AMRELI (GUJARAT): The mercury is hovering around 40 degree Celsius, but outside a bank in Vitthalgarh village in Surendranagar, a group of farmers from around half-a-dozen adjoining villages have queued up to inquire about the insurance amount they are supposed to get for crop failure. This has been their routine for past few weeks now. All they get from the bank is excuses.
“I have been coming here from 40 km away for past several days to ask the bank about my insurance money. Every time I am told to get in touch with the insurance company, but I don’t even know what insurance company and whom to approach,” says Ishwar Bhai Lohariya, 65, a farmer from Vathela village in Surendranagar, who owns a small patch of land that is his only source of income.
Narayan Bhai Patel in Amreli and Lakshman Bhai Ranwa in Laskar village of Junagadh have similar tales to tell.
In the arid Saurashtra region, which has not received sufficient rain for last four years, one can easily find canal systems constructed by the Gujarat government to bring Narmada waters for irrigation. However, most of them have dried up and are filled with garbage and dry leaves.
Scarcity of irrigation water, pending crop insurance and failure to get proper remuneration for their crops bother farmers across the region. There is widespread anger among the community against the BJP government, both in the state and at the Centre, which was reflected in the 2017 Assembly elections as BJP suffered major losses in the region. But, farmers feel the Congress is no different.
What should worry policymakers is that due to problems faced by the farmers, the younger generation is migrating to urban areas for jobs.
Growing farm distress has made both the BJP and the Congress give special attention to their election campaign in Saurashtra, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi holding several rallies in the region and harping on the schemes and sops announced and promised for farmers.
Learning from 2017, the saffron party has also dropped its sitting MP from Surendranagar, Devji Fatehpara, as it had lost 6 of the 7 Assembly segments in the constituency. In 2017, the BJP had also lost all 7 Assembly seats in Junagadh and 5 of the 7 seats in Amreli. Of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Saurashtra region, Congress hopes to win Surenderanagar, Amreli, Porbandar and Junagadh and is confident of giving a tough fight in Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and Rajkot.
Cotton farmer Lakshman Bhai Ranwa, who owns five bighas of land in Junagadh, says he has only received 2.5% of the promised insurance for crop failure in 2017-18.
“There are lots of problems farmer faces here but we continue to vote for BJP, as decided by our sarpanch.”
Gujarat Khedut Samaj, an association with a membership of over five lakh, says farmers are neglected by the government and insurance data presents a sorry figure.
“The data shows Rs 22,000 crore crop premium was collected by private insurance companies in the state in 2015-16. Farmers filed claims of Rs 6,000 crore of which only Rs 2,000 crore has been settled so far. Claims for the years 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 continue to remain unsettled,” said Jayeshbhai Patel, head of the association.
Lack of water for irrigation is a major issue. “We don’t get regular water supply from Narmada for irrigation and the groundwater level is 100-200 feet in some areas. In the last two months, due to elections, the government has released some water. Otherwise nobody is bothered,” says Bharatbhai, a farmer in Sadli village, Surendranagar.
Gujarat is the highest producer of cotton and groundnut in the country, but farmers rue the low prices. “We are able to sell cotton at one-third of our input cost. The government has not done anything for farmers and all development has been limited to cities. PM Narendra Modi is not like Indira Gandhi; he is an enemy of farmers,” says Mooljibhai Solanki of Goradka village in Bhavnagar.
PM Kisan vs NYAY
Goverdhan Bhai Sorathiya 72, who owns two bighas in Botad, Bhavnagar, flashes his mobile phone as he received second installment of Rs 2,000 under PM-Kisan. But some of the other farmers are yet to receive it. Among them is Narayan Bhai Patel, 75, in Amreli, who is yet to receive even the first installment.
“We gain nothing, whether it is kamal (BJP’s election symbol) or panja (Congress symbol). The political parties treat us like dogs and have thrown the bait of PM Kisan and NYAY,” he says.