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Tikait Warns of Big Agitation in Bihar to Restore Mandi System

In 2006, the NDA government led by Nitish Kumar repealed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act in the name of agriculture reforms.
Rakesh Tikait

Patna: Distressed farmers in Bihar are set to launch a big agitation to revive the mandi system ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections if the Mahagathbandhan government led by Nitish Kumar fails to fulfil their old demands. This was announced by Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait on Monday.

In 2006, the NDA government led by Kumar repealed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act in the name of agriculture reforms. This resulted in the shutdown of the regulated wholesale market for agricultural produce (commonly known as mandis). The government regulated mandis, enabling private firms to buy agricultural commodities directly from farmers.

Addressing a gathering of farmers at Kisan Mahapanchayat in Bhabua in Kaimur district on Oct 9, Tikait warned the Bihar government that farmers will launch an agitation for the revival of the mandi system to help and ensure direct benefit to farmers.

"If the government continue to neglect farmers and ignore their demand to restore mandis, farmers will be forced to launch an agitation in which farmers leaders from across the country will join."

Tikait dared the state government to revive the mandi system before the farmers' agitation.

"If Kumar wants to become the Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, he should go for restoration of mandis and bazaar samitis."

Tikait has been on a visit to the state to meet farmers since last week at the invitation of former Bihar agriculture minister Sudhkar Singh, who has been championing the farmers' issue and demanding the government to ensure a minimum support price to farmers for their produce.

Singh is an MLA of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), a major ally of ruling Mahagathbandhan and the son of RJD state president Jagdanand Singh, who is considered close to the party's chief, Lalu Prasad.

Tikait said that if farmers' protests forced the BJP-led central government to withdraw three contentious farm laws, why can farmers not force the Bihar government to revive the mandi system and implement APMC?

"There is a need for a big protest to revive the mandi system and bazaar samiti in Bihar, and farmers will do it before the next parliamentary polls."

Tikait informed the gathering of farmers that Samyukta Kisan Morcha's Indian Coordination Committee meeting will be held in Bihar soon to chalk out a strategy for agitation in the state. 

According to Tikait, the proposed farmers' agitation will be in three phases.

In the first phase, farmers on tractors will stage protests on roads in front of or near their respective villages across the state. 

In the second phase, farmers on tractors will block important road crossings and road squares, and in the third phase, farmers will block GT roads at different places to disrupt the traffic in support of their demands

He pointed out that for such an agitation, there will be a need for a group of 15 farmers, a tractor and a commitment of at least ten days. 

"Farmers agitation will continue until the government announces reviving the mandi system. A batch of protesting farmers will be replaced by another batch to continue agitation."

Last year, Tikait, in a letter to Kumar, requested to restore the mandi system and re-establish bazaar samitis in the interest of farmers.

Tikait then highlighted the pain and suffering of farmers struggling to get MSP for their produce. 

"Due to the closure of mandis in the state, farmers have not had a platform to sell their produce for the last 15-16 years and end up selling their produce to the brokers at throwaway prices. The absence of mandis has made them work as labourers in other states. The education of farmers' children is also suffering due to their poor financial condition," he said in the letter. 

Farmers across the state expressed one thing clearly: After the implementation of the much-touted 'reforms', the condition of farmers deteriorated instead of improving. The eradication of the APMC-regulated mandi system and the entry of private players led the farming community to lose a favourable marketplace. Farmers had no option but to sell their produce to private procurers at throwaway prices.

In place of the mandi system, the government has launched a new system for procuring farmers' produce at MSP through Primary Agriculture Credit Societies. But its performance has not been good; more

importantly, farmers are uncomfortable with it. Farmers have time and again complained of not getting MSP and alleged financial irregularities as well.

According to a four-year-old report of the National Council of Applied Economics Research, 97% of farmers in Bihar have small and marginal landholdings.

Going by the reports, these small and marginal landholding farmers have been badly affected by the eradication of the mandi system.

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