The anger among the farmers and agricultural labourers in election bound Tamil Nadu is running high. Farmers have faced several repressive measures for opposing different ambitious projects of the state and the Centre, including the Chennai- Salem eight way green corridor project, hydrocarbon extraction in delta districts and high tension electric line project.
The long pending demand for fixing the minimum support price (MSP) or base price for agricultural products have found no light, leaving the farmers in distress. Meanwhile, the landless and women farmers in the state have received hardly any support or recognition from the state and Union governments.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which supported the three farm laws in Parliament, is facing the election in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The farmers have been holding protests across the state against the laws and accused the AIADMK-BJP combine of betraying the farmers in favour of the corporate giants eager to enter the agriculture sector.
The AIADMK government was also forced to announce a farm loan waiver to pacify the farming community following the continuous protest.
NO SUPPORT FOR PRODUCE
In Tamil Nadu, an estimated 1,424.11 thousand hectares of land is under cultivation for different crops in the year 2020. This includes, plantations crops, fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices and medicinal crops. Farmers in the state cultivate bananas, coconut, vegetables and other crops which do not have a fixed minimum price.
The most important issue the farmers continue to face in the state is the lack of support on price fixation for the farm produce. Apart from the bonus and incentives for paddy and sugarcane, the state government stays away from supporting the farmers in fixing prices for their different produce.
P Shanmugam, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu chapter of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), said, “The major challenge faced by the farmers is getting a base price for their products. Their products, most of the time, are being sold at a much lower price than the input costs. The state government should ensure a MSP for important agriculture products, similar to what the LDF government has done in Kerala.”
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The income of the farmers remain low, in spite of the increase in vegetable prices due to spiralling demands. The three new farm laws, which does not guarantee the MSP is a major cause of concern for the farmers.
“The AIKS has been demanding a cooperative structure to procure and sell the produce of the farmers for long. The new government should ensure such a set up is established to save the farmers from extinction,” Shanmugam added.
The unending misery of the paddy farmers and sugarcane cultivators continue in the state in spite of legal protection from the existing laws. The large scale hiccups in paddy procurement from the farmers have left them in trouble, which is also a talking point among the farming community.
LANDLESS FARMERS AND AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS
Another important section in Tamil Nadu is landless farmers and agricultural labourers who have received little or no attention from the government. The reduction in funds for the MGNREGA, that too, during the COVID-19 induced lockdown left many rural women in peril.
“An estimated 1 crore agricultural labourers live in Tamil Nadu. The agricultural sector has suffered several setbacks since the introduction of neo-liberal policies, and a good number of small farmers have lost their lands, being forced to become agricultural labourers. Their plight has hardly seen any light in the last couple of decades,” said Shanmugam.
The women agricultural workers form a considerable part of the workforce, but are paid lesser wages compared to their male counterparts.
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V Amirthalingam, general secretary of the state unit of the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU), said, “The welfare board formed for the farmers and agricultural workers has been downgraded and does not have any legal backing. The fund allocation from the state government is dismal and only 25% of the applicants are provided with the benefits. The women who form around 60% of the workforce, remain highly affected and neglected.”
The tenant farmers, too, suffer massive losses during natural calamities, since the agreements are oral and not documented. The losses incurred by the tenant farmers are mostly unrecognised, leaving them at high losses.
STRUGGLE OF THE FARMERS FROM THE WEST
The farmers of the western districts are facing a twin attack, in the form of Chennai-Salem 8 way green corridor road and the installation of high tension electric lines.
The farmers in 10 western districts heaved a sigh of relief after the court ordered the return of acquired land for the green corridor project, which was short lived. The Supreme Court, in December 2020 gave the nod for the land acquisition for the 277 km long, Rs 10,000 crore project.
Both the AIADMK and BJP have thrown their weight behind the project, which has left the farmers in distress in the region.
Further, farmers have lost a considerable portion of their land to the 1,830 km long ultra-high-voltage direct current (UHVDC) system connecting Raigarh in Chhattisgarh and Pugalur in Tamil Nadu.
Karthikeyan, a farmer from Sankagiri taluk in Salem district, said, “Our fertile lands have been taken away at very low price and it's almost impossible to cultivate the remaining land owing to radiation from the lines. A higher compensation to educate our children and to look after other expenses can only save our future.”
The western region is considered an AIADMK bastion, but the repressive measures of the state government during the struggles against the green corridor project and the HT electric lines could prove costly for the party.
DELTA DISTRICTS AND HYDROCARBON PROJECT
The farmers from the fertile delta districts still face the problem of hydrocarbon extraction project affecting their farm lands. The project has resulted in severe land, water and air pollution.
Though the state government has announced that no more exploration will be permitted in the region, the farmers are apprehensive of the promises of the AIADMK government. The ban was announced after a series of struggles from farmers and political parties.
The fisherfolks in the delta region joined the farmers in opposing the project citing the loss of livelihood.
The delta region is considered a stronghold of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the left parties. The policies of the AIADMK and the BJP has further strengthened the prospects of the DMK led alliance.
Fearing a severe backlash in the elections, the AIADMK government, which rejected the possibilities of waiving the agricultural loans, announced the waiver amounting to Rs 12,110 crore.
The state also witnessed several protests against the three farm laws, which the farmers claim would lead to corporatising of the agricultural sector. The dissent among the farming community, in spite of the last minute sops, is running high, affecting the prospects of the AIADMK-BJP combine.
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