MSP, Suicides, Corporates: Cocktail of Rage for Southern Farmers

Farmers of the 5 southern states extended solidarity to Punjab & Haryana farmers and demanded fair, guaranteed MSP.

5 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

From Kodagu district of Karnataka, a motley rally of tractors and cars reached Bengaluru city on the eve of India’s 72nd Republic day. Led by Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, the rally merged with vehicles of Samyukta Horata, an umbrella organisation of farmers and trade unions. Workers of the Communist parties and the Congress too joined in to form a decent protest, over a 100 vehicles strong.

This, in a state ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party whose government at the Centre had introduced the new farm laws.

As the tractor rally called by Punjab and Haryana farmers rocked the national capital on Tuesday, in the southern states a visibly strong farmers’ protest raged in solidarity, although with additional demands.

In the south, apart from demanding a repeal of the three new farm laws, the farmers have asked for “legal guarantee” on Minimum Support Price (MSP). This would allow them to litigate if procurement of their produce is made at a price less than the MSP.    
Members of Dalit Sangharsh Samithi of Tumkur, Karnataka protest on 26 January
Members of Dalit Sangharsh Samithi of Tumkur, Karnataka protest on 26 January
The Quint

The southern farmers have also asked their state governments to step in and boost the MSP so that their produce could be bought at a better minimum price. From the Centre, they want equitable distribution of procurement. Rice and wheat should be procured based on the acreage of cultivation, they say.

Protests in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana reveal that the farmers here have independent reasons to oppose the Centre’s new rules.

Karnataka’s Double Whammy

The state recorded the second highest number of farmer suicides in the country—1,331—according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau data (2019). Maharashtra had ranked the highest with 2,680 such deaths.

Despite the apparent distress among Karnataka farmers, in 2020, the state government amended the state agricultural laws to the sector’s dismay. Last year, BS Yediyurappa-led BJP government in Karnataka passed two amended acts—Karnataka Land Reforms (2nd Amendment) Act 2020 and Karnataka Industries (Facilitation) (Amendment) Act 2020. Also passed was an ordinance—Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) (Amended) Ordinance 2020.

“In Karnataka, the protests started as early as September 2020 even before Bharat Bandh was held on 8 December. Farmers in the state feel that the state’s amended farm laws work in tandem with the Centre’s new farm rules”
TN Prakash Kammardi, agri-economist and former chairman of Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission

With the amended agricultural acts, non-farmers can purchase and use farm lands in Karnataka. Farm lands can also be used for non-agricultural or industrial purposes. The amended APMC ordinance allows purchase and sale of farm produce outside the mandi system, which the farmers think can lead to weakening of the market yards where they now conduct business.

To oppose the farm laws of both the Centre and the state, farmers in Karnataka have asked for “legal recourse” to ensure MSP.

“’One nation-One MSP’ will not work. Based on differences in the cost of cultivation in different states MSPs should vary. And the MSP should be guaranteed. There should be a legal commitment to adhere to the MSP so that even private players who purchase the produce will have to adhere to a minimum purchase value for fear of litigation,” Kammardi told The Quint.

As farmers’ unions converged in Bengaluru city, slogans were raised against both the Centre and the state laws.

Over 500 kilometres away, in Hyderabad too, the sentiment was strong.

Shrunk Mandis of AP, Telangana

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) had weakened a decade ago when purchases were forced to shift out. Contract farming which is proposed by the Centre’s new farm laws also exists here.

The farmers in the twin Telugu-speaking states warn that this would happen across the country if the farm laws are implemented. There is enough reason to protest in solidarity, they say. AP and Telangana account for the third and the fourth highest number of farmer suicides in the country as per the NCRB-2019 data.

Farmers protest in Karnataka in solidarity with tractor rally in Delhi
Farmers protest in Karnataka in solidarity with tractor rally in Delhi
(Photo: The Quint)

“In both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana we have concerns that can be seen as an aftermath of market yard weakening. The farmers here want the Central government to buy more of their produce because prices are not assured elsewhere,” said GV Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad.

There should be equal distribution of procurement from all states so that market prices can become stable, he said. Meaning, the government should procure grains from farmers from all states based on the area of cultivation. The more the area of cultivation, the more the procurement should be.

On 25 January, farmers’ unions approached the Telangana High Court and obtained permission to hold a march in Hyderabad to support the Delhi tractor rally. A dozen farmers’ unions participated. The state police had earlier denied permission for protests.

Protests against BJP in TN, Kerala

P Ayyakkannu, farmer leader of Tamil Nadu, announced on 2 January that he along with 300 others would travel to New Delhi to extend solidarity. With a noose around his neck, Ayyakkannu, known for orchestrating shocking forms of protest, stood at the Singhu border fetching eyeballs.

In 2017, Ayyakkannu had led another farmers’ protest in Delhi. Members of his National South Indian Rivers Inter-Linking Farmers Association had then protested “nude” as they held skulls of their counterparts who had died by suicide.

A farmer from Tamil Nadu displays human skulls and bones during a protest ahead of their march towards Parliament, at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, Friday, 30 Nov., 2018. 
A farmer from Tamil Nadu displays human skulls and bones during a protest ahead of their march towards Parliament, at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, Friday, 30 Nov., 2018. 
The Quint

On 26 January, Ayyakkannu, who was travelling to Madhurai for a protest, said, “These farm rules are against farmers’ interest”. Beyond solidarity, Ayyakkannu said that Tamil Nadu farmers strongly believe that agricultural lands should not be used for commercial purposes. “We do not want corporations to enter the agricultural sector. Besides, farmers should get pension of Rs 5,000,” he said, reflecting the sentiment of farmers’ unions in TN.

In both Tamil Nadu and Kerala, farmers’ protests echo a strong sentiment against the Bharatiya Janata Party. The national party is expected to serve only the interests of industrialists, it is widely believed. In Kerala, both Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian National Congress have called for protests at panchayat and block levels. In the state where farm lands have shrunk by 24,000 hectares in the last decade alone, farmers think that the new rules would make matters worse.

As the south rages against new farm laws, the ruling governments in Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have already declared that the new farm laws will not be implemented in these states. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and BJP governments have accepted the new rules, a strong opposition from Indian National Congress is afoot.

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