Jalandhar: A week ago, when the Central government announced 140% subsidy on diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were quick to hail it as a historic decision aimed at improving farmers’ lives.

Farmers will continue to get DAP at the previous price of Rs 1,200 as compared to the whopping increase of Rs 1,900 per bag. But farmers aren’t buying the BJP’s line – they say that farming is not just confined to subsidies on DAP; the major concern is still the high input cost of farming.

After a bumper wheat crop, farmers in Punjab were getting ready for the paddy season beginning mid-June. Apart from the existing high input costs of agriculture, this year farmers are staring at additional losses because of the escalating price of diesel, which is available at around Rs 84.45 per litre.

Jaskaran Singh, a farmer from Jalandhar who is also president of the decades-old Salempur Masanda Cooperative Society, said that by giving a subsidy on DAP, the government has not supported the farmers but the corporates.

“Our concern is the high input cost of farming as all farm equipment – tractors, tubewells and generators – are diesel driven. A 50 horsepower (HP) tractor consumes eight litres of diesel in one hour to plough stubble in the fields using Super Seeder machinery, which means spending Rs 7,000 on diesel per hour. Also, paddy irrigation depends on regular supply of water for which farmers have to buy diesel in bulk to run generators,” he said.

Citing examples, he said that not just diesel, even a three-kg pack of hybrid paddy seeds, which was available at Rs 800 last year, is being sold at Rs 1,250 this year. “The price of a four-kg pack of maize seeds was available for Rs 1,800 last year whereas this year it is being sold at Rs 1,500. But last year, though MSP on maize was Rs 1,835, it was sold at around Rs 1,000 in the market. So where is the benefit?” he asked.

The president of the cooperative society also pointed out that the production cost of potatoes has gone up by nearly 400% while the price of potatoes is still the same as it was 20 years ago. “Other than the three black farm laws and legal entitlement on MSP, our fight is against the corporates, who have ruined farming. Moreover, the government is yet to issue a notification on DAP price and shopkeepers were still selling it at a whopping price of Rs 1,900 and Rs 2,400 per bag,” he added.

Gurbakshish Singh, a farmer from Nabha in Patiala district, said that the price of farm equipment increases after every six months. “This year, the paddy sowing labourer’s wage has gone up to Rs 6,000 per acre, which means Rs 500 per labourer. Two years ago, it was Rs 3,000 per acre, which shows how the input cost in farming has been increasing and losses mounting,” he said.

Supporting Gurbakshish’s statement, another farmer, Tony Sandhu, who is associated with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), said that till the 1990s, farmers were able to buy agricultural land using their farming income alone.

“Now, leave buying new land, it has become difficult to sustain farming. While farmers with big land holdings will still be able to manage the rising economic burden, those who own just five to six acres of land would be forced to either sell their land or become labourers,” he added.

Farmers in a makeshift tent during their protest against the farm laws at Singhu border in New Delhi, May 26, 2021. Photo: PTI/Shahbaz Khan

Farm leaders speak

Commenting on the Modi government’s decision to provide 140% subsidy on DAP fertiliser, SKM leader Rajinder Singh Deep Singh Wala said this decision was taken by the BJP leadership as a damage control measure.

“We all know what happened to subsidies for LPG cylinders and scholarships to students and other welfare schemes. The BJP is working to overcome the political setback they suffered due to defeat in West Bengal and poor performance in Uttar Pradesh’s panchayat polls. The reality is that the middle class, farmers and poor don’t even figure in this government’s capitalist model. This is why despite its promise, the Modi government backtracked on implementing the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations,” Rajinder Singh said.

Speaking about the condition of farmers protesting in Delhi, he said that they have survived amidst “heat, rain, waterlogged drains, foul smell and mosquitoes”. He added, “This is exactly what the government wants. If these three farm laws are not scrapped, farmers will end up in similar conditions in their villages too. So far, 450 farmers have lost their lives. On an average, one person is dying every day. Gradually, the govt wants to make farmers protest another ‘Jallianwala Bagh,” Rajinder Singh emphasised.

Another farmer activist, Ramandeep Singh Mann from Bathinda, compared the DAP subsidy to a band-aid. He also asserted that the bigger issue was the stalemate over the farm laws and a lack of conducive atmosphere to initiate talks.

“Till some time ago, the BJP was not even considering the farmers’ protest as a major factor in the elections. But now they are on the back foot. The saffron party had to bite the dust in West Bengal assembly elections and the UP panchayat polls. They lost miserably in Shamli, Baghpat, Muzzafarnagar and Badaun in Western UP and other districts in Eastern UP. And if the farm laws are not repealed, we will punish the BJP in the UP assembly elections scheduled for early 2022,” he said.

SKM leader Manjit Singh Rai also termed the government’s move as a ‘public relations gimmick’ and an attempt to present itself as pro-farmer. “Given the high input cost of agriculture, farmers need value for their crop and not subsidies. The only antidote to this crisis is the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations. If it is implemented, farmers will be able to sustain on their own. But that is exactly what the government does not want,” he added.

What agriculture experts think

Renowned agriculture expert Devinder Sharma termed the steep hike in DAP’s price from Rs 1.200 to Rs 1,900 as a quantum jump. “It is good that the government decided to ease the burden on the farmer and as a consequence, on the consumer. While the MSP increases by Rs 50 or 100 annually, the input cost in farming is increasing every six months. The fact is that the moment a farmer starts cultivation, he begins cultivating losses. It is a deep-rooted tragedy and that is why farmers are angry and protesting for the past six months at the Singhu and Tikri borders. The denial of rightful income has brought the farmers to a situation where they can’t back down. The Modi government should repeal the farm laws”, he asserted.

Sharma also emphasised three factors based on statistics and requirements which should be implemented to boost farming. “First implement MSP for all 23 eligible crops, second bring reforms in the time-tested model of 7,000 APMC mandis in the country and increase it to 42,000 within a radius of 5 kilometres, close to farmers reach and third strengthen the cooperation diary model like that of Amul in the country. Why not replicate the cooperative societies model for pulses, fruits and milk? Cooperation, expansion and replication of this model would give the much-needed fillip to farmers and boost their income,” he said.

Support of cooperative societies

Punjab’s social and economic growth depends primarily on agriculture. The cooperative societies comprising of a cluster of villages have helped boost agriculture, rural economy and farmers’ incomes for decades. Milkfed, Markfed, Sugarfed are some of the major apex cooperatives functioning in the state.

Those who can afford to do so buy farm machinery on their own. Others take it on rent from the cooperative societies. Other than the high cost of farm equipment, the 5% GST on fertilizers and 18% on pesticides was also of big concern for farmers. “Last year, I spent over Rs 1 lakh on the repair of my tractor. Apart from the skyrocketing diesel price this year, we have to bear unforeseen expenses and this is where the cooperative societies come to our aid,” said Harjinder Singh, a farmer from Moga.

Farmers also said that farm equipment like threshers, mulcher, rotavator, super seeder, happy seeder (priced between Rs 1 to 2 lakh each) and spare parts of tractors were witnessing a steep price hike. There is 18% GST on tractors and 28% GST on its spare parts.

Representative image of a tractor. Photo: PTI

Jaskaran Singh said that last year, he opted for the direct seeded rice (DSR) method and faced huge losses. “Other than the low yield, the government approved machinery ‘seed drill’ used for DSR was available for Rs 95,000 with subsidy. However, the same unapproved machine was available in the market for Rs 60,000. Even, a 50 kg bag of urea, which was earlier available at Rs 265, is now available for Rs 900. Look at the magnitude of losses we face,” he said, emphasising that if the farm protests fail, farmers’ livelihood will be “ruined forever”.

Farmers also said that though the Centre announces MSP for 23 crops, barring wheat and paddy, it is not implemented for any other crop. “The fact is that like previous years, farmers from UP and Rajasthan came to sell their wheat in Punjab, just because the crop was being bought at the MSP of Rs 1,975. And then people ask, ‘Why are farmers protesting?’,” they said.

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