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In MP’s Shujalpur Mandi, Scars of Notebandi & Farmers’ Agitation

The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.

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Fifty three-year-old Gopal Singh Patidar is busy organising a sheaf of papers, his bald pate glistening with beads of perspiration.

An aid walks into his spacious, well-lit room and places a big red diary on his table. He looks up, flashes a pleasant smile and taps the red cloth cover of the diary. “This contains the details of all the sale proceeds at this mandi,” he quips.

The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Gopal Singh Patidar, secretary of the Shujalpur farmers market. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Gopal Singh Patidar is the secretary at the sprawling Shujalpur farmers’ market in Madhya Pradesh’s Shajapur district.

The Shujlapur mandi lies approximately 225km away from Pipliya Mandi in Mandsaur, where police opened fire on agitating farmers on 6 June, killing five.
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Shops, Storehouses Shut, Empty Trucks Lay Idle

The Shujalpur mandi is one of the largest in the state, catering to thousands of farmers and traders. It is also among several mandis in the Malwa region that have been non-functional since 1 June after farmers demanding a hike in the minimum support price for their produce forced their closure.

Also Read: Mandsaur Violence: Loan Waiver Will Only Increase Long Term Pain

Patidar doesn’t have a lot of work to do today.

The occasional tractor carrying large sacks of onions, which the BJP government of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has promised to buy up for Rs 8 per kg in the face of all-round farmers’ distress in MP, trundles into the mandi where there are no other buyers or sellers. 
The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

The shops and storehouses are shut, the empty trucks lie idle. This is in sharp contrast to the normal hustle and bustle of deals struck and struck down between traders and farmers, of the swift but efficient exchange of cash, and of satisfied buyers and sellers.

But that was another time – when the world of the vyapari and the kisan revolved around agricultural produce and hard cash that was at the centre of the farm economy in Madhya Pradesh.

Then came notebandi which hit both communities hard. Today, we continue to reel under its after-effects.
Kaluram Verma, Former President, Shujalpur Mandi
The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Kaluram Verma, former president of MP’s Shujalpur Mandi, says the trader and farmer communities are still struggling with the effects of demonetisation. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Cash Strapped Since Demonetisation

Patidar concurs.

Notebandi ka bhari asar hua hai. Kisanon ko nagad bhugtaan zyada nahin mil raha (demonetisation has hit farmers hard, they are not getting cash payments now).

His comments reveal a poorly-kept secret of the Chouhan government that is now trying to douse the flames – literally – of the farmers’ agitation that has gripped the state and crippled the mandis.

Mandis constitute the backbone of the state’s rural economy, and Madhya Pradesh is home to about 335 large and small mandis.
The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Buyers and sellers at Shujalpur mandi. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Also Read: Mandsaur Is Just a Symptom of Rural Tension Due to Agrarian Crisis

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 8 November 2016 demonetisation announcement came at a time when Madhya Pradesh’s farmers were grappling with a crisis involving the progressive plummeting of prices of agricultural produce, including vegetables and pulses.

Demonetisation brought with it a slew of measures. First, the state administration announced that 50 percent of the dealings in the mandis would be in cash and the rest by cheque. Anand Singh Mewada, a relatively wealthy farmer and the president of the Shujapur Zila Panchayat Samiti, says:

We soon encountered large traders who dealt in sums amounting to Rs 1 and 2 crore daily. How were they to settle their records in the face of the new banking and Income Tax regulations?
The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has promised to buy onions for up to Rs 8 per kg in the face of the farmers’ agitation in MP. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)
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Electronic Transfers a Reason Farmers Are Agitating

Equally problematic was the cheque system which goes through a labyrinthine and wobbly banking process. It can take anything from 15 days to a month, before the money is credited to the accounts of sellers – the farmers. As the problems associated with demonetisation compounded, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government came up with the system of transferring of money through RTGS (real time gross settlement) and NEFT (national electronic funds transfer).

“Today, suddenly shifting to a new culture is proving to be difficult for those farmers and traders who have for years dealt in cash... these are some of the changes wrought by demonetisation which have significantly contributed to the ongoing farmers,” says Gopal Singh Patidar.

Patidar flicks through the sheaf of papers on his table and shares a state government notification that details the urgency of switching to RTGS and NEFT – terms that are alien for many of Madhya Pradesh’s unlettered farmers.

The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Terms like RTGS and NEFT are alien for many of Madhya Pradesh’s many unlettered farmers. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

With the ongoing farmers’ agitation showing no signs of abating, both the farming and the trading communities continue to sustain heavy losses. “Problems wrought by notebandi are yet to be corrected,” Paridar says, adding, the “situation has not normalised”.

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Destroyed Crops and Livelihoods

The farmers’ agitation, the forced closure of mandis and demonetisation have together cast gloom over Madhya Pradesh’s agricultural economy – which is nowhere near any immediate resolution before the state goes to the polls in 2018.

Before it all began, the Shujalpur mandi would earn an income of 2 percent over the sale proceeds. Now, that has stopped.

Just outside the gates of Shujalpur mandi, the tractors of Hafeez Ali of Richhoda village and Ashok Gerkhadi of Shujalpur, laden with onions, halt as the ignition of the coughing engines are cut off.

“My onions are too small in size, so they are not good enough to be sold at the mandi,” says Ali, as he sits atop the sacks stacked on the tractor carrier.

The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Hafeez Ali, of Richhoda village waits with his tractor ourside Shujalpur mandi. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Ali says he has “no clue how and where to dispose of his under-sized onions”. “I might have to just throw away,” he adds.

On the other hand, Gerkhadi, whose onions are of an acceptable size, confidently drives his tractor into the farthest end of the mandi where he is prepared to store the produce before a buyer – in all likelihood the state government – picks it up for the declared Rs 8 per kilo.

The farmers’ protests, forced closure of mandis & note ban have together cast gloom over MP’s agricultural economy.
Ashok Gerkhadi of Shujalpur, waits with his onion-laden tractor. (Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Ashok Vijayvargiya, a Shujalpur farmer trying to find ways out of the agricultural mess in a crippled mandi, says:

With the farmers’ agitation nowhere near ending, the onions that you see stacked up under the sheds will only need two more showers before they turn bad. They will then have to be thrown away. This is so depressing since this is all that our life is all about.

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