Intensifying their protest against the Farm Laws, farmers’ organisations on Monday gheraoed the offices of the Food Corporation of India in a series of protests in the first fortnight of April called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. The protests witnessed a massive participation of women, the elderly and young farmers. Several plays were enacted by local theatre groups, with community bonds strengthened through a shared langar during the day-long protest.
Darshan Pal, who heads the Krantikari Kisan Union, said that the protests were organised across the country with major dharnas taking place In Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. "In AP, there were protests in Vijayawada and Ongole on the occasion. In Haryana, places like Kaithal, Gurgaon, Rohtak, Fatehabad, Sonipat, Ambala, Karnal, Baddowal Chowk saw these protests with thousands of farmers participating in the same. Noida's FCI office was also gheraoed by the farmers today. Uttar Pradesh saw protests in Atrauli, Aligarh, in Ayodhya, Allahabad's Jasra block and in other places. In Bihar's Sitamarhi too farmers joined the protest at the FCI godown there in large numbers,” he said.
"In Rajasthan, protests took place in places like Sriganganagar, Nagaur and Sawai Madhopur. Punjab witnessed many protests too. Bhawanigarh, Sunam, Barnala, Sangrur, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Mansa and Amritsar were some of more than 60 places where the protests were organised. Here, farmers protested against the new guidelines and quality parameters that the Centre is trying to force onto the state, in a direct attack on the farmers of Punjab,” he added.
Marking the day as ‘Save FCI Day’, the farmers’ leaders emphasised that the latest orders by the government with regard to procurement of produce were targeted at "dismantling" FCI. They said it would eventually hit payment systems like the Minimum Support Price and distribution of ration through Public Distribution System to the poorest sections of the society. The farmers have been enraged by the latest order which suggest that the farmers would require to produce land registration documents.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha – the collective of farmers’ unions – has maintained that the order deprives the sharecroppers – they constitute about 40% of the total farmers’ population in Punjab – and will push them to private mandis infamous for fleecing peasants. Secondly, lands have still not been partitioned in the last three generations and lakhs of cases are languishing in courts to determine its ownership due to family feuds.
Harinder Preet Singh, a farmer from Jalalwala who participated in one-such protest, told Newsclick: "What the government is failing to understand is that the farmers have been taking money from commision agents registered with different mandi boards, known as Arhtiyas. If it does not clear the air about the system, the agents will hold on to the money and will not give any loans in the future when it is needed the most.”
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the All India Kisan Sabha accused the Centre of not clearing dues to FCI and reducing its budget each passing year. Hannan Mollah, general secretary, AIKS, said,"The GOI claims that the cost of handling food storage is huge – Rs 37 per kg for rice and Rs 27 per kg for wheat. For the last several years the GOI has not cleared all the dues of this FCI expense, with the result that the total debt on FCI today is Rs 3.81 lakh crores. It pays more than eight per cent interest on this. Also, for the last several years the budget of the FCI has been reduced. Recently the FCI also changed its rules for the procurement of crops which will increase problems before share croppers. FCI’s procurement centres have also been reduced.”
Reminding it of its duty to procure ration to feed the needy under Right to Food Act, Mollah added, "The GOI is responsible for the food security of our country and for this it has to procure food grains, maintain food stocks to tide over scarcities and calamities and distribute and provide food grains to the poor to ensure that people are not forced to go hungry. The budget allocation for food subsidy continues to remain stagnant at around Rs 1,15,000 crore for the last several years and even this amount is not fully spent by the government. Today there are 81.35 crore PDS beneficiaries who are granted five kg food grains per month; they will be forced to buy from the open market if PDS is wound up. PDS supplies around 50 million tonnes of food grains to the poor. The Niti Aayog has already recommended that 60% of the ration cards in urban areas and 40% of the ration cards in rural areas must be reduced. If the poor have to buy from the open market they will starve and deaths due to hunger will increase. It is only the private corporates, both domestic and foreign, that will benefit.”
In a separate development, the mitti satyagraha under the leadership of veteran Gandhian environmental activist Medha Patkar, reached the Delhi border on Monday. As part of the movement she carried the soil from renowned centres of revolt during the national movement. The soil will be used to build a martyrs' memorial in memory of farmers who lost their lives in the ongoing struggle.