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Karnataka: Farmers Collective Demands Local Procurement for Anna Bhagya Scheme

The platform was also used to muster support for the law prohibiting cow slaughter in Karnataka.
Karnataka: Farmers Collective Demands Local Procurement for Anna Bhagya Scheme

The farmers' seminar at Gandhi Bhawan

Bengaluru: The promised Anna Bhagya Scheme by the Congress government in Karnataka set to take off from Saturday, July 1, will now be given in cash to the beneficiaries after the Centre refused to release additional rice to states, but a farmers’ organisation has proposed a way out. It has demanded that the state government does local procurement of foodgrain for the scheme.

Recall that in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly Elections held recently, the Congress had promised to give 10 kg of free rice to every member of a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family. However, the scheme hit a roadblock when the Central government refused to release additional rice to states.

On Wednesday, a farmers’ collective under the banner of ‘Rajya Raitha Sanghatanegala Okkuta’ (Federation of Farmers Organisations) organised a seminar in Bengaluru on June 28 to exchange views on the anna bhagya scheme. TN Prakash Kammardi, former Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission chairman, was the keynote speaker. Around 100 farmers and farm union leaders from different districts attended the seminar.

Addressing the audience, Kammardi said, “Hunger and malnutrition are the most serious issues faced by people today. As many as 70% of farmers in our state have less than one acre of land. They are unable to attend seminars like this one. They have no irrigation facilities and depend on rain only. What will be the yield in one acre of land? “, adding that “I received information that the government has decided to credit Rs. 34/kg in the accounts of people in lieu of rice availability (for the anna bhagya scheme). Will this money solve the problem of malnutrition? In Karnataka alone, 4.42 crore beneficiaries are receiving 5 kg of rice every month. In north Karnataka, people prefer wheat over rice. They can get wheat at Rs. 2/kg. If they don’t prefer rice, they can also request for ragi and maize. A working person requires at least 10 Kg of rice per month. I am not sure why the ration has been fixed at 5 kg.”

On the Congress government’s promise, he said, “The Congress’ guarantee of providing 10 kg of rice per person is a welcome move. There has been a record production of 113 million tonnes of wheat (in 2022-2023) in the country. Meanwhile, Karnataka is fast becoming a state of Cotton, areca nut and sugarcane.”

Kammardi suggested that Karnataka should “increase the yield per acre of food crops in order to make it more profitable. At present, the yield per acre of ragi and jowar (millets) is between 7-8 quintals/acre. We can increase it up to 15 quintals/acre. These crops don’t need as much water as sugarcane and paddy. Let’s increase the area under cultivation for ragi and jowar. “

He said that if the state government procures ragi, jowar and rain-fed paddy from farmers at Rs. 40/kg, “it will be equivalent to the support price suggested by the MS Swaminathan Commission. Let them procure 5 kg of rice from the Central government and 5 Kg of ragi, jowar and rainfed paddy from the local farmers. This will serve the anna bhagya scheme and ensure nutritious food delivery to the people who need it.”

The Contentious Cow Slaughter Law

The other session in the seminar dealt with the cow slaughter law. The Congress government has promised to roll back the “anti-people” laws passed by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This includes the law that prevents cow slaughter in Karnataka.

During its term in office, the BJP government in Karnataka passed a law prohibiting the slaughter of cows. While a similar law had existed in the state since 1948 (when it was known as Mysore state), the new law imposes more stringent penalties and fines. The law passed by the BJP in 2021 replaced a 1964 law.

Incidentally, the seminar organiser, Kurubur Shantakumar, voiced his support for the law and led a demonstration against the Congress in Mysuru. He warned the state government not to roll back the law.

As per the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Prevention Act, 1964, slaughtering a cow, calf, or she-buffalo is illegal. The violation of this law attracted a prison term of up to six months. However, there were certain exceptions, like in the case of cows over the age of 12 years.

In February 2021, the BJP government in Karnataka repealed the 1964 law and passed the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020. The new law rephrased the earlier exemptions. ‘Animal above 12 years’ was changed to ‘Buffalo above 13 years’. Thus ensuring that the profitable trade in buff export can continue unhindered. Meanwhile, farmers are no longer allowed to sell cattle for slaughter even after it passes their productive age. The penalties have also been made more stringent. Violations can be met with imprisonment for up to seven years and not less than three years. 

NewsClick has previously reported how this law adversely affects Muslims and dalits. Clubbing the issue of the anna bhagya scheme along with the support for the law banning cow slaughter seems to be strategic, according to observers. An important issue dealing with nutrition has been clubbed with the Hindutva agenda of preventing cow slaughter.

The poster for the programme also identified the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) (non-political) as an organiser. It is a splinter group led by ex-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders like Shiv Kumar Sharma Kakkaji, which lends more credence to the theory that the SKM (non-political) is an RSS front.

The anti-cow slaughter campaign is influencing farmers to support policies that are not only against their own economic interests but also hurt the livelihood of Muslims and dalits.

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