Onion farmers’ plight in MP

L.S. Herdenia

There is no end to the woes of Madhya Pradesh farmers. The state government decided to purchase onions at the rate of Rs 8 per kg, after over-production brought the price of the produce crashing down to unheard-of levels and following an aggressive and violent protest by the farmers.
After the announcement on June 10, thousands of farmers stared carting onions in tractor-trolleys to the purchase centres. The quantity was so huge that the logistical arrangements simply broke down. Farmers turned restive as they had to wait for several days for their produce to be purchased. At some places they lost their cool. At Indore, the agitated farmers blocked the road outside the Mandi after procurement was halted due to lack of storage space. Hundreds of farmers parked their tractor-trolleys on the road, bringing traffic to a grinding halt.  
Everyday the procurement process begins at 6 am and continues till 6 pm, but farmers say the centres remain closed, with no one available to conduct proceedings.  At the time of the protest, about 1,000 vehicles loaded with onions were parked inside the mandi premises, while around 300 were parked outside. About 500 farmers staged the protest. Reports of similar situation are pouring in from other mandis as well.
Despite the forecast of monsoon arrival, the state government did not advise farmers to stop coming to the mandis with their produce. At some places onion was kept in the open and it got drenched in the rains. More than 5,000 quintals of onions kept in the open at the Bhopal Mandi was soaked due to the rains. Besides, onion loaded in large number of tractor-trolleys was also drenched.
This year more than 32 lakh metric tonnes of onion was produced in MP, which has just 3.10 lakh metric tonnes storage capacity, not even 10 per cent of the total produce. Huge quantities of onion are lying in the open across the state and are exposed to the elements. Secretary of Bhopal Mandi VP Pateria said that the mandi has procured more than 85,000 quintals of onion and the money has been transferred to the accounts of the farmers. On Wednesday, when rains lashed the city, farmers in over 500 tractor-trolleys and trucks loaded with onion were waiting for their turn to have their produce handed over. Similarly, in the neighbouring Sehore Mandi, about 1,000 tractor-trolleys and trucks loaded with onion were caught in the rain. The same situation prevailed in the Raisen Mandias well.
So far, the state government has procured about 4 lakh metric tonnes, leading to a burden of Rs 320 crore on the state exchequer. It is expected that by the time the procurement closes on June 30, the government would be sitting on some 7 lakh tonnes of onions with no place to store it.
According to Chairman of MP State Civil supplies Corporation Dr Hitesh Bajpai, of the 4 lakh tonnes, 44,000 tonnes have been sold out in different districts at a rate of Rs 2 to 4 per kg, while 22,000 tonnes have been sent to fair price shops. Last year, more than Rs 150 crore went down the drain due to rotting of the onion. So far the government has not found any takers for the onion. This time, it expected to spend more than Rs 500 crores on purchase of onion, which is destined to be doomed for lack of storage.
It seems that farmers from the neighbouring states, particularly Maharashtra, are also bringing their produce to Madhya Pradesh in the hope of getting a better return. In short, the issue has developed into a serious crisis. The government has deployed IAS officers of the rank of principal secretaries and sent them to various onion producing districts to solve the problems relating to purchase and storage of onion. 
Meanwhile, suicides by farmers are continuing despite a series of measure to provide relief to the the farmers. According to reports in the past 24 hours, six more distressed farmers committed suicide in various parts of the state, taking the number since the Mandsaur firing on June 6 to 26. There were loud protests in various quarters when an intelligence report blamed excessive drinking for the spate of suicides by farmers. (IPA)

Thursday, 29 June, 2017