By Quaid Najmi & Anand Singh
Mumbai/New Delhi, May 18 | Day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi released Rs 2,000 each to 9.50 crore farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sanman Nidhi Scheme on May 14, the peasantry was hit by an unexpected bolt from the blue.
Barely 24 hours after the PM’s nationally-televised event, and the ensuing interactions and laudatory messages from the BJP leaders, all major companies in the country effected a steep hike in prices of different categories of fertilisers – a key farming ingredient – on May 15.
Many companies, whole-sellers and retailers by the weekend had implemented the new prices of fertilisers, just as the farming community was preparing for the upcoming monsoon sowing three-four weeks hence.
As the impact of the price hikes – ranging from 20-60 per cent for certain varieties or brands – sunk in, farmer leaders said that it could put a huge strain on the already over-burdened peasantry and compound the agro-crisis across the country.
The first to red flag the issue, the Nationalist Congress Pary (NCP) has written to Union Minister for Chemicals & Fertilisiers, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, flaying the price hike as an “unfortunate decision” and demanding its immediate rollback.
NCP President and former Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said on Tuesday that it (price hike) would hamper the pre-sowing farming activities and rub salt on the wounds of the farmers.
Backing Pawar, Shiv Sena’s farmer face and Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) President Kishore Tiwari – who has been accorded MoS status – said the price hikes by the fertiliser companies “appears to be pre-planned and done hand-in-glove with government support”.
“What was the need to do it just one day after the PM’s highly-publicised but meager handout to the farmers? Why is the PM and the minister (Gowda) silent on this, knowing the current grave crisis afflicting the country on all fronts,” Tiwari asked.
“The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has badly impacted our people, devastating their every means of livelihood,” Pawar told Gowda, adding that the farming community is reeling under one of the worst-ever crises and its issues need be addressed on priority.
Maharashtra Congress President Nana F. Patole said that the Modi government has acted on expected lines “for the benefit of a handful of crony industrialists” at the cost of the tillers.
“This is the second time in less than 12 months that the BJP government has backstabbed the farmers – last year it was the three farm laws, and now on the threshold of monsoon, a surreptitious hike in fertiliser prices… After giving Rs 2,000, the government will now take away more than five times of that amount from the peasantry,” Patole said.
Under the ambitious PM-KISAN Scheme, the Prime Minister released the eighth instalment of Rs 2,000, which amounted to a financial benefit of over Rs 19,000 crore for 9.50 crore farmers across the country for the 2021-2022 fiscal.
Launched in December 2018, PM-KISAN is a central sector scheme with 100 per cent funding from the Centre, for an income support of Rs 6,000 per year in three instalments of Rs 2,000 each to small-marginal farmers having a combined land holding of up to two hectares.
Taking umbrage at the government move, Pawar said that instead of helping the distressed farming community, the Centre has taken the decision to increase the prices of fertilisers exponentially even as the lockdowns have already crumbled the marketing system.
“As the monsoon is right at the doorsteps, the unfortunate decision would directly hamper the pre-sowing agricultural activities and in future affect the production cost and productivity of the crops,” Pawar said, seeking Gowda’s personal intervention in the matter.
Patole and Tiwari – both hailing from farming backgrounds like Pawar – contended that the farmers who got the Rs 2,000 handout would actually be forced to shell out around three-four times more under the revised rates for all types of fertilisers.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org & Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)