonus over the MSP until the central government issued an order in 2014 to stop surplus procurement from decentralised states. In the wake of the current electoral season, the chief minister has announced that farmers will be paid Rs 200 bonus over the MSP per quintal of wheat they sell to the state government.
The same 2013 government press release proudly declared that the total agriculture production in Madhya Pradesh, that was 142.45 lakh metric tonnes for the year 2002-03, has increased to 254.86 lakh metric tonnes in the year 2012-13. Thus, about 80 percent increase in crop production has been achieved. But an increase in production is not synonymous with an increase in farmers' income.
As agrarian policy expert Devender Sharma sees it, the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana, a policy which states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have shown an interest in, is on the face of it a good scheme. The problem lies in implementation, in what happens to the policy when it falls from paper to the mud. He gives the instance of the price of black gram fixed at Rs 3,000 per quintal in Madhya Pradesh against the procurement price of Rs 5,400 per quintal.
"Traders form a cartel and pick up the black gram for prices as low as Rs 500 per quintal from farmers," he said, explaining that the scheme is providing farmers with a distress price and merely helping them survive.
A peasants' agitation titled 'Krishi Vishal Mahapadav', staged just prior to the reintroduction of the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana last year, went beyond demanding the right price for the crops and asked for compensation for drought-hit areas in the Harda district. This is a fertile district in southwestern Madhya Pradesh and home to the rivers Narmada, Ganjal and the Machak.
The protesters also asked the government to suspend the recovery of loans and offered farmers access to seeds and fertilisers via cooperatives, and that the state must evaluate and educate farmers on how many days exactly the water flowing in the canals from the Tawa Dam in Hoshangabad can sustain them. Here's a copy of the flyer regarding the said event:
Kedar Sirohi is the founder-member of the farmers' organisation Aam Kisaan Union in Harda district. He told Firstpost that after the Mandsaur outrage, the chief minister had ensured that all commodities will be bought at MSP. Had the government done that, there wouldn't have been a need for relaunching the Bhavantar Bhugtan scheme at all.
"The truth is that a strong union of traders doesn't want the MSP and they are able to influence the government," alleged Sirohi, who holds a Masters' degree in agriculture economics and farm management. Another factor that needs attention is that of improving the government extension services that include awareness about pesticides to use and diseases to be wary of.
"The field brigades are non-existent and one never hears of state-funded farmer seminars. Farmer resources have been drained due to ignorance," he said. Sirohi called the Madhya Pradesh agriculture model a ‘power point presentation model’ that failed to thwart agitations in Malwa, Narmada, Mahakoshal, Niwar and Rewanchal.
For gaining more insight into the matter, Firstpost reached out to the faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru Agricultural University, Jabalpur. Here, Dr Sanjay Vaishampayan, senior scientist, Directorate of Extension, told us that the institute has developed three new Jawahar Gram varieties (JG 12, JG 24 and JG 38) and 90 percent of the indigenous heat-resistant seeds used in South India have been developed here.
"Our institute has worked hard to earn Madhya Pradesh the Krishi Karman Award (for raising country's food grain production) for the fifth year in a row. The problem lies in spreading the reach of our technology to the farmers. For instance, the light traps pest management can reduce use of pesticides in the soil but the mode to transfer knowledge of technology is weak," he explained that the lack of touch with the farmer leads to one more problem, that the trader can show a production rate of 10 quintals where only five have been produced and this is a disservice to those farmers who soil in the sun and rain to feed the country.
There's a country-wide network of Indian Council of Agricultural Research-funded Krishi Vigyan Kendras that has its own team of scientists and a wider interface with farming belts. We reached out to senior scientist Dr Harish Dixit, a scientist at the KVK centre in Dindori in central Madhya Pradesh.
"The KVKs are a strong agency but there is immense pressure on the scientists working in the field with peasant communities, especially in terms of having their papers published. A more synchronised cycle of allowing them to go through teaching, research and extension should be developed. It is also necessary for others to have some degree of field exposure,” he explained that the staff (not more than 10) in these decentralised centres of research is overburdened.
Shivkant Dixit, Madhya Pradesh president of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an Indian farmers' representative organisation affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, told Firstpost that the reintroduction of Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana had been done in consultation with 70,000 to 80,000 farmers and is expected to perform even better this time.
This, they said, is because the time limit to be able to sell their produce has been extended, thereby easing the pressure on the farmers. In fact, he feels the angst about the scheme is more among the small farmers who deal in two to five quintals of produce and had sold their stock before the scheme was announced.
Discontentment is splattered across the spectrum and one broad swathe of a scheme won't camouflage it. Umesh Tiwari runs a movement called the Toko-Roko-Thoko Krantikari Morcha in the Sidhi district and feels that after Mandsaur, different movements across the state have found a new kind of strength. Earlier this year, he wrote to the district collector complaining that during the increase in the height of the Gulab Sagar Dam across the river Mahan (a tributary of river Banas), the water level rose over people's lands.
Those whose lands were irrigated, which they had proof for, were compensated for non-irrigated land instead. Even the people who were displaced are yet to receive compensation. He stressed on the need to increase the responsiveness of local administration and make them more empathic towards addressing issues before they escalate, because, as he puts it, the farmer is first a human being and then a voter.
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