Potato growers’ unusual protest in Lucknow
In an unusual protest, allegedly by farmers, several hundred kilogrammes of potatoes were dumped outside the U.P. Assembly building and the residence of the Chief Minister in Lucknow on the first week-end night of January 5. The farmers have been demanding a remunerative price for their potato crop, at least Rs. 10 per kg rather than the support price of Rs. 4.87, though the actual price they receive is Rs. 4 per kilo, if not even less in the private markets.
The dumping of potatoes in high security areas of Vidhan Sabha Marg and Kalidas Marg is being treated as a security lapse and four policemen and a sub-inspector have been suspended. But it has been reported that the protesters took advantage of the continuing night fog to drive to the sensitive roads to dump the potatoes.
The police have identified the trucks which brought and engaged in the dumping. They are trying to ascertain whether it was a case of mischief as the result was a mess in the two streets. In some case’s passersby roasted the dumped potatoes in firesides lit by the road and used it as a hot snack.
The Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, has promised to set up a committee of ministers to look into the potato growers’ demands. He said the earlier governments were not even paying Rs.2 per kilo, but his government gave and would give priority to the farmers’ interests.
Cash crops have traditionally received low prices in the private markets and even the support prices are said to be inadequate for the cost of production, especially because inputs like fertilizers is high.
Meanwhile, the Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, has pointed out that a former Governor of Reserve Bank had warned they against farm loan waivers.
In a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, the former RBI governor had mentioned that it was risky to promise farm loan waivers at election time. Even farmers who could afford to repay their debts have stopped doing so and this has affected the banks and finances of state governments even as subsidies distorted the credit discipline.
The Minister said that no financial assistance had been given to the states by the centre in the past three years. The RBI had given instructions to lending institutions in areas affected by natural calamities. These included restructuring and rescheduling of loans. The benchmark for banks in initiating relief measures had been reduced to 33 per cent of the crop losses and the maximum period of repayment was two years. In case of 50 per cent loss of crop, repayment could be made within five years.
What are the ground realities of bank loans to farmers in repayment is not quantified. Whether the farmers going bankrupt could be declared insolvent and would be liable to repay debts is an area of darkness; so is the case of farmers who die or commit suicide. But it is known that the private lenders resort to confiscation of land, no matter how small the holding. Whether they continue to take farmers as bonded labour with their families was at one time a common practice, but is it possible to wipe out that kind of unwritten rule is unknown, especially in backward regions of northern India.
Meanwhile, the Union Agricultural Minister said that in view of the belated revival of monsoon last year, the Central Statistical Organization had predicted in July that crop prospects could be poor. But the CSO could be expected to revise their forecasts as paddy sowing as well as other crops had been good from August onwards.
New varieties of paddy do not grow too tall and they need less than four months to be ready. The yield was claimed to be good. The wheat crop and those of lintels and oilseeds had been good already and India is in a comfortable position, according to the Minister. He expected that the upcoming budget on February 1 would present a gratifying picture for farm production.
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.