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MP: Congress MLA Jailed for Allegedly 'Facilitating' Loot of 28 Bags of Urea

According to MLA, farmers were waiting in queue for hours for urea which could not be distributed owing to technical glitches. Besides, officials refused to distribute offline.
Congress MLA Manoj Chawla

Congress MLA Manoj Chawla. Image Courtesy: Twitter|@ManojChawla223

Bhopal: A Congress legislator from Madhya Pradesh's Alot constituency, Manoj Chawla, surrendered on Monday at Special Indore Court (MLA / MP). He was accused in the case of looting 28 bags of urea from government storage on November 10, 2022. The Court granted day-long custody to Ratlam police to interrogate Chawla. On Tuesday, police took him to Alot from Indore Central Jail.

His surrender came after the Jabalpur Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court turned down his second anticipatory bail application last week. The last bail application was rejected by Justice Sanjay Dwivedi asking him to surrender before the subordinate Court.

The Court observed, "It's not a case of anticipatory bail. He is a public representative. Instead of provoking farmers into looting, he should have spoken with the officials to resolve the issue. Leaders who should respect the laws should not have to take the law into their hands. He should surrender to the subordinate court."

Hours after the surrender, his son Manas Chawla posted a message on Facebook, on behalf of his father. "My fault was to support the farmers in need. If this is a crime, then I will do it again and again," the post read.

Absconding for the last 58 days, Ratlam police booked Manoj Chawla, Congress leader Yogendra Singh Janoud and others on November 10 last year, in a urea loot incident reported at Taal village under Alot tehsil.

The incident happened when Madhya Pradesh was swamped with the news of the urea crisis and farmers' death in the urea queue. According to media reports, farmers who had been waiting in queue since dawn at a urea distributor centre at Taal village in Alot tehsil did not get urea owing to 'server failure'. Officials also refused to distribute urea offline in absence of government guidelines and it would have taken a day to fix the glitch.

Seeing no way out, farmers' sat on protest at the centre. Meanwhile, Congress MLA Chawla reached the centre with his supporters and allegedly provoked farmers to loot urea after opening the shutter of the warehouse. The video of the incident showing the Congress MLA in action has surfaced on social media.

In lieu of the Police First Information Report (FIR), many of the farmers surrendered the looted urea but 28 bags went missing. Holding Congress MLA accountable for it, on the direction of district collector Narendra Suryawanshi, Police lodged FIR against Chawla and other Congress leaders for 'facilitating' the loot.

Speaking to Newsclick, his counsellor Rituraj Bhatnagar said, "He is a public representative and in absence of online distribution, he requested the officials to distribute it offline by taking their (farmers) Aadhar and other documents as they are struggling for urea for days. But officials turned it down. Hearing this, enraged farmers rushed to the warehouse and took away some bags of urea."

He continued, "In the FIR, Police accused him of looting. There were thousands of farmers at the centre, if it was loot why only 28 bags would have been missing? Besides, the police did not recover any bags from any of the accused. Since he belongs to the opposition party, the government is targeting him."

A day after the FIR in November, Chawla released a video saying, "I will not be intimidated by the FIR and will continue to fight for farmers' rights. The collector and SP farmed me in a false FIR to put the onus of their failure on me."

The news of FIR on MLA over fertiliser did not go well with the state Congress. Former Union Minister Kantilal Bhuria, former minister and Indore MLA Jitendra Patwari along with four other MLAs, went to meet collector Narendra Suryawanshi to oppose the FIR and shortage of urea. But, the collector not only kept them waiting for hours outside the office but also sent his subordinate to attend to them afterwards.

Enraged with this behaviour, Congress MLAs demanded to meet with the Collector, not his subordinate. It's then the Collector called them inside. But after the squabble, Congress leaders left the office. Congress MLAs threatened to complain against him in the assembly for mistreating public representatives.

As a result, in the winter session which kick-started in the last week of December, Congress, not only staged a protest inside the assembly over the fertiliser shortage but also complained against the Collector. Not just Congress, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers’ wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is also upset with the urea crisis, erratic electricity bills and bureaucratic failure in addressing farmers' issues. They held a rally in Bhopal’s Motilal Vigyan Mahavidyalaya (MVM) ground in the last week of November. They also demanded a special seven-day session of the state assembly to address the farmers' woes.

Addressing the rally, BKS's State President Kamal Singh Ajana said, “At least two farmers died while struggling to get fertilisers. There is a constant shortage of electricity, yet farmers are getting faulty bills. Besides, those transformers which are getting burned owing to power load and are left unrepaired for over months."

The BKS also submitted a memorandum with 25 points including a demand for the reintroduction of the Bhawantar scheme, release of payment for crops damaged in hail storms and other natural calamities, implementation of interest waiver on farm loans as was announced by the government, and the burnt transformers should be fixed within 24 hours.

According to agriculture experts, in the Rabi season, farmers needed roughly 22-23 lakh MT Urea, 11-12 lakh MT Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and 3-4 Lakh MT NPK (mix fertilizer) to meet the demand. And the Agriculture Department of Madhya Pradesh has said to distribute 1.5 times higher fertiliser by November 20, last year in comparison to the previous year in the same duration.

An official said, "by November 20, 2022, the state had distributed 23.39 lakh MT of urea through its 1200 distribution centres, compared to 22.34 lakh MT the previous year. Similarly, 13 lakh MT DAP have been supplied thus far compared to 11.18 lakh last year."

Agriculture is the mainstay of Madhya Pradesh's economy as 74.73% of the population is dependent on it. struggling for fertiliser and dying in its queues, every year, has become part of the farmer's fate.

As the shortage arises, especially in the Rabi season, every year, farmers block roads, picket collector's offices, and hold protests. Visuals of farmers struggling for fertiliser in a queue or falling unconscious or often dying run wild on social media. The Government machinery tries to fulfil it. But at last, the leftover farmers purchase it from the black market at over 20-30 % higher rates.

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