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Telangana State (TS), with 17 Lok Sabha constituencies, goes to the Loksabha (Parliament) polls in the first phase on April 11. After the deadline for withdrawal of nominations ended March 28 Thursday, a total of 443 candidates remained in the fray in Telangana with Nizamabad Constituency topping the list with 185 candidates, including over 170 farmers.  

 Nizamabad farmers, mostly turmeric producers, made big news by their novel protest: The farmers  had chosen to contest the elections, as Independents, to protest the governments’  failure to ensure remunerative prices for turmeric and red jowar (sorghum) produce and establishing the turmeric board. Both the Centre and the State are responsible for this. Turmeric rates in wholesale market have fallen Rs 4,000-5,000 per quintal this year in comparison to Rs 12,000 per quintal in 2014, reported PTI (April  04, 2019, Economic Times).  Few months before the assembly polls in December 2018, the TRS government had procured red jowar at Rs 2,300 per quintal. However, after coming to power, it stopped the procurement, complained a farmer.

Farmers have been seeking MSP of Rs 15,000 per quintal for turmeric and Rs 3,500 MSP per quintal of red jowar,  besides setting up of Turmeric Board. The price is for a certain quality product.  In fact all three parties now in the fray, TRS Congress and BJP,  are worried by this protest. They know that despite all the promises they had made, they did little to mitigate the problems of farmers here. But each tries to shift the blame on to the other party.  After all, no party and no government at the Centre or in the state has bothered to address the problems.

This form of protest was  tried earlier by Fluorosis victims in Telangana, to draw attention to their problems neglected by governments.

In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections in Nalgonda constituency,it may be recalled,  a record number of 480 candidates filed their nominations to protest the lack of safe drinking water for the fluoride-affected villages of the district.  It was part of a mass movement that ultimately forced governments to take up several measures to counter  fluorosis. Though fluorosis is there all over India, it was only in Telangana that substantial measures were taken as a result of a mass movement that acqired a political momentum in course of time. 

(See https://countercurrents.org/2018/05/10/fluorosis-a-problem-of-serious-dimensions-but-neglected-by-all-political-parties/)

Undivided  Andhra Pradesh alone once occupied 35.0% of turmeric area of India and 50 to 60 % of its production. And Nizamabad district has been a major producer. Farmers in Telangana’s Nizamabad district, have been agitating for the last two months for a remunerative price for red jowar and turmeric crops. At least 1,000 farmers from 200-odd villages were planning to file their nominations , said an earlier report.  “At least five to six farmers from every village will file their nominations as Independents in the elections. The villagers have contributed money for these contestants for the election deposit and also campaign,” said a farmers’ leader,  who is also a turmeric farmer.  Hurdles created by officials and police, besides practical difficulties,  reduced the number of actual nominations.   According to him, the farmers are under severe pressure from the ruling party,  Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leaders,  to opt out of the race as party president and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter and sitting MP Kalvakuntla Kavitha is contesting the elections for a second term as Member of Parliament(MP).  “Our intention is not to fight against her or only TRS  but to highlight our issue at the national level,” the farmer said.

Ultimately  only around  200 farmers could  file  nominations in time, and  only 178 were found valid. It was not an easy job for farmers :  Rs 25000 is the deposit for every nomination paper, to be signed by 10 voters registered in that constituency who should  physically be  present in the election  office, earning the wrath of the powers that be. For a candidate of a registered party, in contrast, two persons are enough to sign.

Over 2000 farmers from several villages  had indeed come to the Election  office to sign papers. With farmers from various parts of Nizamabad and Jagtiyal districts descending on Nizamabad town to file nominations, police erected barricades, deployed additional force and imposed prohibitory orders around the office of the of the District Collector or DC.  (See photo below.)  Some sugarcane farmers also filed nominations. The farmers said their action was to highlight their demand for Minimum Support Price (MSP) and also to voice their angst over the  failure of both the Central and state governments to come to their rescue.

Farmers squat at DC’s office. Courtesy : Times of India

 “We are contesting in the election as a mark of protest. The TRS failed to deliver us the promises it made during the 2014 polls. It promised Turmeric Board for the region. It could not do it. It also failed to get us the minimum support price for turmeric and red jowar,”  said one farmer candidate.

Kavitha, sitting TRS MP,  had alleged that Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders were provoking farmers to file nominations.  Addressing an election rally, she said 1,000 farmers should file nominations from the Varanasi and Amethi Lok Sabha constituencies from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi are contesting to draw the country’s attention to the problems of farmers, especially with respect to poor remunerative prices. Kavitha said that the turmeric farmers, who are contesting in her constituency as a protest, were actually fighting against the BJP and the Congress as both Congress and BJP failed the people.  “Farmers and I stand together against the national parties,” she said while addressing the media.  She said that the Fasal Bima Yojana proposed by the NDA government has a lot of loopholes, although the BJP boasts a lot about it.

“It is not to win the elections. We wanted to highlight our problems and want to get our demands fulfilled. Are they (Telangana government) not aware about our problems,” a  turmeric farmer said: TRS and Kavitha can not escape responsibilty.  Several dharnas, rasta-rokos  etc were held, but there was no response from them and hence a decision was taken to file nominations and contest the elections, he added. We will lose the election and deposit also but we did not withdraw the nominations. We wanted to bring it to national attention,” he said adding “we have no political agenda. We welcome any party which resolves our problems”. Rs 25000 is the deposit for a Lok Sabha seat, and Rs.12500 if the candidate is from SC or ST communities. Despite this 170 farmers filed nominations.

Koti Ekarala Telangana : Boon or bane for farmers?

TRS government and its Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR)  have been promising one crore acres of wet, irrigated land ( Koti Ekarala Telangana), at huge expense of  tens of thousands of crores of rupees,  to turn Telangana into a gold mine for farmers. You can earn even Rs. One crore per acre per year,  he often said, painting a ROSY picture, symbolizing the rose color of his party flag  His daughter Kavita, elected as  MP  in 2014,  made many promises and few efforts regarding turmeric farmers’ problems  of Nizamabad but little was realized in practice. After all, legislatures are not only talking shops but have turned into akhadas (wrestling arenas), for fisticuffs on trivial or non-issues, while neglecting burning problems of people. Few problems are resolved there. 

Koti Ekarala Telangana, KCR said about his pet slogan,  would push up production and productivity of crops like never before. With such high expectations, farmers invested heavily, and became indebted too.  But by themselves,  higher production of crops, including commercial crops,  is not going to make farmers rich: That is  because  marketing problems and low prices,  compared to high input costs, haunt farmers, more so small and middle  peasants. It is farm traders and middle men who are making merry as prices of farm produce fall drastically  with high production, in the absence of  a reasonable MSP, and of an agri  processing industry that would take care of  all farm produce, even if  production is high.

( See link below for comment on various aspects of  koti ekarala Telangana in countercurrents.org.)

https://countercurrents.org/2018/10/14/crore-acre-magani-in-telangana-irrigation-project-that-is-too-costly-unsustainable-and-adding-to-environmental-burden/

In the absence of proper marketing and processing facilties for farm produce, agriculture becomes a bane and not a boon promised by KCR, now in power for five years. The TRS  blames, and rightly so, the Modi-led BJP Government at the Centre for its failures to set up a Turmeric Board. But what prevented them, farmers ask, to implement a MSP scheme on their own, and  to help set up a processing plant here that would have helped value-addition and employment too ?  TRS and  Kavitha were dancing all the way with batukamma, spending over Rs 30 cr every year (one crore rupees  per district)  for festivities,  a festival full of yellow and turmeric, but little they did to resolve the associated problems. 

Both KCR and Modi governments offered direct cash benefit schemes to farmers with an eye on elections but that did not save them from this protest. TRS government by its Rythu bandhu scheme, had already paid Rs.4000 per acre, for two crops at that rate, whether cultivated or not. That indeed benefited the landed rich, more so the absentee landlords. There were landed rich, more so absentee landlords, who got a few lakhs of rupees through this scheme though they cultivated little land.  And the benefit was not extended to tenant farmers, the real cultivators, who invested their labor and money including by raising private loans, who are the most exploited lot among peasantry. The benefit was meant  only for land-owners but not cultivating peasants. And despite all these schemes, 170 farmers filed nominations to highlight the crisis in farming. Sops are not solutions   obviously. 

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 Rich farmers make profits,  while poor peasants are crushed by crisis. See this Report of 2010 updated on  January 21, 2013: 

Thanks to the highest ever prices prevailing for turmeric, the  farmers have realised up to Rs 16,700 a quintal in December 2012.  An all-time high. Average price that year has not been less than Rs 11,000 a quintal. Last July’s best price was Rs 7,000 a quintal, hovering around Rs 5,200 for the rest of the season, says a Report  dated  January 21, 2013 in business-standard.com :

“While Chinnaya has made Rs 9 lakh from 90 quintals of turmeric he produced, Maruthi has earned Rs 8,50,000 from 85 quintals, it said. While many local turmeric farmers like them have been besotted by new cars, at least 15 others who have put their cash to more productive use, buying tractors. Building houses and sending children abroad for higher studies is becoming common. For instance, in Ankapur village of Armoor taluk there are at least 75 families whose children are in the US, UK or Australia for higher studies.

“ Another turmeric farmer, B Sai Reddy, has encashed a cool Rs 1.21 crore from his 50 acres of turmeric harvest this season. The average yield was 25 quintals an acre. Sai Reddy devoted the rest of his farm of 128 acres to cultivate vegetables and millets such as red bajra, jowar and soya. Sai Reddy has invested his earnings in a new drip irrigation pipe factory, the unit cost of which was around Rs 1 crore.”

“The car is now a new status symbol,” says G Ganga Reddy, a turmeric farmer from Noothpalli. A 10-minute stay at the village centre showed how. Several gleaming brand-new Swifts and Santros were seen crisscrossing the area. Two-wheelers and mobile phones are of course an integral part of every farmer’s personal ensemble.”

That is how landed rich turn into capitalists, and big consumers of white goods,  aided by the state policies and resources. It is welcome, but what is tragic is, the poor and middle peasantry are left high and dry.  They borrow and invest, the whole family toils, and produce. But finally when the crop arrives, the price is low, the market is rigged up by traders and middle men, and there is no godown capacity to store. The farmer often fails even  to recover his costs, but the money-lender is on his neck. As debts and high interests pile up, in the absence of institutional credit to the small peasant and tenant farmer, and in the face of a callous administration, the farmer is forced to sell at low price, and repay private loans. Or if he fails,  commits suicide. Suicides are particularly high among farmers of commercial crops, turmeric being one of them.  Over three lakh farmers committed suicide in about  20 years (1995 onwards)  in India, and Telangana had a major share in it, amidst the farm crisis.

“Turmeric business in Nizamabad this season is valued at over Rs 500 crore. Last year it was around Rs 200 crore. In fact, the demand for turmeric started soaring from August last year when the model price touched Rs 7,600 a quintal. It went up to Rs 9,150 in October, Rs 11,500 in November, Rs 10,100 in December, Rs 9,850 in January 2010, Rs 8,900 in February and Rs 11,000 in March.

“In the state, turmeric is cultivated in about 63,000 hectares. Nizamabad alone harvests in about 10,000 acres. This year’s high prices are unusual, with turmeric prices breaching record figures.”

(https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/in-andhra-s-nizamabad-all-that-glitters-is-turmeric-110061400011_1.html)

Incidentally, from the above report, one can notice how landlords flourish with vast land, 40 plus years after land ceiling laws. This is in contrast to 40-50 percent villagers being virtually  landless, but are  peasants by profession, across vast parts of India. They toil as tenants and agri labor with very low incomes. The pro-kulak  lobbies in power as well as opposition, including the parliamentary Left,  fighting for remunerative price for farm produce, have little concern for this vast section representing the most exploited and oppressed people of India.  

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The above was a Report of 2012, when AP was undivided and KCR was leading an agitation for separate Telangana promising a radical  change in farmers’ lives in the new state. And what happened in new Telangana, carved out in 2014 summer,  of KCR?

Turmeric price tumbles from Rs 12000 plus to 6000 per quintal

Turmeric price was Rs 12400 in 2010, almost a decade ago. It was Rs. 16,700 a quintal in December 2012, an all-time high. So acreage under turmeric went up. But the price was down in 2017 to Rs. 8000, alarming by itself to the farmers whose input costs have been rising. That was despite introduction of National Agriculture Market (NAM) scheme, by the Centre,  which facilitates online trading that claimingly boosted the confidence of farmers on fair price for turmeric. Despite the brewing crisis, neither BJP-led Centre nor TRS Govt., did little to counter the problem. Now the price tumbled down to Rs 6000.

See this Report of The Hindu dated  February 04,2018:

Turmeric price in the market is the reason for farmers being unhappy in the beginning of the season itself with even the top variety fetching less than Rs. 7,000 per quintal says a Report from Nizamabad.  That is a sharp fall from Rs 11000  to 12000  in 2013.

Heaps of turmeric lie unsold at agri  market yard in Nizamabad in Feb 2018. Courtesy: THE HINDU

“ As the price is far lower than what they expected, some farmers who can afford the transport charges are going to Sangli market in Maharashtra where it is over Rs. 9,000.Though the crop is traded through e-NAM (electronic national agriculture market) to avoid the intervention of middlemen, farmers and their associations allege that price is being rigged in favour of them by forming a cartel. They also allege that authorities are hand in glove with traders.

“ Low yield per acre this season due to the absence of rain on time, increase in investments and low price have put farmers in trouble…  “Per acre yield drastically fell to 20 quintals, compared to 30 quintals last season. We have invested up to Rs.  lakh per acre and if the price is at least Rs. 10,000, we will be out of trouble,” he said. “I have no alternative other than hanging myself as I am in deep debts. The government should come to our rescue,” he said, fighting back tears. “There is no minimum support price for the crop. Authorities seem to be helpless in this matter,” said A. Devender Reddy, chairman, village development committee, Ankapur.

“ The district is known for the commercial crop-turmeric and it is largely grown in Armoor, Balkonda and Nizamabad rural constituencies. According to unofficial sources, it is cultivated in over 50,000 acres and farmers toil on field for nine months to produce it. The crop after the harvest undergoes a long process of cleaning, boiling and drying before being brought to market. Approximately between 9 to 10 lakh quintals come to the market here every year.

“ All India Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (AIKMS) State secretary V. Prabhakar, who led a delegation to the market yard to observe turmeric market condition on Friday, told The Hindu that farmers are being exploited by traders. The traders formed a syndicate and hence price has not crossed Rs. 6,000 per quintal, he said.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/turmeric-farmers-an-unhappy-lot/article22641151.ece

In the highest feat of 85 years’ history, 10.60 lakh quintals turmeric crop reached the Nizamabad market yard (in 2018 season). Launched in 1933, it is the second largest market yard in Telangana, well known for turmeric crop all over India. While a major part of turmeric crop reached the market yard from Nizamabad, Nirmal, Jagityal districts,  various food grains such as paddy, maize, turmeric, pulses, soya bean, sunflower, aamchur, onions and other crops are also sold from here.

(https://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Latest-News/2018-03-19/Nizamabad-market-yard-sets-new-record-with-turmeric-crop/367607)  

The important turmeric growing States in India are Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Assam, and West Bengal, in which Telangana occupies large area under Turmeric. Telangana tops in turmeric cultivation with 53,500 ha, which is about one-third of country’s turmeric acreage of 1.70 lakh ha. It produces 3.04 lakh tonnes (lt) of turmeric against the total domestic production of 13 lt., as per one report.

“Despite being the world’s largest producer of turmeric, India exports only 6 per cents of its production. Because special zones to promote exports have not been created,” said Kavitha , MP from Nizamabad.  Telangana needs supply of high yielding and high curcumin content varieties.  A B Remashree, Director (Research and Development), Spices Board,  felt that curcumin percentage in Telangana output was low when compared to the crop grown in the North East. “The State should consider setting up Farmer Producers companies to aggregate turmeric. This will help increase price realisation for farmers,” a Spice Board expert felt.

                               

Tall talk : Neither Modi nor KCR tackled the problem

Turmeric Curcuma longa, of  Family Zingiberacea,  is one of the most important and ancient spices of India and a traditional crop and having very good commercial value for spice oils and oleoresins. It is used daily extensively by all classes of people in the preparation of   tasty curries and  dishes.  Turmeric not only adds its typical flavour but its colour also, thereby helping to bring out the best in curries.   Over 1,50,000 tonnes of cured turmeric is produced annually, of which 92-95% is consumed within the country and remaining 5-8% is exported yielding foreign exchange of over Rs. 1000 cr  rupees annually.

It is also used as a dye in cotton textiles, in medicines and in cosmetics. The antimicrobial properties of essential oil from turmeric are reported against pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Curcumin is being developed and projected as a cancer-curing medicine too.

It is regarded sacred by the Hindus, and is used in ceremonial and religious functions. It has high potential in industry and commerce. But all talk of hindutva and Make in India by BJP did not help turmeric farmers. A processing unit of turmeric in Nizamabad  has been proposed for almost 30 years now.  Major area of turmeric is in India which constitutes 82% followed by China (8%).Within India, TS tops.

Despite endless nationalistic talk of strengthening India , Modi did little about turmeric, feel the farmers. Modi and Amit Shah had addressed rallies in Telangana and Nizamabad in 2014,  as also  before TS Assembly polls of 2018  December, made tall promises about farm crisis, announced so many yojanas.  And then came the harvest season of turmeric, and a sharp fall inthe price.  In fact, Modi’s India is importing some turmeric, a factor in further pushing down the domestic price. Modi’s Make in India and development model he tried in Gujarat for more than a decade did not help the issue.

Obviously, the Moghuls in Delhi and Hyderabad did little to tackle the farmers’ problems. Bountiful production should have been celebrated but, in the absence of a MSP and a processing industry, the boon became a bane so far as farmers are concerned.

 KCR is tireless in blaming Congress and BJP who ruled for 70 years, as he stresses in every election rally. In fact, he himself was for 20 years a leader and a Minister in TDP govt of united AP, and later a Union Minister in UPA govt. He has been a defacto ally of Modi. Thus he can not escape responsibility for past decades. He  talks of his deep and prolonged study of Telangana’s problems, eversince he set up TRS in 2001.   He claims having a  great vision, which he claims he was developing long before Telangana was carved out, paints a big word-picture of a big processing industry that would turn  farmers into crorepatis, speaks of China example, but did little  in practice in the five years of his rule. He proved no better than the previous govts in this respect.  In fact, the price fell to half of what it was  a decade ago, in the absence of MSP,  and of a processing industry he was harping  on. If inflation is taken into account, the fall is really grave.

With production rising, and beefing up our own market system, Telangana  shall top the table in India, KCR says daily in his election rallies. What is the ground reality?

In 2012-13, the Nizamabad Market yard set a record with 9.6 lakh quintal of turmeric crop arriving, however, this year’s ( ie., 2018) 10.6 lakh quintal of turmeric has beaten the previous record. Officials are expecting another 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh quintals crop in the coming two to three weeks. The turmeric produce was being sold by the Nizamabad and surrounding district farmers at Sangli market yard in Maharashtra as the price offered at this market was somewhat higher compared to Nizamabad. But with the GST implementation, this year, the difference in price at Sangli and Nizamabad was minimal due to which the market yard was receiving a high quantity of turmeric.

(https://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Latest-News/2018-03-19/Nizamabad-market-yard-sets-new-record-with-turmeric-crop/367607) 

Congress represented Nizamabad in Loksabha for about 50 years from 1952, and TDP for 12 years during 1996-2004. Nizamabad had a good representaion in Congress and its Cabinets. D. Srinivas,  PCC President of AP, and a Minister for several terms,  is from this district. In 2014, Mrs. Kavitha, daughter of KCR of  TRS won,  polling 4.4 lakh votes (42.5 percent), over Congress leader Madhu Yaskhi Goud with a lead of 1.6 lakh votes ( 26.3 percent). BJP too fared well with 2.25 lakh votes (21.8  percent). And Kavitha is a high profile candidate being vocal and from KCR’s family. KCR was a senior leader  of TDP before he walked out in 2001.  All of these leaders, over the decades,   promised  many things to the farmers, including turmeric farmers. A turmeric processing unit has been under discussion for about 30 years. Despite T-PASS and tall claims about industrializing Telangana by TRS, KCR, and KTR, the high profile son of KCR, nothing came of it.  

Farmers preferred turmeric to other alternative crops like maize and as they had received good returnsin recent years.  As per reports, turmeric acreage in Telangana was reported to be 47,888 hectares this year against 44,956 hectares last year. In Andhra Pradesh, also focussing on irrigation,  area under turmeric cultivation went up to 18,737 hectares from 14,841 hectares last year, says a report.

However, higher carryover stocks, rising imports,  and sluggish exports kept the prices under pressure during the off-season. The country imported about 22,000 tonnes of turmeric during the first six months of 2018-19, which was up by 142 per cent from 9,000 tonnes during the corresponding period last year.

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No Postponement of  Elections

A contest by so many farmers posed  problems for the Election Commission. One EVM can accommodate only 16 names and the control unit can record the voting of only four such EVMs linked together, which means each control unit can register a maximum of 64 candidates.The EC however made it clear that there would be no postponement and pointed out that it would set a new record in the country for using the largest number of EVMs.  The EC sorted out the technical problems by arranging jumbo EVMs on a war footing. But politically and legally, farmers are discriminated against.

 EC is  using the largest number of EVMs.

(courtesy : Economic Times)

The farmers in the poll fray are still unaware of their symbols and have no time to campaign either and have approached the EC to postpone the election for the constituency and conduct the polling using ballots and not EVMs, says a PTI report dated April  04. The polling is just a week away,  on April 11. But the EC has decided to hold the election on the scheduled date. All other candidates were alloted symbols on March 28. Apparently, the EC has decided to place the names of the farmers separately at the end, instead of adopting the procedure of alphabetical order.  Obviously, it is an uneven ground for the farmer contestants, where even formal and equal rights are denied to them.

The politicians in the fray rely on their time-tested ways of blaming each other, pumping in money and  liquor along with plenty of lies and new promises.  This time, Nizamabad seat alone may involve a spending of over Rs 100 crore at least.  And the mainstream media, as always,  ignores or underplays the issues involved when it is related to farmers.

(The author is a political commentator and contributed to countercurrents.org.)    

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