As their despair turned into anger, apple growers in Himachal Pradesh staged a state-wide demonstrations on Monday to protest against the plummeting price of the fruit in the wholesale markets.
The protest was held under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Manch (SKM), a joint forum of 25 farmers unions under the leadership of Himachal Kisan Sabha. The demonstrations were staged on Monday at block and sub-divisional levels, including in state capital Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur, Mandi, Solan, and Sirmaur, among others. Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) MLA Rakesh Singha was among the participants.
The protesting farmers flayed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–led state government for failing to protect their interest. Pressing for their 13-point charter of demands, the SKM further threatened to launch a mega protest across the state on September 27 in case the state government refused to budge.
Their demands include introducing the market intervention scheme for apples on the lines of Kashmir, minimum support price (MSP) for all fruits and crops produced in the state, and strict implementation of the mandi law across the APMCs in Himachal Pradesh, among others.
Apple is one of the most important crops in the state of Himachal Pradesh. According to an estimate, about 1.7 lakh families in the state are involved in cultivating apple orchards. The orchards cover about 49% of the state’s total area, which is about 85% of the entire horticulture production in the state.
Even then, as the apple growers rue, the Jai Ram Thakur-led government ran away from its responsibilities and kept silent on the arbitrariness in deciding upon the prices of the fruit in the state mandis. According to the farmers, the provisions laid down under the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural and Horticultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act of 2005, which provides farmers with certain rights, are yet to be implemented.
Under the Act, apple traders are required to pay the price of the crop to the apple farmers on the same day. However, as protesting farmers on Monday alleged, it is common across the state for the cultivators to receive their payments after waiting for 15 or more days. Many also lamented that they had not received their payment even after more than a year.
Kuldeep Singh, president of the Himachal Pradesh Kisan Sabha and member of the SKM, told Newsclick that the apple farmers in the state were extremely upset about the failing prices of their produce. “In such a situation, what we are demanding is that a market intervention scheme must be introduced on the lines of Kashmir, under which apples of different grades will be bought at their respective prices,” Singh said. He added that the state government must also ensure MSP on fruits and other crops, similar to what is being done in Kerala.
With these demands, Singh said that the members of the SKM had earlier demanded the state government to convene a meeting with the horticulturists. “However, the government did not call us for a talk to reach a solution. That is why the demonstrations have been organised against the BJP government in the sub-divisions of various districts,” he said.
The issue of apple prices in Himachal Pradesh gained the limelight earlier last month when a corporate firm released its rates for the first round of purchases, revealing a massive fall in the prices and triggering discontent from the cultivators. According to media reports, the premium apples saw a reduction of Rs 16 in their per kilogram rates compared to last year.
On Monday, the farmers also protested against the commission agents in the state mandis. They demanded that the state government ensures that the agents do not levy exorbitant charges for the loading-unloading purposes.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of farmers’ unions spearheading the farmers’ agitation at Delhi borders, also noted the protest staged by the Himachal Pradesh apple growers. “Today, apple farmers in Himachal Pradesh protested against the government’s apathy towards their demands to ensure remunerative prices for apples, and the open loot by corporates… The apple farmers are joined by the farmers growing tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, cauliflower and other crops, who are demanding the legal guarantee of MSP for all crops,” the Samyukt Kisan Morcha said in a press statement on Monday.