Farmers of Lahaul-Spiti are all set to stage a protest march - “Keylong Chalo” - on November 3 to seek relief for losses worth Rs. 94 crore due to untimely heavy snow on September 22-24.
The march is scheduled to start from the Circuit House in Keylong where they will address the gathering and then march towards the District Commissioner’s (DC) office and submit their report to the DC with hopes that the Chief Minister will take note of their grievances.
The farmers said they had suffered from a loss of almost 90 per cent to apple and other crops but not a penny was received in compensation.
The district of Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh consists of the two formerly separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The present administrative centre is Keylong in Lahaul.
A recent report submitted to the state government by the district administration, revealed that over 90 per cent apple, off-season vegetables and other crops were destroyed in the snowfall. The losses were pegged at Rs. 94 crore.
Sudarshan Jaspa, Convener, Lahaul Ghati Kisan Manch- which is organising the march, said, “We are raising three demands to the government and we want our Chief Minister, Mr. Jairam Thakur to take note of our demands and act upon them immediately.”
Jaspa told Newsclick, “One of our primary demands will be to seek a relief fund for our damaged crop of apples, potatoes and other off-season vegetables.”
“Our second concern is a recent gazette notification issued by the Government of India which bans the supply of seed potato from Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand, due to some disease in them,” Jaspa told Newsclick.
The notification which was issued on October 12 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and published in The Gazette of India on Monday, October 15, states, “In exercise of the powers conferred by section 4 A of the Destructive Insects and Pests Act 1914 (2 of 1914), the Central Government hereby prohibits with effect from the date of publication of this notification, movement of seed potato from Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir to all other states/UT of India due to presence of Potato Cyst Nematode (Globodera rostochiensis & G. pallid).”
“Ninety nine per cent population in this district is dependent on agriculture. Lahaul is famous for it’s seed potato. With the untimely heavy snowfall in September, this notification has only added to our problems. We have resolved to send a delegation to meet CM Jairam Thakur as soon as possible over the same but regardless, we will raise this issue in our protest on November 3 as well,” Jaspa added.
The winter season in the tribal district lasts from October to May. The temperature falls below freezing point often and the average snowfall is about 7 feet. Heavy snow closes the passes and the region is isolated from the world. Therefore, it only leaves June-September for growing any crop and due to this, farmers can only grow one crop at a time. While some farmers have stuck to potato farming, others have ventured into apple farming because of several reasons.
“There are no Mandis (markets) in this entire region where we can take our crop and supply it. Outsiders come and purchase our potatoes from three societies- Lahaul Potato Society, Hari Singh Potatoes and Bhawan Singh Society, who supply it to states like Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Because we have no mandis, farmers are fleeced off crores of rupees by these societies and therefore, some people have shifted to apple farming,” Jaspa explained.
Telephone and Electricity Services Remain Disrupted Even After a Month
He further explained how the entire district has been reeling in the aftermath of the snowfall in September and many villages in Chandra, Mayar, Tod and Tinam valleys had no electricity and communication link. BSNL, the sole service provider in the region has not restored its connectivity in the region since the past six months which naturally has also disrupted the internet services in the region, affecting it’s banking services as well.
Not only are the telephone services dead, even after a month of snowfall, many villages have no electricity supply due to damaged electric poles and no linemen to repair the damaged poles. Keylong, the district headquarter has no electricity supply as well and locals have resorted to make-shift repair work.
Lahaul-Spiti's District Commissioner, Ashwani Chaudhary has said that the report on losses worth Rs. 94 crore has been submitted to the government and the farmers will get Rs. 500 per bigha as per the relief manual and village wise assessment are being carried out to pay this relief.
Meagre Compensation for Huge Losses
Mr. Sudarshan Jaspa responded to this by saying that the average farmer only has 5-6 bighas of land and people mostly stay in joint families in the region. With no major landowners, a compensation of only Rs. 500 per bigha would mean a compensation of Rs. 2000-3000 which is laughable considering that the losses are immense. “Since 1955, we have not experienced such heavy snowfall in September. It is not our fault. Norms can be changed looking at our losses.”
Ironically, Agriculture Minister and local legislator, Dr. Ram Lal Markanda had visited the villages, but no relief was given to the farmers who had pegged their hopes on him.