Chattisgarh govt arrests protesting farmers, but agitation to continue
With an average of over 1,200 farmer suicides annually, BJP-governed Chhattisgarh is facing an acute agrarian crisis as farmers are protesting the state of affairs. Up against a rising farm movement, the Raman Singh government has resorted to an intense crackdown, but that has failed to suppress the movement.
Singh came to power for a third term in the state riding on a pro-poor manifesto. From free power supply and crop insurance guarantee schemes, to providing interest free agricultural loans and Rs 300 per quintal bonus for paddy, the BJP made a slew of promises too woo the farmers.
Four years later, the promises remain unfulfilled. Dealing with severe debts, many have been compelled to end their lives.
To remind the government of the promises it made, a collective of 20 farmers and labourers organisation, led by by the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan and Chhattisgarh Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh, was to begin a three-day Sankalp Yatra on Tuesday.
But the government resorted to a crackdown and imposed prohibitory orders in Rajnandgaon district - the epicentre of the protests - and also in the districts of Balod and Kabirdham, where the farmers have been congregating for the rally.
Many, including a host of leaders spearheading the protests, have either been arrested or put under house arrest.
The administration has also been making public announcements warning people to not violate the prohibitory orders and participate in the protest.
A deadly choice
“The agrarian crisis in Chhattisgarh is getting worse. The state accounts for at least 1,200 to 1,500 farmer suicides annually. Nearly 5,000 farmers have ended their lives in the last four-five years. But the state government continues to look the other way,” said Sanket Thakur, convener of the Mahasangh.
According to the NCRB, Chhattisgarh was among the top five states in terms of suicides in the farming sector in 2015 accounting for 954 such deaths. The Mahasangh insists the figure to be much higher with many of the suicides not being recorded or passed off as suicides for other reasons.
Alok Shukla convener of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan said many of the leaders were arrested without any reason.
“Over 50 of our people entrusted with organising the rally have been arrested with many of them picked from their homes. How can people be arrested for violation of prohibitory orders when they are sitting in their home? Even if it is preventive detention, the police are liable to let them go after sometime. But this has not been the case, rather they have been lodged in jails," he says.
“The government is resorting to all kinds of intimidator tactics to foil this movement,” Shukla adds.
A determined lot
Undeterred by the crackdown, the farmers are determined to take out the rally.
“The crackdown signifies the state government’s insensitivity towards the farmers but it also an admission that it is afraid of the rising movement. It’s the government and not us which is afraid; we will take out the rally on Thursday and march to the CM’s with our demands,” said Thakur.
“The government has to agree to our demands, otherwise entire agriculture sector will collapse. Already debt ridden, farmers are on the verge of complete ruin thanks to policies of the government and now the drought,” he said.
Both Shukla and Thakur said their foremost demand was loan waiver and declaring the state to be drought hit and ensure a rehabilitation package from the Centre.
“At least 96 tehsils in 21 districts are reeling under drought, the situation is grim. Unless farm loans are waived there would many more suicides. The state should be declared drought hit and the government should ensure adequate rehabilitation package,” said Shukla.
“Waiver of agricultural loan is now indispensable and the government has to ensure that it is not a gimmick rather the benefit actually reaches down to the very last farmer.
We don’t want the government taking credit for waiving farm loan but the actual loan waived turns out to be a single paisa,” said Thakur, referring to the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh.
The UP government has been tom-tomming its loan waiver scheme but over 11,000 of farmers have got waiver has inconsequential ranging from Re 1 to Rs 500.
In fact, a farmer got 1 paisa as relief under the scheme for which the Adityanath government has earmarked Rs 36,000 crore in its budget.
The charter of demands includes providing a bonus of Rs 300 per quintal of paddy, increasing the minimum support price for paddy to Rs 2,100. They are also demanding implementing recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission particularly those relating to providing credit and insurance facilities to farmers and reforms to prevent farmer suicides.
The protestors also have plans to seek the intervention of President and the Prime Minister.
“So far the state government has preferred to remain insensitive towards the farmers, but it cannot afford to do so for long. The government knows no matter how much force it uses it cannot suppress our movement. It has to address this crisis and accept the demands of the farmers.
“If it continues to stifle out movement and remains insensitive to the farmers’ cause then we will have to seek the Centre’s intervention,” said Shukla.