Kolkata: Twenty one farmers organisations in West Bengal will take part in the nationwide strike on November 26 in solidarity with farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
A state-level convention of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC) was held on November 4, following which programmes were held in district headquarters, divisional blocks and at the village level. The state-level convention on behalf of the AIKCC was presided over by farmer leaders like Tushar Ghosh, Kartick Pal, Subhas Naskar, Ajit Mukherjee, Avik Saha, Haripada Biswas, Sushanta Jha and Samir Putatunda.
“November 26 will not be a rest day for us. Our members will leave the fields and block all the highways. We have called for meetings in all the district headquarters in solidarity with the farmers of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan the next day,” senior All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) leader Amal Haldar told NewsClick.
“The Modi government’s Farm Laws will pave the way for the demise of independent farming in the country. However, since agriculture is a state subject, even if the Modi Government is responsible for the policy, the present state government in West Bengal is implementing the same policies, a move which should be thwarted,” he added.
Interestingly, in Burdwan, the matter of the state government offloading potato bonds to aid middleman has been reported, with prices spiraling to over Rs 40 per kg. The same had been acquired at a miserly rate of eight rupees earlier this year and the cold storage owners had been directed to offload 80% of the potatoes at Rs 25 per kg.
At the town of Bud Bud in Galsi block of Burdwan district – a hub of farm labourers in the state – the situation is peculiar now. With wages uncertain, the bargaining power of the labourers has been considerably reduced. In order to prevent a barren harvest the next time, farm labourers were led to work. However they were paid less than half of what they got earlier. Some even had to work at Rs 70 per day, an amount which was earmarked as the daily wage in the state about 20 years ago.
At a recent block-level convention in Burdwan’s Galsi and Mangalkote blocks, the demand for Rs 7,500 as an interim payment to non-income tax paying households was raised. The farm labourers also asked for 200 days of work under MGNREGA, saying that the price of household items was skyrocketing.
In the urban areas of the state like Kolkata, or in the nearby mofussil semi-urban areas, the pandemic has led to supply chains going online to a large extent. Fresh vegetables in the market are priced lesser with the farmers getting a modest return for their produce. However the prices of some items have risen by almost 300% online, even as erstwhile middlemen have been relegated to the backbench.
Speaking to NewsClick, Amiya Patra, secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) said that the government had not done enough to solve the problems of daily-wage earners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that the Farm Laws will result in inflating prices of 20 essential agricultural produce which have been taken off from the essential commodity list. He said that it was interesting that these items were seeing high inflation in West Bengal.
Patra is of the view that self-reliance in agriculture will be compromised as corporates will push for cash crops. In the long run, farmers land will not be left arable as excessive use of fertilisers to reap profits in a short period will leave land fertility in deep stress, he added.
“We have told all the members of our union to not join any field work on November 26 and there will be rallies on the next day which we will join,” he said, adding that their campaigns have generated a tremendous response despite the troubled period.