What incited the farmers' unrest in Madhya Pradesh: Explained in 10 points

The article has been co-authored by Hemender Sharma and Seema Gupta.

 |  5-minute read |   07-06-2017
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1) Nine districts in Madhya Pradesh's Malwa region are on the boil after police firing killed five farmers during protests in Mandsaur. The farmers are more united in this belt since Indore (sabzi mandi) happens to be the commercial capital of the state. The nine districts are Mandsaur, Neemach, Dhar, Khargaoun, Dewas, Indore, Ratlam, Ujjain and Badwani.

2) The unrest had been simmering for over a year now. Since Madhya Pradesh was doing seemingly well in wheat production, the state government encouraged farmers to adopt crop diversification. As a result, many farmers opted for onion production. However, due to bumper production last year, the farmers didn't get the right price for their produce - cost didn't match the input (contrary to PM Narendra Modi's poll promise of higher prices for farmers).

After much pressure, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in the state last year (for the first time in his tenure) announced Rs 6 per kg as one-time minimum support price (MSP). This has been increased to Rs 8 this year after the protests.

3) After demonetisation, the agricultural sector saw digitisation in a massive way. As a result, farmers got a serious jolt since cash is the primary mode of transaction in the sector.

farmers-body_060717082929.jpgThe state government encouraged farmers to adopt crop diversification. As a result, many farmers opted for onion production. (Credit: Reuters photo)

When they demanded cash payment, the government agreed to pay half their dues at mandis in cash and the remaining via electronic transfer to their bank accounts.

4) While Chouhan was busy with the Narmada Seva Yatra (that ran into almost four months), various groups, including the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (affiliated to the RSS), started mobilising the farmers. Moreover, the Yogi Adityanath government's decision to waive off farm loans (keeping PM Modi's poll promise) in Uttar Pradesh strengthened calls for a loan waiver in the agrarian states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. (The protests in Maharashtra are on despite the Devendra Fadnavis government announcing a Rs 30,000 crore loan-waiver.)

The BJP government has blamed the opposition parties for "instigating" the farmers, who announced an agitation from June 1 in Madhya Pradesh with the following demands:

i) Complete loan waiver.

ii) Cash payment.

The over-production of onion crop just coincided with the agitation. Their procurement remained a big issue as farmers were forced to sell onions at the rate of Rs 1.5/kg while the input cost was Rs 4 to Rs 5.

5) Although the Chouhan government announced short-term measure - MSP for onion and tuar daal - it seemed too little, too late. State intelligence failed to anticipate the unrest and farmers' mobilisation even as the police department remained busy making arrangements for Chouhan's out-of-state visits.

6) Meanwhile, the increasing spate of farmer suicides, especially marginal farmers, added to their angst. Even the chief minister's statements on many occasions didn't go down well with the farmers.

He once categorically said that not all suicides were because of debts. His home minister, Bupendra Singh, in a written reply to a question by a Congress MLA in the Assembly in 2016, said some of the 418 farmers who committed suicide in Chouhan’s home district Sehore in the last three years took the extreme step because they were “possessed by ghosts”.

7) Interestingly, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh last year admitted that the government couldn't ensure 50 per cent profit over the input cost to the farmers (as promised by Modi). He said the government was trying to reduce the input cost, but it's not feasible. 

Before coming to power, the BJP had promised to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission report, but nothing has been done. The MP agriculture minister claimed that of the 200 recommendations in the Swaminathan report, most were accepted, except ensuring 50 per cent profit over the input cost.

Recently, when PM Modi promised to make the income of farmers double by 2022, Chouhan was made the head of the committee that would formulate the guidelines. Farmers in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are demanding implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report (recommendations) to ensure they get "profitable" prices.

8) Minimum support price, or MSP, is a form of market intervention by the government of India to insure agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices. MSPs are announced at the beginning of the sowing season for certain crops on recommendation by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) and announced by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) chaired by the prime minister.

Currently, it covers 26 commodities, which include paddy (rice), wheat, pulses, etc. A counterpart of MSP is the market intervention scheme (MIS), under which state governments procure perishable commodities like vegetable items.

9) Demands to increase MSP have remained a big issue for long. Food policy expert Devender Sharma, in a column in DNA, writes that the procurement price of wheat in 1970 was Rs 76 per quintal. In 2015, the MSP for wheat was fixed at Rs 1,450 per quintal - an increase by 19 times in 45 years. Now, compare this with the hike in incomes of various other sections in the same period.

The jump in salaries of government employees (just the basic salary plus DA) in the same period has been 120 to 150 times; the increase in salaries of college/university teachers is 150 to 170 times; of school teachers in the range of 280 to 320 times. What's more, in the 7th Pay Commission, the salary of a chaprasi (peon) has been fixed at Rs 18,000 per month.

10) For the record, a total of 3,18,528 farmers have committed suicide in the past 21 years across India - which means 1 life in every 41 minutes.

Also read: Politics of farm loan waivers and how it's increasing agricultural distress 

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