Members of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) have been quite vocal this week in expressing farmer grievances regarding policy changes. The latest incident was the Tuesday protest in front of Belagavi airport to oppose changes made to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act of 1961 and functioning of the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) by the BJP-led Central government.
As per the changes in the 2020 Amendment to the Land Reforms Act, farmers are at risk of losing their farmland to non-agriculture entities. The amendment dismisses Section 79(A) and 79(B) of the original Act that prohibited acquisition of land to those who received an assured annual income of not less than Rs.2,00,000 from sources other than agricultural lands.
KRRS District President R. Vilas Naik told Sabrang India, “Farmers should sell their land to farmers or others in the profession. But now with the new amendment, even builders and contractors can buy our land.”
This change has left farmers uneasy as most of them own one-acre of land. According to KRRS State Convener R. K. Gopikrishna, the Amendment risked turning farmers into labourers of their own fields if corporates and other non-agriculture workers were given farmland ownership.
The Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 2020
The Karnataka Land Reforms Act,1961
In addressing their apprehensions to the state government, the farmers also joined the nation-wide dissent of the Ordinance changes made to the APMC Acts of the states.
As per the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance of June 5, 2020, farmers were allowed to sell their produce outside state markets which effectively made the APMCs redundant. The idea was to remove the APMC intervention and improve the free-flow of farmer goods.
However, according to Naik, the APMCs provided farmers with necessary facilities such as cold storages, market areas, living amenities and a Union to state their grievances. He questioned how and where the farmers were expected to sell their produce without the APMC markets. “The Unions given to us by the APMC helped us fix the rates for the crops. Now that the rates are falling, who is going to help us? Tomatoes that used to be sold for Rs. 20 per kg are now being sold for Rs. 8-10. Whom are we supposed to approach,” he asked.
While farmers await further development for these legislative changes, people of Belagavi continue to wait for last year’s flood relief. Last August, Belagavi district suffered severe floods that destroyed farmlands and houses of many people. Naik said, at that time the government had promised Rs. 5,000 to people living on rent or with their families until their houses were rebuilt and Rs. 1,00,000 to help people resume their work. This month, the state government said it would give Rs. 10,000 to each family whose house had been destroyed and Rs. 5,00,000 for rebuilding the houses.
It has been a year since the floods devastated Belagavi and no individual has received any relief money. “In Belagavi, there are about 10,000 houses that haven’t received a survey after the floods. Accordingly, no money has been given to anybody either,” said Naik.
Regarding compensation in terms of work, he talked about the problems faced with implementing the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. Although the scheme is available throughout the country, it does not insure farmers from damage caused by an excess or dearth of water. “The scheme does not insure us against famine, flood or hail. Technically, the scheme only insures us from locust attacks,” he said.
While Belagavi fought for its land, its markets and the long overdue flood compensation, another protest of the KRRS farmers demanded the reopening of the Bengaluru markets.
On Monday, August 24, the organisation demanded that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) reopen the KR market and the Kalasipalyam market to restart the selling of their produce once again. The KRRS’ State convener R. K. Gopalkrishna told Sabrang India that the organisation had already obtained an approval from the Chief Minister’s office to reopen the two major city markets. However, the municipality hesitated to open the area since some Covid-19 cases were detected around KR market.
Meanwhile, farmers had resorted to selling their crops on the road from 3 AM to 8 AM and were eager to return to their place of business. The Krishna Rajendra market, also known as the City Market, is a very important place for the farmers because the area was specially made for them to sell their produce, said Gopalkrishna. During the protest, the KRRS had raised concerns about the BBMP plans to hand over the area to multinational corporations. However, the Special Commissioner G. Manjunath had assured the gathering that the markets will be reopened for them soon. Manjunath has been unavailable on his ’s mobile number after the protest.
To make matters worse, the farmers suffered severe loss in times of Covid-19. “Many farmers have had to leave their produce standing in the fields because they neither had a market nor any labourers during the lockdown period,” he said.
As the new season approaches, farmers prepare their fields to grow Rabi crops. However, without any labourers to do the work for them, the farmers’ families have started helping out in the fields. Market prices for vegetables decreased as well during the pandemic. What was once sold for Rs. 40 per kg was nowadays being sold for Rs. 5 per kg. However, Gopalkrishna said that wholesalers sold the stocks for much higher prices like Rs. 600 per kg.
“The big traders have looted the farmers,” was the simple statement he gave to summarise the whole affair. When asked regarding the condition of the various farmers he said vegetable-sellers, cauliflower farmers in particular, suffered the most although not a single farmer fared well during the lockdown.
Moreover, neither the Centre nor the state had offered any relief to the farmers during the lockdown. Gopalkrishna added that the KRRS planned to voice their demands and grievances before the state government during the State Legislative Assembly session, scheduled for later this month.
Despite such persisting conditions, when asked whether the farmers had any other demands, Gopalkrishna said that the farmers don’t want anything from the government except proper prices to earn a living. “They don’t want loans, they only want proper rates for their produce,” he said.
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