Patna: Balmiki Sharma, a farmer, is shocked by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s claim that the farmers of Bihar were not faced with any problems and it was why they are not protesting against the three Farm Laws like those from other states. He said that just because the farmers from Bihar were not agitating, does not mean they were problem free.
“Nitish Kumar is totally wrong. What he has claimed is far from the truth. He should visit rural areas or villages and interact with the farmers before saying that farmers have no problems in Bihar. The fact is that farmers in Bihar are distressed and are faced with many issues due to government apathy and negligence,” Sharma, a resident of Siyarampur village, which falls under Paliganj block in Patna district, told NewsClick.
Sharma, who owns about seven acres of land, insisted that the CM was misinformed. “Farmers have been forced to go in for distress sales of their paddy as they are not getting the Minimum Support Price. What can helpless farmers can do except sell their produce at a rate much below the MSP. This is not just the story of farmers from 35 panchayats spread over 55 villages, the situation is same everywhere,” said Sharma, who is also the secretary of Paliganj Bitarni Krishak Samiti, a farmers organisation.
In a reference to the farmers protest in Delhi, the CM recently said: “Desh ke andar jo bhi chal raha ho lekin Bihar mein koi samasiya nahi hai.Bihar mein kisano ko koi samasiya nahi ho rahi hai aur sarkar tezi se dhan ki kharid kar rahi hai. (Whatever be the case in other states across the country, Bihar has no such issues. The farmers of Bihar are not faced with any problems and the government is buying paddy fast).”
As of December 18, as per official data on the Cooperative Department’s website on paddy procurement, the government has procured paddy from over 25,000 farmers out of 2,01,361 farmers registered for the same across the state. It procured nearly two lakh metric tonnes of paddy, amounting to about less than five per cent of its target.
In Bihar, Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS) and Vyapar Mandals have been engaged in procuring paddy directly from the farmers in each panchayat. It has been done to ensure that farmers get fair and remunerative prices for their crops.
Sharma said that till date, hardly five per cent of paddy procurement was done by government agencies from farmers in Paliganj block. There are nearly a dozen PACS which are yet to start purchasing, and those who have officially begun are hindering the process by complaining of a lack of proper paperwork and more moisture than permitted to slow down paddy procurement, farmers said. “Farmers have no other option and are selling it to traders in the open market at Rs 1,100 to Rs 1,200 per quintal out of compulsion, despite the fact that the government has fixed an MSP of Rs 1888 for paddy,” he added.
Sharma said that there was less hope of more paddy procurement this year. He appears to be right.
In the neighbouring district of Arwal, Jaglal Yadav, a marginal farmer who hails from Motha village, has already sold 70 quintals of paddy to a local trader last week. It was due to delay by the PACS to begin procurement. “I had sold paddy at Rs 1,150 per quintal to the trader because I badly needed money to buy seeds and fertiliser for Rabi cultivation,” Yadav rued.
Similarly, Amresh Singh, another farmer from Telpa village under Karpi block, said he has no hope of getting the MSP for more than 100 quintals of paddy. He expressed his dismay over the government’s apathy in ensuring paddy procurement on time, and blamed the nexus of the government officials, middlemen and traders for slow procurement. “This is not the first time when procurement has been delayed. It has been going on for years,” he said.
The situation is similar in the neighbouring district of Aurangabad. “Paddy procurement is only done on paper and is very slow. It has been going on only in name so far. It has led to distress sales by farmers like us,” said Dhannu Khan, a marginal farmer from Raghunathpur village, Haspura block.
Sharma,Yadav, Singh and Khan are just four among thousands of farmers —including rich and poor—who have been affected by the poor paddy procurement by government agencies. They are worried and unhappy. “The government treats farmers like stepsons; its announcements are big but it provides nothing. Poor farmers cannot wait for months to sell their paddy if the government agencies delay procurement. They have to earn money for their necessities,” said Mannu Kumar, a small farmer of from Shankarpur in Vaishali district.
He said that despite the farmers selling at lower prices, the traders at least pay them immediately. “And unlike government agencies, they don’t require any paperwork,” he added.
The process for paddy procurement, which begins on November 15 in the state, was delayed due to the state assembly polls. It formally began in the first week of December. The government has aimed at procuring 45 lakh metric tonnes of paddy by March 31, 2021.
An official of the state cooperative department admitted that paddy procurement was slow, but said it will gain speed soon to achieve the fixed target.
In the last Kharif season (2019-20), Bihar managed to procure nearly 20 lakh metric tonnes of paddy from 2.50 lakh farmers after the procurement deadline was extended from March 31 to April 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the year prior to that, government agencies had procured 14.16 lakh metric tonnes of paddy from 2.10 lakh farmers against a target of 30 lakh metric tonnes.
Paddy procurement was 11.84 lakh metric tonnes during 2017-18 against the target of 30 lakh metric tonnes. It was 18.42 lakh metric tonnes during 2016-17,18.23 lakh metric tonnes during 2015-16 and 19.01 lakh metric tonnes during 2014-15.
Ironically, while repeatedly stating what the Centre is attempting to do through the three laws, his government had already done 14 years ago in Bihar.The first NDA government led by him scrapped Bihar’s Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act in 2006.
Back then, it was claimed that this would benefit farmers: they would get good prices for produce and it would attract huge private investment in agricultural infrastructure. But nothing of the sort has happened. On the contrary, farmers are forced to sell their produce at prices much below the MSP. A large number of marginal and small farmers have been compelled to migrate to earn a livelihood as their income from agriculture had decreased.
Nitish’s JD-U, a BJP ally, has backed PM Narendra Modi on the Farm Laws, ignoring its social support base among OBCs, EBCs and Dalits, who are mostly marginal and small farmers as well as landless farm labourers.