Balabe Khat, a farmer from Gujarat’s Modasa, looks eagerly at everybody entering the tent reaching out for help. The visitors from nearby villages and organisations have handed out blankets, quilts, water bottles and provisions to the protesting farmers’ organisations camping near Shahjahanpur at the Haryana-Rajasthan Border.
The farmers are demanding repeal of the recently enacted three farm laws and the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which they believe is a ‘death penalty’ to agrarian communities already battling distress, debt and government apathy.
Khat, along with his contingent of Gujarat Khedut Sangharsh Samiti, reached the Rajasthan Border defying all prohibitory movement orders from the Gujarat government. Farmers allege that they were bombarded with threats of arrests and coercive action from the state’s police department for participation in the movement.
Recalling his journey, he told NewsClick,”My friends and I assembled near a hotel in my city. We switched off our phones to minimise any possibility of tracking. Once we reached the border, we headed to Udaipur and finally reached here on December 13.”
Khat, who began his journey from Aravali district, explained the ordeal faced by small and marginal farmers in the state when it comes to costs and returns in agriculture. He had grown maize on his one acre land. He said, “For sowing the maize, we prepare the land by ploughing it through tractor. The tractor owner would take Rs 4,000 as rent. We apply cow dung to increase the fertility which generally costs Rs 3,600. After leaving it bare for a period, we spread DAP fertiliser and seeds, which costs Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,600 respectively.”
He further added that the watering needs to be done in six spells till harvesting and additional urea worth Rs 1,400. The labour cost for cutting and bundling comes to Rs 1,800 and then the threshing process requires another Rs 2,400. “So,” he said, “the total cost comes to Rs 2,22,00. I got 20 quintals produce from the farms which I sold for Rs 1,250 per quintal in the open market. The crop fetched me Rs 25,000. What did I get in the end? Nothing!”
Talking about how farming families survive under such distress, Khat said, “We are compelled to take other jobs under MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). The youth moves to factories in cities.”
Also read: Evading Restrictions, Gujarat Farmers Leave in Disguise to Join Protest at Delhi-Jaipur Highway
Dinesh Parmar, another farmer who is lying nearby, added, “There are no gifts there too. Modi ji wants us to work for 12 hours now!” Parmar, who came from Sabarkantha district, said people have been compelled to depend on the private sector in the absence of strong public sector, which has been deliberately weakened.
“For example, we have a new district hospital in Himmat Nagar but when I visited it, there is only one physician who is often busy in his meetings. Who would look after the patients? People go to private clinics now. Same thing will happen with the APMC mandi too. People were patient till now. But farmers’ protest has turned into a people’s movement now. We will return to our homes only when the black laws are repealed,” he said emphatically.
Daya Bhai Gajera, president of the Gujarat Kisan Sabha, who grew groundnut in the previous season told NewsClick that the farmers in the state grow mainly groundnut, cotton, pearl millet, maize and wheat. However, he deems the procurement system in the state inadequate and highly favourable to private players.
He said the farmers in Gujarat this season grew 32 lakh tonne groundnut but the state government procured only 8 lakh tonne which effectively means it purchased only 25% of the produce. The rest of the produce went to private players. Explaining the reason behind this, he said, “The parameters have been set arbitrarily. The quality controller at the mandi will check if 200 grams of groundnut has 135 grams of nuts. If any farmer fails to match the standard, he is straight away denied. Thus, he has no option but to sell his produce in open market at throw away prices.”
“The arbitrary rules are such that the state government did not procure a single grain of wheat in the entire state owing to the pandemic! This shows how ‘benevolent’ this government is towards the farmers,” he exclaimed. Talking about his own experience, he said, “I grew groundnut this year. We usually get 10 quintals per acre. I spent Rs 20,000 per acre whereas the returns are Rs 35,000 per acre. If I divide it in five months, I get Rs 3,000 per month as income. Can anybody survive on such a meagre income?”
Also read: Unsold Rabi, Unsown Kharif Crop – Farmers in Gujarat Dread a Looming Agrarian Crisis
“People in New Delhi are talking about Adani-Modi today. We know them very well. Modi ji gave the precious land in Kutch to Adani at Rs 1 per metre to develop his facilities, special economic zones and what not,” he added.
“The prime minister goes to every state and speaks at length about Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna but he does not tell that his home state has abandoned the same scheme and decided not to implement it in 2020-21,” Gajera said, exposing the government’s dual standards.
Commenting on Agriculture Minister Tomar’s proposal about return of farmers towards cash crops, he said, “Who did ask Tomar for his advice? Did he ask farmers about their experience of cash crops? We have been throwing our potato, chilli and cauliflower on roads. So, it is better he just shuts up and listens to what farmers are demanding.”