Hyderabad: Farmers’ organisations went ahead with the ‘Rythu Chaitanya Yatra’ in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district on Wednesday in opposition to the state government’s move to introduce a direct benefit transfer (DBT) subsidy to farmers for power consumption, replacing the free electricity for agriculture scheme.
For the past three days, left parties in the state have been holding protest demonstrations across districts against the recently-enacted Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
On September 1, the YSRCP government issued a governmentment order stating that it would transfer the money directly to the farmers’ bank accounts for the power consumed by them in their fields. In turn, they shall pay the power bills to the Power Distribution Companies (discoms).
As part of the initiative, the electricity distribution companies (discoms) will fix smart meters to agriculture pump sets in order to guage power consumption.
This move will make Andhra Pradesh the first state to implement the Centre’s power reforms as proposed in the Draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
The YSRCP government has surrendered to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre in supporting the privatisation of the power and agriculture sector, said Y. Kesav Rao, president of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam. “The Rythu Chaitanya Yatra is a campaign for farmers’ empowerment on the DBT scheme. What will the government do if the farmers do not allow it to fix smart meters in their fields?” asked Kesav Rao.
Addressing a public gathering during the protest held in Srikakulam, CPI(M) central committee leader V.Srinivas Rao said that the cash transfer for power consumption scheme is the first step to do away with the free electricity scheme, urging the farmers to oppose it. “The government needs to understand the problem with smart metering and billing farmers. Many farmers will be using common pump sets. Thousands of farmers cultivate land registered in the names of their family members. The DBT scheme will only create panic among farmers,” said Srinivas Rao.
State authorities are planning to implement the scheme in Srikakulam district by the end of this year, and expand it to all districts by April next year.
“The Rythu Chaitanya Yatra will reach the Rayalaseema districts in the second week of October, where about 60% of pump sets in the state are located,” said Kesav Rao.
The Yatra has been jointly organised by Telangana Rythu Sangam (All India Kisan Sabha), All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), Rythu Swarajya Vedika and Kaulu Rythu Sangam (Tenant Farmers’ Organisation) and others.
Left parties in Andhra Pradesh have also been holding protest demonstrations, demanding that the Centre repeals the three recently-enacted farm laws, arguing that farmers will be exploited by private players with the corporatisation of agriculture.
AIKSCC, a coalition of over 250 farmers’ organisations, which is spearheading nation-wide protests against the farm laws has announced a series of protests from October 2. AIKSCC leaders said that the protests will culminate into meetings in Delhi on November 26 and November 27.
“Although both the ruling party and the main opposition, the Telugu Desam Party, in Andhra Pradesh favoured the farm laws, the state will witness massive farmers’ protests against the laws,” says Kesav Rao. He added that contract farming will severely impact all sections of farmers, including rich farmers.