Agriculture: Uttar Pradesh

Falling incomes

Print edition : April 12, 2019

Tomatoes left to rot in Badayun district of western Uttar Pradesh in January 2017, when farmers were reeling under the impact of demonetisation. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

An agricultural crisis in Uttar Pradesh has farmers who voted for the BJP in 2014 frustrated and angry.

THE north-western plains of Uttar Pradesh, covering Meerut, Baghpat, Bulandshahr, Muzaffarnagar, Rampur and Saharanpur, boast the highest land productivity in the State. With assured irrigation, sugar cane is the main cash crop. Rice, wheat and maize grow in abundance. But the past five years of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre have reduced the farmers to a worried lot.

The Modi-Yogi Adityanath combine has spelt disaster for the farmers of Uttar Pradesh, according to the farmer Rambeer Singh of Mawana tehsil in Meerut district. “While our area is known for farming, and especially for sugar cane, we do not have any other means of livelihood. I own 1.25 acres [1 acre = 0.4 hectare] of land and have three sons, all of whom are married. They work in private jobs in Delhi and support me and my wife. They have three children between them. If all of them were to live with us in Mawana and subsist on farm income, we would not be able to survive,” he told Frontline.

He gave the Modi government zero to negative points for its performance in the farm sector. “No matter which government rules, they increase the minimum price paid by sugar mills to cane growers by at least Rs.5 or Rs.10. Akhilesh Yadav’s government kept it unchanged for three years. In the previous general election, all the farmers voted for change in governance and hence the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] got an overwhelming majority of our votes. But they short-changed us. The Central government increased the fair and remunerative price [FRP] by Rs.20 to Rs.275 per quintal for the year starting October 2018. The FRP was linked to a recovery rate of 9.5 per cent. This time, they increased the FRP but also hiked the recovery rate to 10 per cent. Then what did they give the farmers? Rs.4? The announcement was a sham. In the meantime, the State government did not increase the State-advised price [SAP] by even 1 per cent. They said, ‘We will make payments within 14 days for sugar cane.’ But the mills here have not yet cleared our payment arrears from last year, which are piling up. How will a farmer survive?” Farmers across Uttar Pradesh have been protesting outside sugar mills for their payments to come through. According to some estimates, the arrears would have crossed Rs.12,000 crore by March end for Uttar Pradesh alone. Echoing the sentiments of farmers from his village, Rambeer Singh said that this time, he and his fellow farmers had all decided to vote NOTA (none of the above) in protest.

For the first two years of Modi’s governance, there was a severe drought and it was followed by three years of good monsoons and record production. But the prices of cereals and grains dropped. Without any government assistance in sight, the farmers took their grievance to Delhi. Sensing a free fall in his party’s popularity across the rural belt, the Modi government announced a PM-Kisan Samman Yojana in the last Budget of its term. A dole of Rs.2,000 was promised to small and marginal farmers with landholdings of less than two hectares, thrice a year. According to the government, it had a total outlay of Rs.20,000 crore in 2018-19 and Rs.75,000 crore in 2019-20 and would cover 86 per cent of all farm households.

According to Rambeer Singh, this was only an election gimmick. “During elections, candidates circulate alcohol and sweets. To avoid hefty fines to the Election Commission, Modi announced this scheme.” He added that the scheme had not, however, taken off. “I know more than 50 people who own less than one acre but have not got any money in their account. At the same time, I know some people who own more than 10 acres of land, and they have got Rs.2,000 in their accounts. Ab aap hi sochiye kya ho raha hai [now you can imagine what is happening].”

Public sentiment in Uttar Pradesh had moved in favour of the BJP after the Pulwama terror attack and the air strikes undertaken by India in Pakistan. While these issues were relevant, the farmer would vote only with a focus on his produce and nothing else, said Rambeer Singh. He added that if the government seriously implemented the recommendations of the M.S. Swaminathan Commission report, a farmer would never have to take a loan. He believed that the delayed payments from sugar mills were an indication that the government did not intend to allay the troubles of farmers at all.

A farmer from Bulandshahr told Frontline that Rs.6,000 a year was insufficient to rescue farmers from the trouble they were in. Input costs had gone up exponentially, while milk prices had crashed to less than half of previous levels. The cost of electricity and urea had gone up, and farmers’ produce was not fetching sufficient returns. “We are being squeezed from all sides,” he said. Their problems were compounded by the menace of stray cows that ate up their crops but could not be dealt with or sold off for fear of vigilantes.

Last year, vegetables and potatoes had to be sold at throwaway prices. Belated government programmes and schemes had no impact on the ground so far, according to Prof. Sudhir Panwar, former Uttar Pradesh Planning Commission member and Samajwadi Party leader. He added that the crop insurance scheme was also a failure. S. Kannaiyan Subramaniam, general secretary of the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements, who was in the New Delhi to address a press conference on farmers’ woes, concurred with Panwar. He said that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana was a total failure. The participation of private parties resulted in windfall gains of more than Rs.11,000 crore for them, while farmers got less than Rs.5.

Under Modi’s watch, foreign direct investment in agriculture increased exponentially. This resulted in small and marginal dairies being exposed to competition from corporate giants of developed countries such as Danone and Fonterra. “The 150 million small and marginal dairy sector farm families, 95 per cent of them headed by women, would either be finished or would have to sell to the big companies which were engaging in price wars with the cooperatives,” he said. Over 40 farmer unions unanimously rejected the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement that India was negotiating with 16 countries. The RCEP would remove tariffs on 92 per cent of traded commodities and open the floodgates for cheap imports, destroying India’s already stressed farm sector, they said.

Subramaniam told Frontline that farmers who suffered under the United Progressive Alliance government had high expectations of Modi and voted en masse to bring him to power. But his failure to meet with a single farmer’s representative in the past five years had disappointed them. “An election promise was made just a few days before the previous election to bring in scientific pricing for farm produce. But it was not fulfilled by the Modi regime,” he said. The doubling of farm incomes by 2022, as promised by Modi, remains a distant dream. Farmers were fooled once before to vote for the BJP. It remains to be seen whether they will be taken in again or take their votes elsewhere.

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