The farmers in Gujarat are not happy and this is bad news for the Vijay Rupani-led BJP government in the state as it enters poll year.
Hit by demonetisation and subsequent crop loss, these farmers are now planning to launch an agitation across the rural landscape of the state to urge people to not vote for the BJP as it has been ignoring the plight of the farmers.
The discontent culminated earlier this week in the form of the 'Vedna Yatra' which highlighted the anguish of the farmers. The yatra was carried out by Khedut Samaj Gujarat (KSG) a non-political farmers' organisation.
It saw the KSG secretary Sagar Rabari marching from Veraval in Gir Somnath district in Saurashtra to the state capital of Gandhinagar covering 450 km over 20 days. He was joined by scores of villagers who marched with him from their village to the next one where the residents of the next village were waiting to march with him to the next village.
There were two farmer meetings held daily at the places where Rabari halted for lunch and dinner. Farmers turned up in hundreds at these meetings to vent to their anguish and discuss matters with Rabari and other leaders of KSG.
The yatra culminated with a delegation of KSG handing over a memorandum to the Mamlatdar representing the administration at Gandhinagar on Monday.
"We were not allowed to go to the Sachivalaya since the government had imposed Section 144 of the CrPC. We have been assured that the chief minister would be giving us time to air our issues. If this does not happen we will be taking the matter to the villages. We will be launching bike yatras in every district with our activists moving from one village to another asking farmers and their families not to vote for the party that has scant regards for the farming community," Rabari told Catch News.
Anger & anguish
Although the focus of the Vedna Yatra was to highlight the overall plight of the farmers, the fall out of demonetisation on the farming community dominated the issues discussed during the Yatra.
The prime demand made by the farmers to the government was that it should make a thorough assessment of the crop loss, particularly in the horticulture sector, vegetables and also in cash crops.
"The worst hit have been those who grew vegetables, sugarcane, cotton, groundnut and chiku (naseberry). What demonetisation resulted in was a glut. For example in South Gujarat, chiku was selling at Rs 900/20 kg. The prices crashed down to Rs 200/20 kg. Now this is a highly perishable product. It has to be harvested at the right moment. The farmers were left high and dry. The same has been the case with brinjal, cauliflower, cotton and groundnut," says Jayesh Patel, the farmer leader from South Gujarat who is also the president of KSG.
Sources said that several farmers in the state, particularly those who had grown vegetables, simply used mechanised cultivators to get rid of the standing crop.
Demonetisation has also had a major impact on the sugar economy in South Gujarat. Since the farmers were unable to pay the labour in cash, around 15% of the workforce went back to their villages.
Sugarcane is grown in the southern districts of Narmada, Surat, Navsari, Tapi and Valsad. The workforce that comes here for cultivation is mainly from the tribal areas of adjoining Maharashtra and Dedia Pada, Nijer, Songadh, Ucchal and Dangs. The farmers were left with no other option but to go in for mechanised cultivation. While the crop has been cultivated, the labourers have lost their job.
Sources point out that this year the sugarcane yield has been less to the extent of five tonnes per acre and this has led to less capacity utilisation.
"Things are expected to improve before the next harvest. There was a slow down because of demonetisation and the fact that the labour left. But cash has been arranged somehow," points out NI Patel, an agriculture expert from Navsari Agricultural University.
A few weeks ago South Gujarat had witnessed a major protest by the farmers of the region. They had turned out in thousands over the Income Tax Department serving a recovery notice to the tune of hundreds of crores to the co-operative sugar mills for the last four years.
"The government should understand that those running the mills in the co-operative sector are farmers. The recovery amount of Rs 3,200 crore from 12 mills for four years is anyhow outlandish. The matter remains unresolved but we have managed to take a stay from the court," disclosed Patel.
Coming back to the Vedna Yatra, the farmers want the government to compensate them through a special package for losses suffered because of demonetisation.
The yatra that started from the Somnath temple saw participation of farmers from the Saurashtra region, mainly the districts of Junagadh, Rajkot, Gir Somnath, Bhavnagar and Surendranagar.
These are the districts where cotton and groundnut is grown on a large scale. This has also been a BJP stronghold for the last two decades with Keshubhai Patel emerging as a tall leader with immense support from the farming community. Farmers from Ahmedabad and North Gujarat had also joined in the yatra towards its fag end.
Farmers normally do face some problem or the other, but last year, things went sharply downhill because demonetisation was announced at the height of the sowing season.
The memorandum submitted by KSG is based on the consultations held with thousands of farmers. Through it the farmers have demanded that their land rights be protected at all costs.
The memorandum seeks abolition of the Special Investment Region (SIR), Act, 2009 which is allegedly being used by the state government to set aside 50% of the farmers' land in the name of urban infrastructure.
The farmers also want the government to do away with the Drainage and Irrigation Act which seeks to divert water, meant for farmers to the industry.
The farmers also want the government to stop land acquisition for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and also want that the de-commanding of areas under Narmada irrigation area be stopped and be brought under the command of the Narmada scheme again.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen