Afternoon Voice

How long farmers will be fooled?

Our demand and government’s promise to waive farm loan are yet to be a reality. It would be a great mistake if the state government thinks that their recent announcements will make us forget about those thousands of farmers who committed suicide and their families who’re left with nothing now!” asserted a distressed farmer from Ambode village. The government must stop fooling us with their agendas, said another.

This upset farmer’s unhappiness with the Maharashtra government’s attitude towards the helpless farmers sparked off after the government recently made purchase of any farm commodity below the official minimum support price (MSP) by even a private trader an offence attracting a one-year jail term and a fine of Rs 50,000 after the central government announced MSP hike in July.

He is one of the 1.36 crore farmers in the state who is spending his days broken-hearted after being failed to attract the attention of the government that promised to write off their entire loan burden but miserably failed to implement the same. Although the administration called these decisions “historic” and in favour of farmer welfare, farmers themselves feel that all these recent announcements by both the BJP-led central and state governments are nothing but their effort to divert farmers’ attention before the 2019 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections.

CPI (M) leader and All India Kisan Sabha President Dr. Ashok Dhawale blamed the government for its failure in implementing Rs 34,000 crore loan waiver scheme as promised. He expressed, “Government started considering farmers’ interest after they marched 180 km on foot over five days. We want loan waiver for 2016-2017 which is still pending. The proper implementation of the scheme is tangled between its multiple terms and conditions and more than 50 per cent of the farmers are yet to be benefitted. PM Modi-led central government is taking zero interest for the farmers’ issues and favouring only the rich businessmen.”

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records, 8,007 farmers ended their lives across India in 2015 and of these, 3,030 were in Maharashtra, the highest number for any State. Besides that, the official data shows that farmer suicides have risen in the regions of Marathwada, North Maharashtra, and Western Maharashtra making the count of lost lives to 1,092 in the first five months of 2018. After giving relief to the farmers by announcing the farm loan waiver in June 2017, the slow-paced and lackadaisical loan disbursements proceedings have managed to pay off only around Rs 15 crore to 37 lakh farmers while the final beneficiary list is meant to assist 69 lakh farmers.

Hemalata Patil, Secretary of Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee asserted, “With too many loopholes in the loan waiver scheme, farmers are still the deprived class. Recently, pulses were black-marketed by the traders and Minister Girish Bapat promised to take required action but nothing happened so far. Now, the state government doesn’t have money to help the farmers and hence, to woo the farmers before the 2019 elections, the government is taking such decisions. However, practically, they won’t take action any against the traders for their misdeed as the traders are BJP supporters.”

Farmers’ distress has really managed to give the incumbent central and state governments a bad time before the crucial 2019 polls as many political surveys indicated a mandate against BJP as an aftermath following other ill-managed decisions like note-ban and Goods and Services Tax. Even, it’s been quite a lot of times when the Bombay High Court has expressed serious concern over the same. With a recent instance on August 8 this year, Justice Zaka Haq from the Nagpur Bench of HC noted that ‘government’s scheme to minimise farmers’ woes is not being implemented properly’. He further stressed that the farmers are far from being benefitted by the fund pumped in by the government.

Following a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the Devendra Fadnavis government approved amendments to the Maharashtra Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development & Regulation) Act, 1963, to make it conform to the Centre’s Model Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion & Facilitation) Act, 2017. According to that, ‘there will no longer be fragmentation of markets within the state through notification of “market areas” where sale/purchase of farm commodities can take place. The government has now decided to declare the entire state as a single market and traders will not require separate licenses for operating in each “notified” APMC market. They can purchase produce from any mandi within Maharashtra, which will also help farmers realise better prices from more buyers.’

CPI (M) leader Ajit Abhyankar stated, “Till the government won’t purchase a certain amount of commodities from the farmers, proper implementation of its decisions is impossible. The government is trying to avoid their responsibilities while all our import and export policies are favourable to the countries like the USA and it’s affecting India’s agrarian economy.”

A large part of the farmers in Maharashtra is annoyed with the lawmakers’ attempt to woo the farmers with MSP hike for the 2018-19 Kharif marketing season or even the recent regulation on buying commodities below the fixed MSP and bring the situation in favour of them before the polls next year. They too expressed doubts over the implications of the rule in every corner of the state. On the other hand, private traders opposed the decision stating that it will compel them to purchase at MSPs even if the market supply-and-demand ratio doesn’t make it a profitable proposition. Moreover, as per sources, while the traders in Jalna, Solapur, and Khamgaon markets have already gone on strike against it, traders in other parts of the state are soon to follow the same.

Latur BJP leader and Chairman of Maharashtra Agriculture Prices Commission Pasha Patel stated, “Farmers want right price for their produce more than farm loan waiver and government’s decisions are in favour of the farmers’ welfare. However, traders need not worry as the government will make sure the market rates won’t decrease than the MSP. I and CM Fadnavis will soon meet PM Modi and Jaitley to discuss further on the plan.”