MANDSAUR/BHOPAL: The monsoon is just days away and all should be in readiness for sowing. But a deafening silence echoes through the farmlands of Madhya Pradesh's Malwa region as farmers, reeling under debt and falling prices for their produce, get busy in protests instead.
The meteorological department's prediction that the monsoon will arrive between June 20 and 22 should normally be cause for excitement and action. But this year, the fields are deserted as farmers cope with anger, despair and crippling losses.
Their seething discontent found expression on June 1 when protests began against low prices for their crops. The Mandsaur-Neemuch region, about 300 km from the state capital Bhopal where five farmers were killed on June 6, became the nerve centre of the gathering storm of farmer distress.
Kamlesh Khajuria, 33, is one of those demanding that the government give farmers in the area a minimum support price (MSP) for their produce.
"I had sown kalonji (nigella seeds) in my three bighas of land. But due to unfavourable weather, my crop failed. After this, the price of kalonji also came down, which added to my troubles. We only request our government to give us the right value for our crops."
Kalonji prices plummeted from Rs 25,000 a quintal last year to about Rs 5,000-7,000 this year, said sources from the business community.
Last year, when prices escalated, many farmers switched to kalonji.
According to sources, the reason for the fall in prices is due to two reasons -- first, the harvest was good in many parts of the country, including West Bengal; second, demand in the international market came down.
Farmers in the region who depend on soyabean and onion are also suffering because they are not getting the right price.
Madhya Pradesh, the largest producer of soyabean, is selling the crop at less than the MSP of Rs 2,775 per quintal set by the central government for the year 2016-17.
As analysis continues on why events in Mandsaur took such a violent turn, a top government official said the move to promote digital payment, electricity crunch and the ban on regulated sale of poppy husk were some of the reasons that led to the stir.
The government used to regulate the sale and farming of poppy husk in the past, but now it was destroying the contraband that could earlier be used for medicinal purposes.
"The Centre and the state government have forbidden farmers to sell poppy husk for the last two years in Mandsaur and Neemuch districts and this has rendered hundreds of farmers, mostly members of the strong Patidar community, jobless," the official told PTI.
"Besides, the state government's move to promote digital payment in place of hard cash for procuring produce from farmers in the mandis (markets) aggravated the woes of the cultivators," he said.
The cost of farm produce, he added, had also gone up due to shortage of power and black marketing of manure.
Rattled by the violence, the Madhya Pradesh government has announced a crop-loan settlement scheme, which proposes waiving of interests of the cultivators who have defaulted.
According to Bhagatram Paatidaar, a farmer from Neemuch, those growing fenugreek and coriander are also suffering.
Farmers put their blood, sweat and tears into their land but are helpless when prices crash. The government should increase MSP and also help farmers export agricultural products, he said.
Paatidar also pointed to the shortage of cold storage facilities in the Mandsaur-Neemuch region, which also forces farmers to sell crops at any rate they get.
He added that the farmers were furious at the killing of their colleagues and the increasing interference of politicians. "The politicians only want to take advantage of the situation. Where were these politicians when farmers were suffering?"
As anger peaked after the deaths of the five farmers and politicians across the spectrum took up the issue, the situation continued to be volatile.
A sixth farmer died in the district with locals today alleging that he was beaten up by policemen. However, police said the circumstances of his death were unclear and investigations continued.
Though curfew was relaxed, the administration decided that no outsiders, including AAP leaders, would be allowed to enter the district.
According to the collector, O P Srivastava, the situation was under control and there were no reports of anything untoward today. ATMs were working and milk and vegetable supplies had improved. But the internet service will take time to be restored.
BJP MP from Mandsaur, Sudhir Gupta, blamed the Congress for the farmers' agitation. "Congress is behind the violence in the farmers' stir," he alleged.