Raju Shetty, former Member of Parliament and leader of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and its political front Swabhimani Party, expresses pain and anguish about the neglect of farmers by political parties, especially by the Devendra Fadnavis government. In an interview with Pramod Chunchuwar, Political Editor of The Free Press Journal, Shetty appeals to all the political parties to give top-priority to the farmers affected by floods and unseasonal rains than focussing on govt formation.
What you think are the burning problems of farmers?
The most worrying thing is the farmers are badly hit by natural calamities for the second year in a row. They are debt-ridden. Hailstorms, drought, pest attacks, flood and unseasonal rains have destroyed the crops in the state.
In the last two years, the crops have been damaged by heavy hailstorms four times. For the farmers, the investment is big every time. As the crops get destroyed, their whole investment gets washed away.
If the crop survives all these natural disasters, farmers do not get proper price, which will ensure profit. The wrong policies of the government are responsible for this.
The ban on export or import of agricultural products is responsible for the farmers’ woes. There is no infrastructure, agri-processing industry, storage facilities, or the required technology to help the farmers.
Due to high investment, farmers are forced to take loan and always remain debt-ridden. The share of agriculture in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is decreasing and agricultural growth has been reduced to 2 per cent.
Recently, you staged a protest in front of the Mantralaya. What issues did you try to raise?
The farmers from across the country had protested against the RCEP and as part of the same protest, we staged a protest in front of the Mantralaya.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a proposed free-trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The government of India was in the process to sign the agreement, which would have proved a catastrophe for the Indian farmers. The 16 countries such as Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia would have gained easy and zero import duty access to our country.
As per this agreement, China can easily sell their textile products at very cheap rate in India which will ultimately kill our cotton producing farmers. Australia would have sold their milk and milk products and this might have killed our dairy industry, which employs more than 10 crore people.
This agreement would have a final nail in the coffin of the agricultural sector. But I was shocked and saddened by the fact that no body in the state politics was bothered about the RCEP agreement. Not a single party or its leader in the state made any statement or protested against this.
How was the performance of the Fadnavis government on the agriculture sector front?
Devendra Fadnavis was insensitive to farmers issues. He used to employ divide and rule policy to end farmers’ strike. No CM has stooped to such a low level when farmers were agitating for their genuine issues.
Till now all CMs have adopted positive and sensitive approach by admitting that they couldn’t solve all the problems of the farmers. But Fadnavis treated farmers as his enemy. His approach on relief to farmers was dubious.
On the one hand, he announced loan waiver to the farmers, on the other hand, he drafted such rules and procedures that will deny them this loan waiver. Farmers were asked to come with a family and fill forms online.
Though BJP speaks about Digital India, the servers were down in most places. Every time they announce relief for farmers, they demand all sorts of documents.
If farmers have given all the information one time, why they need it each time? It shows that the motive of the Fadnavis government was to harass the farmers.
The farmers are demanding compensation for crop loss due to unseasonal rains. What is the progress on this front?
Farmers are not getting any compensation. I have visited many farmers. The punchnama of crops done by officers are aimed at denying them their due compensation. A farmer’s crop was inundated in water for more than 15 days.
The officers denied him compensation on the basis that the crop is still standing in the farm. They advised the farmer to cut the crop and drop it in the water, then they will get the compensation. Compensation to another farmer was rejected on the basis that he cut his crop.
This shows how whims and fancies of officials are hurting the farmers. The flood-affected farmers or unseasonal rain-hit farmers did not get financial help or loan waiver announced by the state government.
What do you expect from the state government as an immediate step to help farmers?
9 As the sowing season for Rabbi is already over, farmers can now sow Harbhara (Gram), Maka (Maize) and Jowar (Millet, Sorghum). The government should immediately give a financial aid for this. Their money due with crop insurance companies should be immediately given.
Similarly, help from National Disaster Relief Fund should be immediately released. The crops loans given to all the affected farmers should be immediately waived off.
Do you think all mainstream politicians are busy in government formation and ignoring the farmers? Who will help them?
The farmers are in most distressed condition. Whom should they go to for help? I am saddened by the fact that politicians are more interested in government formation than resolving farmer’s plight. They should form the government as early as possible.
There are many complaints against crop insurance companies. What is your opinion?
The private crop insurance companies are dacoits who loot not only farmers but also the state and central governments because these companies get premiums from all three — farmers, state and central governments.
If farmers pays Rs2, then the state and central governments pay Rs4 each as their contribution.
Even when there is a severe agrarian crisis in Maharashtra, these companies have earned profits of Rs12,000 crore in Maharashtra alone. When farmers are in loss, how can insurance companies earn profit? They should have been bankrupt.
The central government should draft a new policy for crop insurance. There should not be any private crop insurance company. The government should provide crop insurance cover by a public sector company. Private companies have only one person at taluka level.
How can this small workforce be sufficient to address the requests of a large number of farmers? The public sector company can take help of the government staff at district to village levels.
As the government staff are getting salaries as per the Seventh Pay Commission, they can easily do some more work to justify the hike in their salary.
We, in alliance with Congress-NCP, fought this election against BJP and Shiv Sena. If Sena wants to join our alliance, this will be a new equation. We will have to call a meeting of our party executive and take a decision.
How do you see the victory of an ordinary worker from your party against the agriculture minister?
Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana’s ordinary young worker Devendra Bhuyar defeated powerful agriculture minister Anil Bonde in the Morshi constinuency in Amaravati district. It is a clear signal that how farmers were against this government.
Farmers were clearly in a mood to teach a lesson to the government, which cheated and looted them. Bonde has been a close confidant of chief minister Fadnavis. He spent a huge sum of money and used all resources in the election but still got defeated.