The resentment among Uttar Pradesh farmers, especially sugarcane growers and potato cultivators, may snowball into protests if timely steps are not taken to prevent the simmering agrarian distress from going the Madhya Pradesh way, farmer bodies have warned. A faction of one of the organisations — the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) — has even threatened to cut off supply of milk and vegetables to cities from Sunday if their demand for a CBI probe and an FIR into the police firing in Mandsaur, that claimed five lives, are not met. Taking a cue from their Madhya Pradesh counterparts, farmers in western Uttar Pradesh are gearing up to raise their own issues, ranging from unpaid dues to poor procurement infrastructure, which, they claimed, have not been adequately addressed by the Yogi Adityanath government despite numerous promises and repeated assurances.
The activities of cow protection vigilantes in the recent times have added more trouble to the sector, they said. The farmers in UP have been closely following the agitations of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, considering the stirs as their roadmap for the future. Under the banner of the BKU, a procession was taken out here on Wednesday to express solidarity with the agitating farmers of Madhya Pradesh and condemn the police action on them in Mandsaur. “Now, with these agitations, there is renewed energy among us. There is no end to the problems we face. We will also join the fight,” said Rakesh Tikait, president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union. His views have been echoed by leaders of other farmers’ groups.
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Another faction of the BKU submitted a memorandum addressed to the prime minister to the Lucknow district magistrate on Wednesday, demanding an FIR against officers responsible for the “unfortunate police firing” in Mandasur and a CBI probe. They have threatened to stop supply of milk and vegetables from their villages to cities from Sunday if their demands were not met, BKU spokesman Alok Verma told PTI. The national president of the Rashtriya Kisaan Manch, Shekhar Dixit, said the Yogi Adityanath government must address the basic problems of farmers at the earliest or prepare to face a “Mandsaur-like situation” in the state.
Taking a dig at the crop loan waiver scheme announced by Adityanath at his first cabinet meeting, he said the basic issue is of minimum support price that most farmers are unable to get. “If the Uttar Pradesh government is really serious about addressing the problems and plight of the farmers, then it must start resolving their problems lest a Mandsaur-like situation grips the state and unrest fans out,” he told PTI. During the 2017 election campaign, the BJP had promised that if it came to power in UP, sugarcane dues to farmers owed by mills would be paid quickly. But, farmers say they are yet to get back their dues.
Sugarcane Development Minister Suresh Rana, however, said that till date Rs 22,190 crore payment has been made and Rs 3,196 crore were yet to be cleared. “In future, payment will be made to farmers within 14 days of the commencement of the crushing season,” UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said. Cane farmers have often complained about how mills harass them. “The mills have subsidiary businesses like distilleries. They divert profits from mills to other subsidiaries and claim losses. Sometimes we are paid in sugar, not cash,” said Sheeshpal Rathi, a Muzaffarnagar cane farmer.
Potato farmers have had to dump their produce on the streets because of the losses they faced due to bumper crops and low prices. The UP government announced on April 11 that it would buy one lakh tonnes of potatoes at Rs 487 per 100 kg. “The price did not cover cost of production. Then they bought only 1,000 tonnes. There were not enough procurement centres and too many criteria like size and shape,” said Raj Kumar Sangwan, organising secretary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Low farm income is the common issue troubling farmers across the country. The MSP of wheat in 2014-15 was Rs 1,400 per quintal, and increased to Rs 1,525 for 2016-17. “There has been negligible increase in income of farmers. While all products have a maximum retail price, for farmers the government is always discussing only a minimum price,” said Pushpendra Singh, president of the Kisan Shakti Sangh. The already dismal scenario has been worsened by the impact of cow protection vigilantes. A farmer would use cattle so long as they provided milk, and then sell them at markets to traders who would further give them for slaughter. Now, with cow protection vigilantes, the crackdown on abattoirs and the new law banning sale of cattle for slaughter, farmers are facing a severe crisis.
“Earlier, a buffalo could be sold after its milching life to slaughter houses for anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 45,000, depending on the weight. Now, people are scared and many farmers are not taking the risk. Due to the new law, the price of cattle has fallen, while the cost of feeding them keeps rising,” rued Singh. Farmers in Madhya Pradesh have been protesting since June 1 demanding higher minimum support prices (MSP) for their produce including onions, arhar and moong. Their protest in Mandsaur district of western Madhya Pradesh turned violent, where five farmers were killed in police firing.
The protests which began in Mandsaur spread to adjoining districts in no time and soon the issue acquired a political hue with opposition Congress calling a state-wide bandh in the BJP-ruled state. Samajwadi Party chief and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav announced financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased farmers in Mandsaur incident. Yadav took to Twitter saying, “SP will offer financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh to kin of deceased farmers.”
Expressing grief over the death of “innocent and unarmed” farmers in Mandsaur, BSP chief Mayawati accused governments in various BJP-ruled states of adopting an oppressive attitude against the poor, labourers, farmers and other sections of the society. “The BSP, especially its Madhya Pradesh unit, supports the demands of the farmers. We have full sympathy for them and also want meet the affected families. But we are feeling helpless due to the attitude of the BJP government,” she said.
“Farmers in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have been protesting as they want a fair price. But the administration in these BJP governed states fired bullets and attacked them with sticks,” Mayawati alleged. However, the ruling BJP said the Adityanath government was sensitive to the farmers’ cause and blamed opposition parties for fuelling unrest among the cultivators. “Our government is with the farmers. This government is sensitive and stands with farmers…The first cabinet meeting of our government decided to waive farmers’ loans and many more sops are on the anvil,” BJP spokesperson Shalabh Mani Tripathi said.