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Champions For Farmers

Bhubaneswar: The recently concluded eight-day stormy monsoon session of the Odisha Legislative Assembly left a feeling that all parties want to champion the cause of farmers, who comprise about 70 per cent of the state’s population and hold the key to the success of any party. The significance of farmers is upbeat because of the ensuing rural elections, likely to be held in the first quarter of 2022. With barely five months before the major election and twenty days before the Pipili assembly segment by-poll, all parties scrambled to champion the cause of farmers.

The farmers’ heat was seen from the first day of the monsoon session on 1st September. From the beginning opposition members created a ruckus in the House and demanded a discussion on the prevailing drought-like situation due to deficient rainfall in 27 of the 30 districts of the state. The deficit was huge with about 30% less rainfall during the peak monsoon season from June 1 to August 31. While June recorded about 16.6% less rainfall, the amount increased to 21.3% in July and 44.7% in August. It is believed that less and deficient rainfall in the month of August often led to a drought situation.

The Opposition was up in arms against the government and demanded immediate declaration of a drought in the state and demanded assistance to the affected farmers. Both the BJP and Congress attempted to project the ruling BJD as anti-farmer while accusing the Naveen Patnaik dispensation of failing to make adequate irrigation facilities even after 21 years of rule. The government’s failure to install any new irrigation projects drew flak, because the BJD had promised in 2009 to provide irrigation facilities to at least 35 per cent of agricultural land in each district. Even after 12 years the BJD had not fulfilled its poll promises, they alleged.

The ruckus over the farmers issue disrupted the proceedings several times and finally, the situation became normal in the House after the government moved a motion for a detailed discussion on the drought like situation. Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment Minister Arun Kumar Sahoo replied to the debate. However, the opposition pointed out that drought was a subject that came under the revenue and disaster management department. They wanted the reply from the concerned minister Sudam Marndi and rejected Minister Arun Sahoo’s statement.

Anyway, the opposition succeeded in its attempt and forced the government to hold a marathon debate on the drought situation and farmers’ plights. The opposition’s attempt to set up a House Committee to probe into the alleged farmers’ suicide in Bolangir district, did not yield any result as the vociferous Congress lawmaker, Taraprasad Bahinipati, fell ill in well of the House while demanding setting up a House Committee. Bahinipati was taken to his residence and he later rushed to Hyderabad for treatment. The incident sent positive signals for the Congress that the party MLAs ignored their personal well-being while fighting for the farmers’ cause.

While the opposition BJP and Congress appeared to have taken mileage for enforcing a series of discussions on the farmers’ issues and the drought situation, lack of irrigation, farmers’ suicide and irregularities in mandis, the ruling BJD in an after-thought preferred to stage a sit-in-demonstration near Mahatma Gandhi statue highlighting the farmers’ basic issues like scarcity of fertiliser and non-payment of crop insurance dues.

The regional party directly blamed the BJP-led Central Government and held it responsible for denial of fertiliser for the farmers of Odisha at the appropriate time. They also blamed the Centre for not taking measures for payment of crop insurance dues to farmers even as the cultivators have paid the premium in lakhs. The BJD’s demonstration was to give a message to the farming community that they too fought for the cultivators and remained their real saviour.

Interestingly, two days after the Assembly session, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik disbursed Rs.743 crore to 37 lakh nominal and small farmers as financial assistance for undertaking Rabi crop under the KALIA Scheme. This largesse was devised to cancel out the mileage cornered by the opposition parties in the Assembly, observers opine.

There should be no doubt that everybody including the ruling BJD have been trying to project themselves as the farmers’ friends. It is a fact that there have been some changes in the socio-economic condition of the farmers over the time, but much less compared to the cultivators of states like Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in Odisha still depend on the rain for the major kharif crop, as exemplified by the present situation created due to deficit rainfall during the peak monsoon period.

Former Odisha Chief Minister Hemananda Biswal was seen performing a special puja in Jharsuguda district to appease the Rain God which indicated that Odisha farmers had no alternative to natural rainfall. The subsequent governments, be it the Congress or BJD, all have failed to provide water to agricultural fields even as large numbers of major rivers are flowing across the state. A major amount of water flowing through rivers directly goes to the sea and our government has not been efficient to utilise the excess flow for the agriculture purpose, alleged Bishnu Charan Sethi, Deputy Leader of BJP Legislative Party.

What actually does a farmer want? His requirement is very small – water for field, fertiliser at the right time, a remunerative minimum support price (MSP) and lastly an efficient market linkage. Can’t these requirements be fulfilled by the government of the State and the Centre if they sincerely work towards the goal? While the leaders in BJD should ensure that the irrigation water reached the last mile, the BJP people should put pressure on the Centre to bring funds for construction of major irrigation projects and supply of fertiliser or set up more number of fertiliser plants in the state, and a good MSP.

If politicians think and work in tandem, solution on farmers’ issues will not be difficult to find out. The farmers of Odisha would certainly get the benefit as their counterparts in Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh are receiving. The farmers of Odisha are hard working; they need initial hand-holding support in order to erase backwardness spanning many generations.