With over a couple of weeks left for polling to commence in Gujarat for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, both BJP and Congress are busy fielding candidates across the 26 seats in the state. One of the major issues that will be raised during the campaign is the farmers’ woes, especially in the Saurashtra belt of Gujarat.
The region has seven Lok Sabha seats where the BJP has lost its edge thanks to a woeful performance in the 2017 Assembly elections. Although the party did manage to form the government thanks to its urban vote base, the farmers of Gujarat, especially in Saurashtra region, are enraged with the government’s apathy towards their state of affairs.
The Quint met some cotton farmers from Malvan village of Surrendranagar district, which lies in the Saurashtra belt. During the chauapal held in the middle of a barren castor field, the farmers enumerated several issues that hamper their production resulting poorer yield.
Underpaid Insurance Claims
For the last couple of years, the Saurashtra belt has been severely hit by drought and poor monsoon, resulting in poor yield for the farmers.
According to the farmers of Malvan, the situation was worsened by the government and insurance companies who have not paid the full sum assured against crop loss.
One of the farmers, Ashok Patel of Nanagoria village, told The Quint that the insurance companies haven’t fulfilled their end of the bargain in 2018.
“In 2018 we didn’t receive any rainfall and all talukas in Surendranagar district were declared drought-affected. The farmers pay 5 percent premium on Rs 1 Lakh (Rs 5,000) to Universal Sompo General Insurance Company. Now, according to the guidelines of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna, all affected areas should receive 25 percent of the sum assured, but in the last 3-4 months we have only received 6 percent. We wrote to the PM, CM, DY CM and even the local MLA but nothing has happened.”Ashok Patel, Cotton Farmer
“They deducted Rs 30,300 as premium from my account and just four days ago they paid me Rs 20,000 from the sum assured. I got Rs 10,000 less than the actual premium that’s deducted from my account. Now what can a farmer do?” Ashok said.
Govt Buying Produce below MSP
The farmers told The Quint that the Minimum Sale Price (MSP) for cotton was set at around Rs 1,040 for 20 kilos.
“However, we get around Rs 800-900 instead of the promised MSP. To this day we have not received the full MSP promised by the government. The losses keep racking up,” said Chandrakant Patel.
The losses go up to lakhs for farmers who produce 100 quintals of cotton.
“For 20 kg of produce we incur a loss of Rs 200 and almost all farmers incur a loss of Rs 500-600. When we produce over 100 quintal, on each quintal we lose around Rs 1,000. So, by not buying at MSP, the farmer incurs a loss of Rs 1-1.5 lakh,” Ashok Patel added.
Water Scarcity and Power Cuts
As mentioned earlier, the Saurashtra belt received poor rainfall in the last monsoon and things have not improved for the farmers although the Narmada canal network had reached Surendranagar district around six years ago.
In fact according to one farmer the canal’s quality is extremely poor and in the last six years water was hardly ever released for irrigation.
“Whenever farmers install machines at the main canal, the State Reserve Police (SRP) shows up and removes the pumps. They cut our pipes and ensure that water is never released into the minor canals. How will a farmer irrigate? Instead they supply water to nearby companies. Even farmers who have land near the main canal are forbidden from drawing water from it.”Pravin Patel, cotton farmer.
Power shortage also makes life worse for the farmers who get only 8 hours of power after sundown.
“The power that is meant to come during the morning hours comes at night. At night all sorts of insects, animals and other life forms come out at night. And when we go to the farm at night our women worry whether we will return in the morning or not,” Ashok Patel added.
Anti-Incumbency on the Rise
Almost all farmers said that the current government is anti-farmer and needs to be ousted to teach them a lesson.
“The government is talking about nationalism but isn’t talking about the farmers' woes. The government will face a lot of problems in the future and they will have to talk about the farmers. If they don’t address our issues no one will vote them back,” said Chandrakant Patel.
According to another cotton farmer, Lalabhai Patel, neither the BJP nor the Congress is interested in fixing the farmer’s issues.
“Political parties are rallying for jawans to garner votes and have completely forgotten the farmers. People should remember even the farmer protects the country. It is the farmer who cultivates crops to feed the nation. It is good to talk about the jawans but we should also talk about the farmers, because the condition of farmers in this country is quite poor and no party is paying attention to this.”Lalabhai Patel, Cotton Farmer
If the BJP want to repeat its stellar performance in Gujarat during the 2014 General Elections, they must urgently address all the farmers’ woes in the state. The Modi wave is waning in rural Gujarat and its after-effects can spell doom for the party in the state.