Telangana women farmers holding photos of their family members who committed suicide due to agriculture distress. Kisan Mukti March, November 30, New Delhi.
On December 4, several farmers’ organisations including Telangana Farmers’ Joint Action Committee, Rythu Swarajya Vedika and Telangana Rythanga Samithi gave a call to farmers and agricultural workers to reject the political parties which failed to even recognise the massive agricultural distress in the December 7 assembly elections.
The farmers’ unions are arguing that the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government did not even consider more than 15 lakh tenant farmers as cultivators by excluding them from the purview of Rythu Bandhu (investment allowance of Rs 4,000 per acre per year) and Rythu Bheema (Rs 5 lakh insurance to farmers) Schemes.
“Despite numerous protests by farmers’ organisations, mainly demanding that the government extend the farmers’ schemes’ benefits to tenant farmers, chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao turned a blind eye to the demand,” said Kiran Vissa, representative of Rythu Swarajya Vedika. He added that the TRS manifesto for the upcoming elections did not talk about the issue of the tenant farmers and agricultural workers.
“Farmers, activists and unions are seriously condemning the negative attitude of the TRS party towards the most vulnerable farmers who don’t even have any ownership of land,” said Vissa.
As per a survey conducted earlier this year, more than 75 per cent of the farmers who have committed suicides since 2014 are tenant farmers. It is estimated that more than 4,000 farmers committed suicide in the state in the last four years, which is the highest in the country.
“The first government of Telangana state is no different from the earlier governments which ruled the region,” asserts 45-year-old Khaja Mobin, a tenant farmer from Anantpur village in Gadwal district. Agriculture is the main occupation of almost all the families in Anantpur village which has a population of 4000. Among these, nearly 80 per cent of them are tenant farmers, who only own 0-1 acre of land, while the remaining are landlords, owning at least more than 10 acres of land. Tenant farmers depend on the landlords who lease their agricultural land to the tenant farmers.
Mobin says that on average, a tenant farmer would earn only Rs 200 per day for his/her hard labour. “A tenant farmer in Anantpur village had to pay an advance of Rs 15,000 to lease one acre of land. During cultivation, the farmer had to invest money at various stages – for seeds, pesticides, agricultural workers and so on. At the end of one season (6 months), 25 to 30 bags (70 kg each for paddy crop) are produced only if everything goes well. One would get only Rs 1,600 per bag as per the minimum support price (MSP) decided by the state,” he explained.
Mobin has been a tenant farmer for the last 20 years, but he says he has got no support from the government or banks, as he owns no land. Every season, he cultivates paddy crop on five acres of land by leasing land from the land owners. He has recently joined Telangana Raitanga Samithi, and believes in the power of unions of the farmers. “In 2017, when the government stopped release of water from Jurala Dam into canals, at a particularly crucial time for crops, hundreds of farmers in Gadwal had organised and staged a protest for several days. As a result, the government was forced to release water into canals which saved crops worth Rs 100 crores,” Mobin, who was part of the protest, told Newsclick.
Farmers’ rights activists are arguing that the TRS government has failed the farmers on numerous issues such as loan waiver promises, issuing of loan eligibility cards to tenant farmers as per the existing Licensed Cultivators act, 2006, issue of land deeds to podu cultivators, MSP, adulterated seeds and pesticides and so on.
“The TRS is promising to increase investment allowance to Rs 5000 per acre under Rythu Bandhu Scheme if re-elected to power, but it is not talking about the real issues,” said Sayanna, Adilabad-based farmers rights activist and general secretary of Telangana Raitanga Samithi.
In an interview with Newsclick, Sayanna said: “The Rythu Bandhu scheme does not address the real problems of cultivators. Of the total 55 lakh beneficiary farmers under the scheme, more than 50 per cent of agricultural lands are owned by only one lakh major landlords. On the other side, while nine lakh poor farmers are yet to receive their land deeds (pattas), tenant farmers, farmers cultivating on endowment lands, podu lands are not provided with any support.”
Sayanna says there are lakhs of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs - Chenchus, Kolam, Konda Reddi and Thotis) that are practising podu cultivation across the state. He demanded that whichever party forms the government, should provide these PVTGs with at least 1 lakh investment support for agriculture, and secure them by providing them with pattas.
On the issue of MSP, farmers’ organisations have led protests demanding the state government to formulate a suitable law so that the farmers could get better prices. “MSP of crops in a village or district must be decided by farmers’ unions working there, and not by some official in the state capital,” opines Mobin.
“The TRS government failed to implement its own promise to distribute three acres of land to landless poor Dalits. On the other side, the government does not even consider the farmers who take land on lease and cultivate. Why will the neglected tenant farmers will vote for TRS?” questioned Kondal, member of Rythu Swarajya Vedika in the state. He is leading an online campaign called ‘Voice of Farmers’, urging the farmers to cast their votes wisely. Speaking to Newsclick, Kondal said that the TRS government did not even provide compensation to all families of the farmers who committed suicide, neither did it address the issue in their manifesto.