Patna: Distressed maize farmers, who have been demanding a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their crop in Bihar, blamed the state government for violating the guidelines of the Central Government by not procuring maize at MSP.
Authorities enforced a lockdown in Madhepura district from Friday to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It forced maize growing farmers to postpone their four-day-old protest (satyagraha) where they had been demanding that the state government procure maize and sets a MSP for the crop. They also accused the government of neglecting and ignoring their demands in violation of the revised guidelines issued in this regard.
Mahendar Yadav, founder convenor of Koshi Nav Nirman Manch(KNNM), who is leading the protesters alongside Sandeep Yadav, have cited an office memorandum dated March 21, 2014, of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Department of Food and Public Distribution, with regard to revised guidelines for the allocation, distribution and disposal of coarse grains procured by the state agencies. The memo categorically authorised the state government to procure maize from farmers at MSP.
The revised guidelines stated: “Before the commencement of each Marketing Season, sufficiently in advance, the state government should make an assessment of production, marketable surplus, price trend of coarse grains covered under MSP and prepare a plan for their procurement towards Central Pool of food grains stock from the farmers at MSP in consultation with FCI (Food Corporation of India), clearly indicating the proposed period of procurement. It shall be ensured that for any commodity the period should not extend beyond three months and it should also not go beyond one month from the end of normal period of harvesting of the concerned crop in the state. State government should obtain prior approval of the department of food & public distribution, Govt. of India on this plan...”
Mahendar said that the state government has set aside the guidelines from the Central Government to procure coarse grains, including maize crop, from the farmers. “It appears that the state government has no concern for maize farmers. It is not implementing the Centre’s guidelines to procure maize at MSP,” he said.
Sandeep said that the satyagraha by maize growing farmers, which began on Monday, was postponed from July 10 after the Madhepura district administration enforced a lockdown. “After the lockdown is over, we will resume our Gandhian protest,” he said, adding that the farmers had staged protests for four days in June with the same demand.
Last week, a bench of the Patna High Court while hearing a PIL through video conference in connection with the procurement of maize at MSP by the government, asked the state government to file a reply. The next hearing in the case will take place on Monday, July 13. It is the first such notice by the court to the state government in connection with procuring maize, said Vikas Kumar Pankaj, the petitioner’s advocate.
The petitioner, Mahendar Yadav, said he filed an online PIL in the court on June 29. “At least the court has sought a reply from the government which has failed to procure maize from the farmers so far,” he said.
In his petition, Yadav said that due to the lockdown maize growing farmers have suffered as they are not getting the right price for their crop. KNNM has been demanding that the government procures maize in the same way that it acquires paddy and wheat.
The lack of government support has forced thousands of farmers from Bihar’s Koshi and Seemanchal regions, known as hubs of maize cultivation, to resort to a distress sale this year. Unhappy and angry over the government’s failure to provide them with an MSP for maize, multiple small groups of farmers have staged sit-in protests and blocked roads over the past month.
Hundreds of maize growing farmers in over a dozen districts have staged protests demanding an MSP and procurement by government agencies. Yadav said farmers are in distress as they have been forced to sell maize at low prices, adding that traders took advantage of the long lockdown period and exploited them.
Yadav said that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, maize growing farmers had been left at the mercy of traders, agents and moneylenders. “The government should have initiated a process to procure maize at MSP from farmers. But nothing has happened so far, despite our demands,” he added.
Unlike paddy and wheat, which the state government procures directly from farmers through Primary Agriculture Credit Societies (PACS) – it does not buy maize. Hence, there is no MSP for maize farmers in Bihar. They are deprived of an MSP and are exploited by traders as a result, he said.
Earlier this week, moved by the distress of thousands of maize growing farmers in Bihar, well-known activists from 20 states, under the banner of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) urged Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to immediately order the government to purchase maize crop as per MSP.
The activists wrote a letter to the CM in solidarity with the demands of thousands of maize growing farmers. “It is our earnest request that the purchase of maize at MSP be initiated at the earliest and that the proceeds from the sale reach the producer immediately. We also urge your government to immediately pay farmers the difference in amount between the MSP and the very low market rates at which they sold their maize crop in the last season, as per PM-AASA,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by hundereds of activists, including Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and others.
“We would like to submit that maize farming has become a lifeline for farmers in many districts of north-Bihar including Koshi and Seemanchal. But sadly, the government is not purchasing maize at the minimum support price (MSP), despite the fact that the Prime Minister's Annadata Aay Suraksha Abhiyan (PM-AASA) promises purchase of all coarse grains including wheat, paddy and cotton. The COVID-19 induced lockdown has resulted in the fall of maize-based industries and additional imports of maize have also led to a low market price for maize,” they said.
According to officials from the agriculture department in the state, nearly 65% of the total maize from Bihar is grown in the Seemanchal and Koshi regions alone. Maize is mainly grown in the four Seemanchal districts of Purnea, Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and in the neighboring districts of Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul and Khagaria, areas that form the Koshi region.
As per government data, maize is grown in about 1,40,000 hectares in the Seemanchal region and over about 90,000 hectares in the Koshi region.
According to agriculture department officials, Bihar has a high maize productivity of 3,904 kg/ha, more than the national average of 2,889kg/ha. The state has witnessed a sizable growth in maize production over the past decade, with the state being the third largest producer of maize.