Across villages in Malwa, M.P., farmers are an unhappy lot
Pipliya Mandi, a small, thinly populated village between Mandsaur and Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh, grabbed headlines last year as the epicentre of a farmers’ agitation that led to police firing claiming six lives.
The memories are still fresh. And the dead farmers are called Shaheeds(martyrs) here. Pipliya Mandi is part of a larger story of widely prevalent agrarian distress in the State.
A tour of villages in the Malwa region makes one thing clear: Shivraj Singh Chouhan faces his toughest electoral challenge since he became Chief Minister, because of farmers’ anger. The Mandsaur region grows soya bean and onion as major Kharif crops and wheat as a major Rabi crop.
The minimum support price of soya bean is ₹3,399 a quintal, but merchants buy it at just ₹2,800 to ₹3,100. In 2013-14, ₹4,500 to ₹5,000 was the going rate, farmers say.
If prices have fallen, input costs have increased. Dilip Patidar, who runs a shop selling agricultural goods at Pipliya Mandi, says the goods and services tax and the rise in diesel prices have made things worse.
“Pesticides attracted not more than a 4% tax earlier. Now they attract a GST of 18% to 28%,” he says. “There is now a 12% GST on the electric motor to water the fields, instead of the 6% tax earlier. Even the pipe that connects the motor to the fields attracts 12% to 18% GST. There was no tax on it earlier.”
Fifteen minutes away by car, Balaguda has a group of farmers speaking over steaming cups of tea next to a Sardar Patel statue, the marker of the Patidar-majority village.
Diesel on fire
“A year ago, I paid ₹800 to ₹900 to transport my produce to the Mandsaur market,” says Mukesh Patidar lighting a bidi. “Now, with diesel prices rising, the journey costs ₹1,000 to ₹1,200.”
In nearby Bahi Parshvanath village too, farmers hit out at the government. Shopkeepers, however, still show a marked sympathy for the BJP.
Sunil Solanki, a farmer from Unhel near Ujjain, says bank payments have aggravated farmers’ woes. The government, he says, has put in place a subsidy scheme (Bhavantar), paying some amount to farmers amid the falling market prices. But, for this, each farmer has to register himself in an authorised office and produce the documents at the market at the time of sale of produce.
“Our soya bean crop gets a subsidy of ₹500 a quintal,” Mr. Solanki says. “But for this we have to submit a copy of our documents to the merchant, who submits our farmer code numbers to the official market committee and then credits the money to our accounts in 10 to 15 days. And the government subsidy comes to our bank accounts in two to three months.”
He says farmers run short of cash when they transport their produce and there are often serpentine queues at the markets and banks. Congress leaders say farmers will be paid in cash again if they are voted to power, he adds, asserting that the party is back in the reckoning this time.