What people say

Voices from the villages

Print edition : December 23, 2016

Om Prakash, Bhiwani district, Haryana. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Amin Ibrahimullah, Moula Ali and Saheb Ali, Sangli district, Maharashtra. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Gyani Ram (left), Haryana. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Harpur Singh, Sikar district, Rajasthan. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

A view of the AIKS rally in New Delhi on November 24. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

What some farmers and agricultural workers at the All India Kisan Sabha rally in New Delhi on November 24 had to say.

Amin Ibrahimullah, Moula Ali and Saheb Ali of Sangli district, Maharashtra, all agricultural workers, are part of a contingent of cultivators and workers who came all the way to New Delhi for the All India Kisan Sabha rally on November 24. For them it had been a bad drought year for the fourth consecutive time. Amin said: “Demonetisation made matters worse. Banks were giving only Rs.2,000 notes, which were useless as shopkeepers could not give back change. Our payments were also held back as our employers said they did not have small denomination notes to pay us. The daily wage rate is between Rs.150 and Rs.200. We came to Delhi with much difficulty. It’s our first visit to the capital. We travelled more than 2,000 kilometres. The organisers paid up to a point and organised our stay, but we have to pay the rest, for food and part of the travel. They have taken pains to organise the rally for us, so we have to make this sacrifice.”

‘We don’t understand black money’

Laxman Ghode and Hari Bharwal, Scheduled Tribe agricultural workers, are from Akola in Ahmednagar district. They are paid Rs.300 for 12 hours of hard work. A drought-prone area, Akola has seen many tribal people migrate briefly to Pune for work. “We don’t understand this black money. The poor don’t have accumulated wealth. Whatever we save is from our work. People have kept some money aside for weddings. And now, that cannot be exchanged easily,” Ghode said.

The local shopkeepers, they said, compelled them to make purchases in round sums of up to Rs.500. “Even if we need to make small quantity, we cannot do so as the shopkeepers say they do not have change to give us the balance. We end up not buying at all,” he said.

‘The crops are ruined’

Bagchand Lamiya belongs to Khatu Shyamji village in Sikar district of Rajasthan. “The government is encouraging online business. But small traders and shopkeepers who are not into online trade are suffering. There is no work for the labourer. Neither is there any ration in the shops. The farmer does not have seeds or fertilizer. Fasal ho gayi chaupat [the crops are ruined],” he said. Sowing had taken place to the extent of 30 per cent only. Lamiya said the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) had reduced the quantum of farming loans as well.

In Rajasthan, farmers had been up in arms over the increased electricity tariffs when demonetisation happened.

The wholesale grain markets were refusing to buy bajra and groundnut from farmers as they did not have the new currency to pay them in. Distress selling was at its peak. Farmers sold the harvested groundnut at Rs.15 a kilogram while in the cities it was priced at Rs.70 a kg. Moong dal was sold at Rs.35 a kg (It is Rs.200 or more in urban areas); gram dal was also sold at a lower rate.

In the vegetable wholesale market at Jaipur, farmers distributed vegetables for free. “I heard workers of a political party tell the farmers to give vegetables away for free as the act would earn a lot of goodwill,” he said. Farmers like Lamiya are not optimistic about the harvest in March.

Om Prakash is from Mithi village of Bhiwani district in Haryana. The semi-literate agricultural worker is in his seventies. He has three sons, one of whom is mentally challenged. The other two do odd jobs. The nearest Grameen bank for him is in Jhuppa village, 9 km from his home. In the fortnight following the demonetisation announcement, Om Prakash made two trips to exchange a single 500-rupee note, which was all that he had. His bank passbook reveals a balance of less than Rs.100.

“Do I look as if I have black money? I have proof to show that I stood in the line for hours and to date have not been able to exchange the Rs.500. If I don’t work, I cannot eat,” he said. Despite their age, he and his wife are prepared to work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), but he says he has not been getting any work.

Harpur Singh is a farmer from Danta Ramgarh in Sikar district. “There is no money in the banks. There is too much pressure on us. For every eight cooperative societies, there is one bank. You can say that for every 40 villages, there is one bank. Farmers have been unable to make deposits. Entire families are standing in lines. It is the wedding season. No marriages are taking place because there is no cash. As it is we are not getting the price for our produce and have been forced to undersell. The fall in moong [pulse] prices is especially sharp. It sold at Rs.6,000 and even Rs.9,000 a quintal in one season; now it is down to Rs.3,000. The government is not buying from us. The wholesalers reject the produce citing ‘moisture’. The farmers are keeping the produce at home, what else can they do? The BJP promised to implement the Swaminathan Committee recommendations on Minimum Support Price if elected to power. But now it says it cannot do it. Where is the black money lying with the farmer? The money that our womenfolk saved for emergency purposes—is that black money?”

Ramchandra, Raj Kumar and Dalbir are farmers from Siwani tehsil, Bhiwani district, Haryana. “I went to the Jhuppa cooperative society to buy seeds and fertilizer. They wouldn’t sell against old notes. I was told that I could buy if I gave Rs.50 extra. The water in our area has fluoride. We have sown mustard, and urea should have accompanied the first phase of ‘crop watering’. But we didn’t get the urea,” said Ramchandra.

‘The whole day is spent in front of the banks’

Said Gyani Ram from Ucchana, Jind district, Haryana“ Jab se note band hua hai, buraa haal hai [Ever since the notes were recalled, we have had a horrible time]. The government is not procuring the coarse variety of paddy [moti jeeri] that is consumed by the poor. I had to sell it at a much lower price. The lack of proper currency has had an effect on sowing. We are not getting the certified seeds and fertilizer from the government outlets. The whole day is spent standing in front of the banks. I arrived at the cooperative bank at 5 a.m. to find hundreds standing in line. The shops in our area are empty. The Ucchana wholesale grain market is a big one. All harvested crops are sold here, the year round. The government declared a rate of Rs.1,510 for a quintal, but we are selling it between Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,300 a quintal. Last year, we sold the same paddy at Rs.1,470 a quintal. What will Rs.2,000 get us? We buy either seeds or fertilizer. We cannot buy both.”

The nearest bank for Hansraj, a small farmer from Naangal Danta Ramgarh, Sikar, is 10 km away. “There is no money there as well. It gets over before my turn comes. I watched news on television. The government should get the black money from outside. What black money would the farmer have? We have not been able to sell produce or purchase or sell livestock. What has been harvested has to be sold.”

‘Sowing has come down from 90 per cent to 10 per cent’

Pinku Paswan is a Dalit who owns some land in Kadumbar village, Saharsa district, Bihar.“ Kisan ka nuksaan ho raha hai [The farmer is incurring losses],” he said.

“Who says the farmer has not been affected by demonetisation? The nearest bank branch is eight kilometres from my village. There is no money in the branch. I have some land but have not been able to sow it fully in the absence of seeds and fertilizer. Sowing has come down from 90 per cent to 10 per cent.”

‘For three days the bazaar was shut down’

Ashish Baruah from Sonitpur district, Assam, is a small shopkeeper cum cultivator. “ Karobaar bilkul band hai [Business is at a complete standstill],” he said. “The nearest bank branch is two kilometres away. For three days I have been standing in the queue from 4 a.m. onwards. The bank people are giving us money in coins. For three days the bazaar was shut down. I have a small textile shop. But there are no customers.”

Dashrath, Laxman and Madhu Bhendu, agricultural workers, Palghar district, Maharashtra, said they had not been paid their wages after the harvest of the paddy crop. “The employer says he doesn’t have small denominations. It is also the sowing season. But there is not much work as the farmer has not been able to buy seeds. What shall we do if there is no work and if we are not paid? We have no other source of income or savings,” Dashrath said.

Palgarh, incidentally, is the district where several child malnutrition deaths occurred this year.

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