In the first significant announcement from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in election-bound Telangana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the formation of the National Turmeric Board (NTB) from Mahabubnagar last week. An official gazette was issued on October 4 by the Union Government. The BJP cadre and leaders are celebrating this as a huge win and a stimulus to their election campaign.
However, it might not play out entirely that way.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s Arvind Dharmapuri signed a bond assuring turmeric farmers that he would quit if the NTB was not announced immediately after his election. It led to Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s daughter Kavitha Kalvakuntla of the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) losing to Arvind Dharmapuri in the Nizamabad constituency. Kavitha lost by over 70,000 votes, and the defeat was widely attributed to the dissenting turmeric farmers. Nearly 180 turmeric (and jowar) farmers had contested as independent candidates in the elections.
However, after he won, Dharmapuri shied away from bringing up the turmeric board issue. An attempt was made to appease farmers with a Spices Board regional office in Nizamabad. The Spices Board, under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, oversees the development, research, and promotion of nearly 52 spices, including turmeric. The minimum support price (MSP) issue for turmeric remained unaddressed.
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Farmers groups called this a betrayal and continued demanding an exclusive turmeric board to address pricing, marketing, value-addition, and export support. Over the past four years, the BJP refused to act on the demand. As recently as March 2023, Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Anupriya Patel (while answering a question in Lok Sabha) stated there was no proposal to establish a turmeric board.
Therefore, the announcement by the BJP now of an NTB being set up is being viewed with scepticism. Speaking to Frontline, Telangana Turmeric Farmers Association president and BRS leader Kotapati Narasimham Naidu said that an NTB could guarantee a remunerative crop to the growers. Naidu, however, said that he doubted the BJP’s sincerity and called it an election gimmick. He demanded that the BJP announce that the turmeric board’s headquarters will be in Nizamabad. He said the Union Government must also notify the budget allocation and other support systems for turmeric farmers.
Naidu has been a prominent leader in the turmeric movement since 2007. Having a turmeric board headquartered in Nizamabad, one of the largest turmeric-producing regions of India, is a longstanding demand of Telangana’s turmeric farmers. The gazette notification provides no clarity over the location of the turmeric board head office.
Farmers’ rights leaders and activists believe that BJP’s announcement now, just ahead of the Telangana Assembly elections, is too little too late. There was ample chance for the BJP to set up a turmeric board and address the issues, said Kiran Vissa of farmers’ rights organisation Rythu Swarajya Vedika. He said that farmers have faced the brunt of the lack of redress for their long-standing concerns, primarily on MSP for turmeric.
Over the past few years, the acreage under turmeric has fallen significantly in Telangana. According to Spices Board India data, the area under turmeric cultivation fell from 53,104 ha in 2018-19 to 40,000 ha in 2022-23 (estimated). Meanwhile, turmeric cultivation in Maharashtra has grown sharply from 17,224 ha in 2018-19 to 83,000 ha in 2022-23 (estimated). The Hingoli MP, Hemant Patil, recently expressed hope that the board would be set up in Hingoli, according to a recent media report.
The Telangana Kisan Congress president, Anvesh Reddy, who is a leader of turmeric farmers, said that Nizamabad has experienced a significant hit in terms of the falling acreage. According to Reddy, the increasing cost of cultivation and the lack of a remunerative price for turmeric had made farmers shift to other crops in recent years. The cost of cultivation of turmeric per acre is estimated to be about Rs.1.5 lakh in Telangana. For the crop to be profitable, farmers need an MSP of at least Rs.15,000 per quintal, according to experts.
MSP remains central to the demands of turmeric farmers from Telangana and elsewhere. However, there has been no announcement yet concerning MSP nor a timeline for setting up the turmeric board. Turmeric will begin to arrive in the markets in a few weeks, but arrivals will increase significantly starting January.
Subsequent announcements will test the BJP’s sincerity and decide how much the party can cash in on its announcement in the upcoming Assembly elections. The delay of four years and the continuing lack of clarity could mar its chances of using the issue to gain an edge in Telangana’s turmeric belt.