The lockdown has turned the lives of Tamil Nadu’s farmers upside down. The weeks have thrown the agrarian sector into distress, with farmers growing perishable vegetables, fruits and flowers feeling the lockdown heat.

The enforcement of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has prevented the farmers from transporting their produce to the mandis and markets.The farmers are facing harassment from the law enforcement bodies at every check points, even though the Tamil Nadu government had issued an advisory on March 23 allowing essential goods such as fruits, grains and vegetables to be transported.

Muthu is a farmer from Thamarai Pakkam village of Tiruvallur which is the neighbouring district of Chennai city. He was transporting vegetables in a mini tempo from his farm for sale at Koyambedu Market which is the whole sale vegetable market of Chennai city. On the way, he was frisked by a police inspector at 8.30 am. He pleaded to allow him through as otherwise the vegetables would perish. The cops said that he could not use personal transport and only vehicles earmarked for collective use of farmers. His mini tempo was seized and he was asked to unload the vegetables on the side of the road. The inspector had to leave for another task, and the farmer was passed over to a sub-inspector. He was kept waiting for three hours. The anxious farmer saw a police jeep of the District Superintendent of Police, and in sheer frustration threw the vegetables in front o the jeep, in the middle of the road. He started crying, but in vain. He had lost the day, his effort, and his crop of vegetables.

The farmers are also facing major delays in the procurement of their harvested crop like paddy at the procurement centres because of the reportedly callous and lethargic attitude of the officials who are also facing acute manpower shortage. Like the police, they are also under stress, and the farmers are having to pay the price.

Prem, a farmer from Seeram Palayam of Manacha Nallur Taluk of Thiruchira Palli District told The Citizen on the phone: “I spent about Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per acre for the cultivation of paddy. Even there are restrictions and harassment of police to transport the produce, I could manage to take it to the Direct Purchase Centres (DPC) of the state. A few officials present were deliberately slowing down the process of procurement and demanding commissions for each sack of the harvested paddy. My harvested paddy crop was left in the open area of the warehouse. There was a heavy rainfall two days ago, and the freshly harvested paddy is water soaked. It cannot be sold. Now what am I supposed to do, I have lost everything.”

S.Ranganathan, General Secretary of Cauvery Delta Farmer’s Welfare Association told The Citizen that the summer rice crop harvest is ongoing in the 14-16 lakh hectare Cauvery Delta area It is going to be a bumper harvest but the delay in procurement will result in losses. The delay is because of the non availability of daily wager workers who load the rice. He said the farmers are also worried that the sowing season that begins in the month of June will also be adversely impacted.

The farmers of the state are incurring a huge loss as they could not sell their harvested vegetables, fruits and flowers due to the lock down. Despite the advisory issued by the state government, the agents are not willing to buy the harvests because of the lack of demand from consumers. Panruti region in the state is known for jack fruit cultivation. The ripened jack fruit could not be plucked from the tree because the buyers have stopped taking the produce as exports have stopped.

Hosur region in the state is bordered between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which is known for the cultivation of mangoes and flowers that are usually sent to the nearby city Bengaluru in Karnataka. As the interstate transport has been blocked, the access to the biggest markets has been blocked. The mangoes and flowers are rotting in the fields, with incalculable losses. The farmers of betel nuts in the Thiruvarur district and the farmers of flower cultivation in the Naga pattinam district of the state are bearing the brunt of the lock down as well because of the closure of markets and Mandis.

Shivaji from Karuppam Pulam village in Vedaranyam Taluk of Naga Pattinam district told The Citizen on the phone: “ I spent about Rs 50,000 to Rs.70,000 for the cultivation of Jasmine flowers. Due to the lock down , there is no demand for flowers, though this is the time for all kinds of festivals and marriage ceremonies. The agents stopped taking the produce as there is no demand. Plucking has been stopped and the flowers are drooping and finally falling down in the fields. I had borrowed money from the middle men for meeting the expense of the cultivation. Now, how am I going to pay them back. I am looking at the sky for answers.”

The demand for milk has come down drastically because of the closure of tea shops, restaurants, smaller hotels. Farmers are pouring milk into the drains. Poultry farmers and those growing bananas are in distress as well. The situation is grim and depressing for the farmers, and the extension of the lockout is expected to worsen the situation.

P. Ayya Kannu, President of National South Indian River Interlinking Farmer Association who led the series of farmer’s protests in Delhi told The Citizen that the unprecedented lock down has accentuated the agrarian crisis. “We are facing a huge loss because we could not transport the harvested grains, vegetables and fruits to the Mandis or the government warehouses. Even for those who managed it, the middle men bought the produce for a much lower price. We had expected the government to announce a compensatory relief package for the farmers, but this has not been done. It is so disappointing. The farming community is always being looked down upon by all sections of society, because they cannot mobilize themselves to fight for their rights given their nature of occupation unlike industrial workers.

So, I am going to file a suit in the High Court of Madras demanding Rs 21, 000 per acre for the losses incurred by the farmers during the lockdown.”