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Farmer strike hits India hard

Farmers declared their 10-day protest on Friday to press demands consisting of farm loan waivers and higher prices for produce such as cereals, oilseeds and milk.

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Vegetable prices jumped as much as 10 percent in major Indian cities, including Mumbai and Delhi, as a four-day strike by millions of farmers curtailed supplies.

Farmers began their 10-day protest on Friday to press demands such as farm loan waivers and higher prices for produce such as cereals, oil seeds and milk.

“Wholesale prices of some vegetables like tomatoes and French beans have risen due to lower supplies,” said a Mumbai-based vegetable vendor, Mahesh Gupta.

Outbreaks of rural discontent pose a challenge to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised – when he came to power in 2014 – to double farm incomes in five years. Farmers in eight states, mostly ruled by Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party, have restricted supplies of vegetable and milk to the cities’ markets.

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“We are distributing milk and vegetables to the poor and needy, but we’ve decided not sell. The basic idea is to highlight the plight of farmers who have been overlooked by the government,” said Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer based in Punjab.

Prices for many crops have fallen sharply, while the price of diesel has gone up, squeezing millions of India’s mostly small-scale farmers.

Last year, six farmers were killed in similar protests that became violent in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. In recent days, farmers blocked highways in some places and poured milk onto the roads. The protests have been peaceful so far, although organizers are planning to increase the intensity in the coming days.

“The government hasn’t fulfilled promises it had given last year. We have no option but to intensify our protests,” said Ajit Nawale, state general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, one of the farmers’ union participating in the strike.

A farmers’ organization in Punjab called off its protest on Monday after a scuffle between protesting farmers and milk suppliers took place, in several parts of the state on day four of the Goan Bandh (village blockade) – even as prices of vegetables, fruits and milk continued to soar in several cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of a faction of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said there were reports of fracas between protesting farmers and milk suppliers in Amritsar, Faridkot, Mohali, Moga, Gidderbaha and some other places in the past two days. “I have never supported any violent stir. There was no support from the state government and the situation was getting out of hand at some places. We do not want any clashes,” he said, justifying the decision to call off the agitation in the state.

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However, in many other parts of Punjab, tension prevailed as farmers tried to prevent other farmers and traders from carrying vegetables, fruits and milk to urban areas. Traders clashed with farmers in Gidderbaha town, forcing police to intervene, who then booked two farmers.

The decision to stop supplies from June 1 till June 10 was taken by farmers under the banner of Kisan Ekta Manch and Rashtriya Kisan Maha Sangh, to press for minimum income guarantee scheme, implementation of Swaminathan Commission report and the waiver of farmers’ debt.

Disruption in supply has led to a sharp rise in prices of vegetable and milk in Jaipur as well.

“Jaipur Dairy alone has suffered a loss of nearly Rs 1 crore as anti-social elements spilled nearly 60,000 liters of milk on roads. Twelve tankers were vandalized. Jaipur Dairy has lodged eight-nine FIRs for damaging and manhandling employees,” said Om Prakash Punia, chairman, Jaipur Dairy.

“The prices of vegetables have increased by 25%-30% in the last three days because of restricted supply,” a vegetable vendor at Muhana vegetable market said.

In Madhya Pradesh, farmers spilled milk and threw vegetables on roads at several places after which the police arrested some of the farmers. In Betul district, six farmers were held and later released on bail after they threw vegetables on road. Farmers in Khargone also threw vegetables while at Neelbad in Bhopal, vegetable growers distributed free vegetables among people to register their protest against the government’s policies.

Two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people depend directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihood, but farm incomes only account for 14 percent of the gross domestic product, reflecting a growing divide between the countryside and wealthier cities. “I am stocking up vegetables for the entire week,” said Anjali Salunkhe, a housewife in Mumbai, fearing prices could double as they did during protests last year.


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