The turmoil around India’s farm sector has witnessed an aggravation in the last few weeks. The heavy flooding has taken a toll on the crops leaving the farmers in states like Punjab and Haryana staring at losses. The same has been the case in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh where the recent disaster has had a bearing on its production of vegetables and fruit.

There have been indicators of tough times that have emerged on the scene over the last several weeks. Everybody has been talking about the phenomenal increase in the prices of tomatoes taking this essential ingredient of salads, vegetables, sauces, pulses and other culinary delights out of reach of the common man.

The prices have soared to around Rs 200 per kg in several cities. But that does not mean that this spiral in prices has actually benefited the farmer. There has been a peculiar phenomenon at work in the context of this ‘Red Gold’ as it is referred to by its producers.

“For several years the farmers had been getting poor returns for their tomato produce on account of the prices crashing in the markets. So this year a large number of them decided to scale down the production.

“On one side the production was scaled down and on the other the unfavourable climatic conditions led to an increase in production cost in terms of tackling the fungal and other diseases that hit the crop. The result has been a low output at an increased input cost.

“So even if the rates have been high the farmers have not benefited much even though some of the officials and the embedded media have been trying to portray a rosy picture citing examples of some of the producers having made huge profits. Such producers can be counted on the tips,” pointed out Manoj Verma of Dharja village in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh.

Solan is often referred to as the ‘City of Red Gold’ given its high production of quality tomatoes along with other vegetables like beans, capsicum etc. Verma who is also a Zila Parishad member further stated, “The story in context of beans and capsicum has been encouraging this year for the farmers. They have got good prices. These vegetables need comparatively lesser labour to produce in comparison to tomatoes and even their input costs are less.”

The recent spell of excessive rains coupled with problems in transport have led to damage to the crops. The demand and supply gap has triggered a spiralling of prices of vegetables. Sources on the ground say that all this has once again brought the issue of setting up more food processing units in the areas like Solan, Theog and Sirmaur, Mandi and Kullu that are known for their high vegetable production.

The CPM leadership in the state that has been working with the farmers had recently pointed out, “Due to damaged roads, farmers and gardeners are unable to reach their produce to the mandis, due to which many ready crops of vegetables and fruits are rotting and farmers and gardeners have to bear huge losses. The government should immediately assess this loss and provide proper compensation to them.”

Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Manch has sought that the government immediately declare a market intervention scheme (MIS) for apple, lemon species, mango and other crops for the year 2023 and start purchasing the produce by opening collection centres across the state.

The Manch has asked the Centre for proper allocation under the MIS under which procurement is done in around 17 states under which apple, lemon species and mangoes have been procured in Himachal Pradesh.

A statement issued by the Manch leaders Sanjay Chauhan and Harish Chauhan underlined, “Due to less snowfall, hailstorm and untimely heavy rains this year, the yield of apple and other crops has already decreased. Along with this, heavy rains and floods in the month of July have caused huge damage in the entire state.

“Due to this the land, plants and crops of the farmers and gardeners have been ruined, deepening the crisis further. On the one hand, due to high input cost the cost of production has gone up and on the other low production and not getting proper remuneration in the mandis has added to the financial losses. The hailstorms and heavy rains have hit the production both in terms of quantity and quality.

“On account of rising input costs and heavy rains, the farmers and fruit growers have not been able to spray according to schedule due to which the majority of the apple orchards are showing signs of blight disease impacting the shape and colour of the fruit. The harvesting and marketing has also been impacted on account of heavy rains and closure of roads.”

The Manch has asked both the central and the state government to speed up the relief works while discharging their constitutional obligation in this hour of crisis and start purchasing apples and other crops by implementing the MIS with immediate effect. The payment of previous dues has also been sought immediately.

The state government on its part has formed a committee under revenue minister Jagat Singh Negi to assess and take necessary steps to mitigate losses due to the recent spate of excessive rains, flash floods, landslides and cloudbursts. It has also decided to constitute a District Relief and Rehabilitation Committee in each district.

Chief Minister Thakur Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has stated that priority is being given to repair and restoration of roads of the apple growing belts so that produce of the growers could be taken to markets well in time. He has also announced that appropriate administrative steps are being taken to ensure that the practice of escalation in the estimates of construction works could be stopped.

In the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana the sowing of paddy has been badly hit on account of the floods apart from other losses faced by the populace residing in the rural areas. The state government in Punjab under Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann is being constantly pressured by the opposition parties to address the concerns of the farmers.

Help is also being sought from the Centre for the purpose. Recently the Lok Sabha member from Patiala Preneet Kaur wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking relief for people badly affected in the state.

Pointing out that the incessant floods have devastated 19 districts in Punjab including Patiala, she said, “The kharif crop is totally destroyed, over three feet sand and silt brought in by Ghaggar river is deposited all over the fields, leaving little chance for re-sowing of paddy and other crops, for it is not immediately possible to reclaim the lands. It needs a great deal of effort and funds, too. The loss of dwellings and cattle heads has further added to the despair of these people."

Requesting a special one time special assistance for Punjab she said, "While I would like to thank you and the central government for sending Rs 218.40 crore to the state of Punjab for undertaking various measures to deal with the disaster, I would like to suggest for your consideration that a special one-time assistance may be directly given to the farmers which could be released through the Prime Minister's Kisan Sanmaan Nidhi Yojana."

Urging the Prime Minister for a package for farm labourers and people belonging to the economically weaker sections she wrote, "A similar dispensation could be considered for the farm labourers and other weaker sections of the populace who have completely lost their home and all their belongings within."

Punjab’s Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has given his assent to conduct special Girdawari by August 15 to assess and compensate ‘every single penny of losses suffered by the people.

According to a government spokesperson 1495 villages in 19 districts of the state have been badly affected by the floods. More than 40 people have lost their lives, 22 injured, 391 houses have been fully damaged and 878 have been partially damaged and 1277 people were lodged in 159 relief camps.

Due to heavy flow of water the paddy crop in many fields has been destroyed. Mann has stated that to safeguard the interests of the farmers the state government is providing free saplings to the farmers of high yielding varieties of paddy. He claimed to have directed the Punjab Agriculture University, PUNSEED, agriculture department and others to provide the saplings of these varieties to the farmers.

On Monday the Congress leadership at the block level across the state submitted memorandums to the sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs) seeking immediate release of compensation to the victims of the recent floods. They demanded a minimum compensation of Rs 50,000 per acre besides financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh for those whose houses have been damaged, an ex gratia grant of Rs 5 lakhs for those injured and Rs 10 lakh to the bereaved families who have lost their loved ones.

They also demanded an assistance of Rs 2 lakh for the shopkeepers who have suffered colossal losses, Rs 50,000 for the owners whose milch cattle have died in the natural calamity.

A delegation of party leaders have also submitted a separate memorandum to the Governor Banwarilal Purohit for pressing the central government for allocating Rs 10,000 crore for compensation and rehabilitation of flood-victims in the state.

Taking the issue to another level the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has urged Purohit to order a judicial probe into the ‘man made flood crisis’ created in Punjab by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government. It appealed to him to send an assessment of the damage caused to the centre in order to avail enhanced relief for the state.

In a memorandum, the party leadership said the state government had failed to even get the damage assessed by the central team which would come in the way of release of funds from the disaster management fund to the state. It urged the Governor to direct the government to submit a report on the complete damage as well as relief distributed till now including how the Rs 218 crore received from the centre had been spent.

While one is talking about the damage caused to the paddy that was planted in Punjab and Haryana, the Centre took an important measure prohibiting the export of non Basmati white rice. This reportedly had immediate fallout internationally in countries like Canada and the United States that witnessed panic buying by people at many places.

The government claimed that the move is ‘to ensure lower prices and availability in the upcoming festival season’. A statement issued by a government spokesperson said, “In order to ensure adequate availability of non Basmati white rice in the Indian market and to allay the rise in prices in the domestic market, Government of India has amended the export policy of above variety from ‘Free with export duty of 20%’ to ‘Prohibited’ with immediate effect.

The domestic prices of Rice are on an increasing trend. The retail prices have increased by 11.5% over a year and 3% over the past month.”

It further said that the export of this variety of rice was witnessing a high increase despite the 20% export duty since last year. “This sharp increase in exports can be ascribed to high international prices due to geo-political scenario, El Nino sentiments and extreme climatic conditions in other rice producing countries, etc.

Non-Basmati white rice constitutes about 25% of total rice exported from the country. The prohibition on export of non Basmati white rice will lead to lowering of prices for the consumers in the country.

However, there is no change in export policy of non Basmati rice (parboiled rice) and Basmati rice, which forms the bulk of rice exports. This will ensure that the farmers continue to get the benefit of remunerative prices in the international market,” the statement read.

Agriculture economist Dr Gian Singh had an interesting take on the issue when asked to assess the ban in context of India’s food security. “It has to be seen in relation to the buffer stock available with the country. It needs to be looked at in context of the crisis at the world level on account of the ongoing Russia Ukraine war.

“But more importantly there is also the angle of the forthcoming parliamentary polls. Apart from keeping the prices in check the ruling dispensation also needs enough availability for its free distribution scheme,” Singh explained.

The issue also needs to be probed in relation to the constant talk about diversification of crops from the ongoing paddy wheat cycle in Punjab and Haryana. Dr Singh said, “The Centre needs to pay a minimum support price (MSP) for other crops at least at par with paddy along with an assured procurement if it wants diversification to succeed. Diversification is the need of the hour given the fact that there is a climate change, depletion of ground water and direct seeding having failed.”

Meanwhile in their fight for ensuring their rights, the farmers in Maharashtra are in the process of organising themselves. At a meeting of various farmer organisations held on July 24 in Mumbai, it was decided to form the Maharashtra chapter of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM).

A convention is scheduled to be held in Mumbai for the purpose on August 31 where other demands like legal guarantee of MSP at one and a half times the comprehensive cost of cultivation, complete liberation from debt and Rs 5000 per month pension for farmers and agricultural workers above the age of 60, and a comprehensive crop insurance scheme to help farmers in distress due to natural calamities, the burning issues of farmers in Maharashtra will also be taken up.

The farmers in the state will observe the Quit India Day on August 9 as Anti-Corporate Day. Various farmer organisations will be organising public meetings and cultural programmes on August 14 to mark the eve of Independence Day and will organise large processions under the tricolour to mark the Independence Day on August 15.

According to All India Kisan Sabha president Ashok Dhawale, “In September and October, padayatras and jathas will take the SKM message and demands to the grassroots. From November 26 to 28, a massive three day and three night joint Mahapadav by the SKM and the central trade unions (CTUs) will be held in Mumbai, as per the national call of both.

“It may be recalled that November 26, 2020 was the day the historic Delhi farmers' struggle began, combating severe repression by the BJP central and state governments. It was also the day of the all India strike by the CTUs. November 28 is the death anniversary of the champion of the peasantry and the anti-caste struggle Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.”

Dhawale stated that at another level a front of 13 progressive parties in Maharashtra have decided on a plan of united struggle around the burning problems of the people. “These issues include remunerative price for agricultural produce, minimum wage and social security to agricultural labourers and unorganised workers, injustice and atrocities on women, dalits, adivasis, minorities and other backward castes (OBCs), the burning problems of price rise and unemployment, the defence of constitutional values and strong opposition to communal and Manuwadi fascism of the RSS-BJP.

“They will also lead an intensive campaign against them corrupt, immoral and discredited Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar state government and also the anti-people, pro-corporate, communal and authoritarian Modi led BJP government at the centre,” Dhawale said.