Patna: Thousands of farmers and opposition parties leaders and workers took to the streets across Bihar on Friday in protest against the Farm Bills, three hours ahead of the Election Commission announcing the poll schedule for the 243-member Bihar assembly.
Shouting slogans, farmers joined the dharna and chakka jaam call given by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Communist Party of India (Marxist). It was supported by Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) chief Pappu Yadav.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav attacked the BJP-JD(U) government, calling the “anti-farmer”. “The government has turned the 'anndaata' (farmers) into puppets by assuming the role of 'fund daata'.The Farm Bills are anti-farmer and have left them dejected,” he said.
Tejashwi, also the opposition leader in Bihar, drove a tractor from his residence to the party office in Patna to lead the protest march. He said the Centre had claimed that it would double farmers' income by 2022, but the Bills will make them poorer. He added that the agriculture sector has been corporatised. In different districts in Bihar, RJD leaders were seen on tractors and bullock carts as part of protest rallies.
Tejashwi, the younger son of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, was at the steering wheel while his elder brother and party MLA, Tej Pratap Yadav, sat alongside him.
Farmers took to the streets in Gaya, Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Sitamarhi, Banka, Jamui, Muzaffarpur, Madhubani, Arwal, Aurangabad, Jehanabad and Patna.
Left party leaders spoke of how the NDA government led by Nitish Kumar repealed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act (APMCA) in Bihar, in a move that badly hit farmers. The move was intended to enable private companies to buy produce directly from farmers, but according to the government’s own data, it failed to benefit them.
The left leaders said that after the APMCA was done away with, private companies failed to purchase even one percent of the procurement target fixed by the state government.
Bihar was the first state in the country which repealed the APMCA.
CPI (ML) leader Dhirendra Jha said farmers in Bihar had been struggling to get a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy, wheat and maize. “Even though the Centre has fixed an MSP of Rs 1,769 per quintal for maize, thousands of farmers in the Koshi and Seemanchal region – the hub of maize cultivation in Bihar – were forced to undertake distress sales this summer during the lockdown. It happened because the state government refused to procure maize and traders and agents of private companies offered them low prices,” Jha said.
Bihar has recorded a low volume of wheat procurement by the government agency at MSP this year. As per official figures, only 0.05 lakh tonnes (LT) of wheat was procured in Bihar in 2020-21, against a revised target of 7 LT. In 2019-20, state agencies procured 0.03 LT of wheat.
According to government data, nearly two-thirds of Bihar’s total population of about 11 crore is dependent on agriculture for livelihood. Most of them are small and marginal farmers. Moreover, nearly two-third of all agricultural activity in the state is dependent on rains.
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81% of its workforce and generating nearly 42% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to state government figures. The protests against the Farm Bills is a signal that the opposition will make it an issue to target both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for their ‘anti-farmer’ policies in the state as well at the Centre.
The Bihar Assembly Elections will be held in three phases, with polling taking place on October 28, November 3 and November 7. The counting of votes will take place on November 10, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced at a press conference in New Delhi on Friday.