By Sandeep Sahu
Even for those like this author who have nothing at stake on the issue, the images of tons of fresh tomatoes being crushed under the massive wheels of a truck in Keonjhar town on Monday were nothing short of heart-rending. Just imagine the state of mind of the farmer who, after spending months growing and tending to them in the field with love and care, is forced to throw them on the streets or leave them unplucked in the field because there are no takers for the stuff willing to buy them for anything more than 70 paise a kg. Meanwhile, we, the city dwellers, have to contend with vendors who are unwilling to sell the stuff for anything less than Rs 15-20 a kg. How unfair – both for the farmer and the customer – can things get!
It is not as if it’s a stray case. We have all seen everything from potatoes to milk being spilled on the roads by heart-broken, desperate farmers across the state over the last few years. From Keonjhar to Koraput and from Bargarh to Balasore, this is the fate of the small farmer in the state. Farmers braving sun and rain with their harvest of paddy at the mandi for days together and then finally going back devastated with their unsold stock is a phenomenon so common it hardly raises any eyebrows or provokes outrage these days. From such desperate measures to suicide is but a short distance. And all because a callous government is too busy fulfilling some as yet unknown ‘dreams’ of a late leader to bother about the eminently more realizable ‘dreams’ of the average farmer.
For close to two decades now, the government is busy selling the dream of providing irrigation to ‘at least 35%’ of crop land in each of the state’s 314 blocks without doing anything to fulfill the dream. Undeterred, it continues to sell more dreams – as it has done in the latest agricultural budget by promising irrigation to an additional 10 lakh hectares of land, 2.95 lakh hectares of them in the 2017-18 financial year alone! The promise of irrigation has becomes a bad, overdone joke that does not even evoke any laughter now. The promise of setting up hundreds of cold stores is of relatively recent origin but looks set to go the way of the promise of irrigation to 35% land. Failure to provide seeds, fertilizers and other inputs in time has long become an annual ritual that farmers have learnt to take in their stride. Even when seeds are provided are provided in time, no one can be sure of their quality. Farmers are encouraged – even coerced – to go for crop diversification and promised marketing outlets but when it is time to sell their produce, the government machinery simply washes its hands of, leaving the farmer at his wit’s end.
The callousness of the government actually goes much beyond the failure to provide the required inputs in time and borders on cruelty. When over 100 farmers committed suicide in 2015-16, the government attributed it to everything from ‘family dispute’ to ‘alcoholism’: in short everything but crop loss. It is a measure of the heartlessness of the government that an input subsidy announced by the Chief Minister after the severe drought that year is yet to reach many of the farmers who were ruined by it. The antipathy of the industry-obsessed government towards farmers has been on eloquent display repeatedly, the last such occasion being the crackdown on the Navnirman Krushak Sangathan, the farmers’ organization which planned to hold a rally in Bhubaneswar late last year.
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But ask the government about it and pat comes the reply: “We have been presenting a separate budget for agriculture for four years now and have won four ‘Krishi Karman’ award in the last five years.” As if that in itself would solve the myriad and long-standing problems faced by the farmers of the state.
Even in the 2017-18 agricultural budget presented in the Assembly on Monday, the government admits that 62% of the state’s population is dependent on agriculture. But all it has to offer to them is a series of hollow promises that it has no intention of fulfilling. The Naveen Patnaik government would certainly go down as the most farmer unfriendly dispensation in the history of the state: a recipe for certain disaster in a state where, by the government’s own admission, three out of every five people are dependent on farming.