Protesting against the government’s negligence, hundreds of tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh gathered in Guntur to stage a maha dharna in front of the AP Agricultural Department office, on Monday.
The protest, organised by the Andhra Pradesh Tenant Farmers Sangam (Union), witnessed tenant farmers (both men and women) from Guntur, Krishna and other districts of the state flocking to the Agriculture office near Market Yard.
The tenant farmers demanded proper implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Land Licensed Cultivators Act, 2011 by the state government as well as the MS Swaminathan committee report.
AP Tenant Farmers Sangam leaders N Ranga Rao, P Jamalaiah, and M Narasimha addressed the gathering before the farmers met with the Special Commissioner.
Addressing the farmers, Narasimha said, “In four years, at least 1,600 farmers have taken their lives. None of their widows have been given compensation or widow pension,” taking a dig at the Chandrababu Naidu government for filing cases on farmers who were fighting against spurious seeds. He added, “If you dare touch the farmers, we will give you a befitting reply in 2019.”
AP is one of the states that sees rampant suicide among farmers; even as the protest was taking place, a suicide was reported from Kurnool in Rayalaseema where a debt-ridden farmer reportedly hanged himself.
The farmers at the dharna raised issues related to their livelihood, such as issuing of Loan Eligibility Cards (LECs), waiving off old loans, access to crop loans, and also demanded compensation for spurious seeds and for families of suicide victims.
Agri budget allocations not helpful
The AP government in its 2018-2019 Agri-budget provided Rs 19,070.36 crore, which included Rs 467.38 crore of capital expenditure. As much as Rs 4,100 crore was allocated for loan/debt waiver for farmers.
However, these allocations do not change the plight of tenant farmers, argue activists.
“There is no single favour to tenant farmers in this budget… the meagre allocation of Rs 170 crore for crop loans is inadequate. They have to include tenant farmers as well and increase the allocation,” a representative from the AP Tenant Farmers Sangam said.
Farmers alleged that bankers are sending notices and threatening to file cases against them.
As per the Andhra Pradesh Land Licensed Cultivators Act, passed in the united AP Assembly in 2011, Loan Eligibility Cards had to be issued to tenant farmers, giving them access to 0% interest for crop loans from banks, crop insurance and several other agricultural subsidies.
What farmers are alleging is that despite clear provisions in the Act to access crop loans, bankers are not giving loans to tenant farmers and are involving land owners unnecessarily.
Special Commissioner for Agriculture, Hari Jawaharlal, after listening to the protesting farmers said that he would take necessary action. Acknowledging the spurious seeds case, Hari said, “We will constitute a committee to look into the matter as soon as possible and sort out the matter.”
Crop loss due to spurious seeds adds to farmers’ woes
In early 2016, as many as 300 chilli farmers, including 80% of the tenant farmers in Penugolanu and Valasapalli villages of Krishna district, were sold spurious seeds, leaving them with crop loss, resulting in debt burden.
Each acre of chilli requires a minimum of Rs 1 lakh investment. Most of them being tenant farmers, they had to depend on local financiers to take loans at high interest rates. The debt problems claimed one farmer’s life.
At that time, following an inquiry by scientists, the Krishna district collector ordered the seed companies to pay Rs 91,000 per acre as compensation. But the companies managed to get a stay order from the High Court.
Frustrated by the delay in the disbursement of compensation, three farmers attempted suicide in Vijayawada at a police station seeking justice.
TNM managed to speak with V Tirupati Rao, one of the tenant farmers who attempted suicide.
30-year-old Tirupati said, “I have taken Rs 5 lakh for 5 acres; with interest it has now gone up to Rs 6.5 lakh. What else could I do!”
Talking about the claims made by officials, Tirupati said, “Officials are saying the same thing. We have been running from pillar to post, we had to spend a lot of time and energy roaming around offices… just to get nothing.”
Despite police blockade in Penugolanu village, Tirupati along with nearly 30 tenant farmers managed to reach the protest site.
Gopi Bezawada (25), another young farmer who lost Rs 3 lakh due to spurious seeds, said, “I’m not even able to eat. Creditors are after me to clear my debts.”
Gopi said, “Officials are not taking action against them, since all these company heads are big shots and politically influential people.”
At Valasapalli, the story of tenant farmers seems no different, as they were also fraudulently sold chilli seeds.
Pulicherla Nagababu, one of the 21 defrauded farmers from the village, speaking to TNM alleged that the company swindled them with spurious seeds claiming they were high yielding.
K Rambabu, another chilli farmer, said, “I have a Rs 2 lakh debt… now it has become a burden on my head.”
However, all the farmers had to leave the dharna without any concrete assurance by the authorities.
When TNM asked the protesting farmers about the recent Kisan March in Mumbai, they said, “Ours is the same fate everywhere!”