Uttar Pradesh farmers worried over farm loan waiver conditions
Mathura: Farmers in Uttar Pradesh are desperate, and restless.
Kharag Singh, a potato farmer in Bhurjtula village, adjacent to the holy city of Mathura, is one example. The 54-year-old, who took a loan of Rs1.5 lakh in 2007 and has been unable to repay it, says he has just one request to make to the government— “please take my land and give me a regular job.”
Singh isn’t the only farmer in Bhurjtula who is worried about his future. Hit by crashing potato prices in the country, farmers in Uttar Pradesh are now waiting for implementation of the farm loan waiver announced by the newly formed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government under chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Farmers like Kharag Singh are worried they will be excluded from the farm loan waiver plan because the state government has announced it will be restricted to small and marginal farmers with outstanding loans of up to Rs1 lakh. To be sure, Uttar Pradesh was the among the first to write off farm loans, amounting to as much Rs36,359 crore—the largest by any state government.
Anger among farmers reeling under rural distress is palpable, especially since a loan waiver was one of the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the state February-March polls.
“We have to spend Rs500-600 for every 50 kg of potato and we are being offered only Rs200-250 in the market. The cost of labour, cold storage and transportation is additional. The government is talking about doubling the income of farmers by 2022, but how do we survive for the next 4-6 months like this? Is it wrong to ask for money to recover cost of production?” said Shyam Vir Singh, of Munnera village.
The villages near Mathura in western Uttar Pradesh are known for potato and wheat farming.
A record harvest of foodgrain and perishable horticulture produce dampened prices for farmers. While production of potatoes grew 7% year on year in 2016-17, growth in foodgrain production was a robust 8.7%.
While farmers were hoping to recuperate their losses this year following consecutive years of drought in 2014 and 2015, the demonetisation of high value currency notes in November last year led to a crash in the prices of perishable crops like onions, tomatoes and potatoes.
Farmers also want the BJP government to deliver on its promise, made three years ago in the run-up to the 16th general election to peg the support prices for crops, at 50% above the cost of production. Farmers are particularly agitated that despite the announcement of the farm loan waiver, they continue to receive messages from banks on repayment.
“We are not thieves, we are farmers. People are not returning money to banks because they don’t have any money. It is not that we have taken money from banks and don’t want to return the loan now,” said Om Prakash, a marginal farmer in Nangla Grakholi village.
Farmers are now readying to launch a state-wide protest under the banner of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).
“The problems being faced by the farmers are not new. The government was aware of the bumper crop of potato and the fact that farmers were unable to get a decent price for their produce. It is because of this reason that Prime Minister Modi had promised farm loan waiver as he knows the cure of this problem. The big question for the BJP is how it will raise the money for loan waiver,” said Sudhir Panwar, a professor at Lucknow University and president of Kisan Jagriti Manch, a non-government organization.
With Mathura and adjoining areas being in the dark zone, or areas with little ground water, farmers in the region are able to cultivate only one crop—leaving them even more vulnerable to price fluctuations.
“Farmers have become gamblers, farming is like gambling. It doesn’t matter whether the land holding of a farmer is small or big, both are suffering,” said Lala Ram, who had taken a loan of Rs1.5 lakh five year ago.
The recent decision of the Union government to restrict the sale of cattle too has irked farmers who are finding it difficult to fend for their livestock.
“If the government doesn’t want us to sell our cattle then they should set up shelters for the animals. If the animal is not giving milk or has no monetary value, what will farmers do with such animals? People are abandoning their cattle in rural areas and these animals start grazing in the fields, which destroys the crop. We can’t hurt them because of religious sensitivities and now we can’t sell them also,” says Buddha Singh of Hathora village.
This is the tenth part of Mint’s Fractured Farms - II series that will capture the ongoing agrarian crisis in India through a mix of on-ground reports, opinion pieces, and data analyses. It follows Fractured Farms, a similar series Mint ran in 2015.