KCR’s protest calls find no takers in BRS

Hyderabad: BRS president and former chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is being accused of hypocrisy for ignoring farmer issues for a decade and now using the same issues and demanding immediate resolution by the Revanth Reddy government. In many instances, the BRS hasn’t stood by Rao’s call for agitation, and the Congress government is dealing with the aftermath of his decade of neglect of farmer issues.

Between 2014 and 2023, Rao, as the Chief Minister, poorly handled the issue of cultivation and procurement of paddy, crop loan waiver, free power, distribution of subsidised seeds, addressing farmer suicides, and the welfare of tenant farmers, among others.

Contrary to Rao's claims, farmers argue that the Congress government has been performing relatively well on the agricultural front, despite facing challenges caused by financial constraints, a legacy of the BRS government, and drought-like conditions over which no one has control.

They pointed to initiatives undertaken by the current administration to support farmers, including efforts to mitigate the impact of water scarcity and enhance agricultural productivity.

Rao’s belated protests on farmer issues are being seen as a political ploy to resuscitate the BRS after the drubbing it received last year and the series of setbacks that have followed since, both in terms of leaders deserting it and the Congress government bringing to the fore issues like phone tapping and damage to the Kaleshwaram scheme and the corruption involved in building it.

There are eight key issues which farmers brought up.

Paddy procurement

KTR, Harish Rao stayed away from protests called by KCR

Rao called for protests on May 16 to protest against the delay in paddy procurement for the rabi season. It did not evoke much response from farmers — probably because they were busy at the procurement centres set up by the Congress government way earlier than the BRS had done. Top BRS leaders including K.T. Rama Rao and T. Harish stayed away, showing the call for protest for what it was — an attempt to politicise a key issue.

There have been instances when the BRS government was procuring Rabi foodgrains even at the end of June while the Congress has completed a major portion of purchases by mid-May. The BRS government opened 7,031 paddy procurement centres (PPCs) last year, the Congress government has increased it to 7,149. The BRS government opened 2,000 centres by May last, but this year the Congress government had opened 7,000.

Moreover, there used to be large-scale complaints of traders fleecing farmers in the name of 'tarugu' under the BRS regime. If a farmer sold 100 quintals of paddy, traders would pay for 80 quintals and keep the rest for tarugu (wastage). Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy has ordered a crackdown on this practice, and there has been no complaint of farmers being fleeced.

Last season, farmers faced a shortage of labour and paddy cleaners, gunny bags, tarpaulin covers to protect the harvest from untimely rains and tents for protection from heat. Paddy in huge quantities used to get damaged due to untimely rains in April-May. That has largely not been the case now, despite the intense summer heat and sudden unseasonal rains.

The tardiness in procuring paddy worked against the farmers. Millers under the BRS regime in collusion with officials used to move in early, and offer to buy paddy quickly. Farmers, afraid of the safety of their harvest, used to fall for the ploy and were forced to accept lower rates than the stipulated minimum support price.

This year, quick opening of purchase centres has stymied the practice. Indeed, farmers in several districts have sold the paddy at Rs 2,350 to Rs 2,900, higher than the Rs 2,200 per quintal MSP.

In Rao’s hands, paddy procurement became a political weapon to target the BJP after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In April 2022, Rao staged a dharna in Delhi and gave the Narendra Modi government 24 hours to draft a new paddy procurement policy in an attempt to project the BJP as 'anti-farmer.'

He also demanded that the Centre procure all the food grains grown in Telangana state. Now, Rao has asked the Revanth Reddy government to purchase the paddy, something the BRS regime did not do.

Immediately after becoming the Chief Minister in 2014, Rao promised to irrigate one crore acres to make paddy cultivation easier and promised to procure every grain from the farmers. In 2021, he did a U-turn and asked farmers not to go for paddy, blaming it on the Centre’s policies. “Vari veste ure (if you sow paddy, you are finished),” he said, comparing paddy to a noose around the farmers’ neck.

Crop loan waiver

13 lakh farmers never got loans waived under BRS regime

The BRS came to power twice by promising to waive crop loans up to Rs 1 lakh but it badly failed the farmers. Its failure to implement the measure led to banks declaring lakhs of farmers as defaulters and freezing their accounts. Farmers ended up paying huge amounts as interest; the amount they received towards crop loan waiver was less than the interest they incurred due to the delayed release of funds to banks by the BRS regime.

In the first term, the BRS government took five years to waive Rs 16,144 crore loans of 35 lakh farmers. It paid banks in four instalments over five years.

In the second term, the farmers had it even worse. A total of 40.66 lakh farmers were supposed to get Rs 25,916 crore loans waived in total. The BRS government cut down the number of beneficiaries by restricting the waiver to one family member. With this, the bankers calculated that Rs 20,141 crore needed to be waived in respect of 36.68 lakh farmers.

With a smaller target, the KCR government paid back loans of up to Rs 30,000 each of 6 lakh farmers in the first three years till 2022. On feeling the heat from farmers, Rao announced just before Assembly polls in August 2023 that Rs 7,753 crore will be released to clear loans of the remaining 17 lakh farmers.

Even so, by the time it lost power, the BRS government had cleared the loans of 23 lakh farmers, leaving 13 lakh farmers left in the lurch.

With this 10-year record, Rao is now accusing the five-month-old Congress government of not implementing its poll promise to waive crop loans up to Rs 2 lakh, though Revanth Reddy has made it clear that it would be completed by August 15.

Farmers' suicides

BRS stopped enumerating farmer deaths after bringing in Rythu Bhima

Under the BRS, Telangana state stood at the fourth place in the country with 352 farmer suicides after Maharashtra (2,448), Karnataka (985) and Andhra Pradesh (309) in 2022, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

The victims included five women farmers; all these farmers cultivated their own land. The BRS regime covered up the figures after the launch of the Rythu Bhima life insurance scheme on August 15, 2018, quickly compensating the bereaved families.

From 908 in 2018, the number of farmer suicides, according to government records, fell to 499 in 2019 after the launch of the scheme and further to 179 last year.

However, activists of Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), which has fought cases on behalf of tenant farmers who are denied compensation, pegged the number of suicides of farmers in 2023 at 420. This data include figures accessed from the District Crime Records Bureau and media reports, which specifically attributed the suicides to farm distress.

The BRS government had abandoned the process of enumerating farmer deaths and verification to settle family debts mandated under GO 194, after bringing in Rythu Bhima. The GO 194 process involved a probe by a three-member committee of police, revenue and agriculture departments after which Rs 6 lakh was given to the families of the deceased. This was done to ensure that debts standing in the name of farmers are settled.

“This process helped families to move ahead in life without being bogged down by piled-up debt,” said B. Kondal Reddy, RSV activist. But the BRS regime abandoned this procedure too, pushing families of deceased farmers into a debt trap.

Scrapping of crop insurance

Rao left farmers uninsured, did not pay for crop damage

The Rao regime left the farmers unprotected after it opted out of the Centre’s Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) crop insurance scheme — he called it “useless’ and never brought in a replacement. With this, farmers did not get insurance coverage for crop losses due floods, heavy rains, hailstorms every year. On the other hand, Rao showed them the ‘moon in the mirror,’ promising aid but never delivering.

It was not that the farmers were against the scheme. When the PMFBY was in force in 2015-16, about 10 lakh farmers insured their crops and about 7.73 lakh farmers got compensation of Rs 441.79 crore for rain damage. In 2016-17, about 8.87 lakh farmers insured their crops on 7.33 lakh acres and nearly 1.34 lakh farmers claimed Rs 111.33 crore in compensation for crop loss. In 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, the insurance companies approved claims of Rs 960 crore, but the disbursal was delayed as the state government failed to pay its share of the premium. Then the government pulled out.

Desperate farmers were forced to move the High Court to get the Rao government to release compensation from 2018-2020.

In July 2022, crops were damaged across 12 lakh acres, and in March 2023, on five lakh acres due to heavy rains. The government, in a first, announced compensation of Rs 10,000 per acre in March — but only for 2.3 lakh acres, hardly a tenth of the area. This amount is yet to reach all the affected farmers.

The Rao government was the only one that left the farmers without a cover. The government became dependent on the Centre for funds to extend input subsidies to farmers under the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). The Revanth Reddy government, however, has rejoined the PMFBY to extend insurance cover to crops.

Discrimination against tenant farmers

Rao cut landless farmers adrift, now speaks against assistance

The Rao government stoutly refused to support the 18 lakh tenant farmers, those who take agricultural fields on hire for farming. They cultivate around 20 per cent of agricultural land but the Rao regime denied tenant farmers Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bima, crop loan waiver, insurance, compensation for crop loss and all other benefits. Rao repeatedly announced in the Assembly, at public meetings and election rallies that the government would extend benefits only to land-owning farmers — never mind if they didn’t till the land, had converted it to real estate ventures or if it was uncultivable land including hillocks.

In contrast, tenant farmers, one out of every three agriculturalists in the state, never got any benefits though they borrow money and actually till the land and grow crops.

Chief Minister Revanth Reddy promised to cover the tenant farmers under Rythu Bharosa, the new Rythu Bandhu after weeding out wasteful expenditure. The BRS responded on two fronts: One, that the Congress government would seize land and give it to tenant farmers and, two, demanding Revanth Reddy’s resignation for not implementing Rythu Bharosa even though the deadline is far away.

Scrapping of all agri subsidy schemes

Rao govt gave Rs 10,000, took away Rs 30,000 aid to farmers

Before the BRS came to power, all state governments used to provide farmers with subsidised seeds, subsidies for farm mechanisation, among others. The BRS government stopped all this, and only paid Rs 10,000 per acre per year as Rythu Bandhu to landed farmers.

Small farmers used to benefit up to ₹40,000 per year during the previous Congress government tenure between 2004 and 2014, with seed subsidy, crop loss compensation, market support price, and crop insurance. The BRS government’s Rythu Bandhu actually resulted in a loss of Rs 30,000 per year for landed farmers and more for those who do agriculture on rented farms.

Crop damage? Use Rythu Bandhu

Rao govt stopped enumerating crop damage to avoid paying farmers

The BRS government stopped enumeration of crop loss due to natural calamities on the ground that it was extending Rs 10,000 per acre as Rythu Bandhu per year. Rao ordered enumeration of the crop loss only when Assembly polls neared, and announced a compensation of Rs 10,000 per acre. Even this was not delivered completely to all farmers who suffered losses; the Rao government used the Assembly election code as a ploy to stop payments.

Rao used to promise that the rest of the farmers would receive the compensation after elections. The BRS lost power. It is now up to the Revanth Reddy government to examine their claims and add to the financial burden.

While the wounds of the farmers were still fresh, Rao, after losing power, went to the farmers affected by unseasonal rain and drought-like conditions, posed for pictures with the damaged crop and accused the Revanth Reddy government of not standing by the agriculturists.

24-hour free power to farmers

Rao govt gave power for 13 hours, hid data from substations

Rao announced in January 2018 that the BRS government was extending 24-hour free power to the agriculture sector. In reality, power was not supplied for more than 13 hours anywhere in the state, and even that was done in phases. The log books on the power actually supplied, that is available with sub-stations, clearly proved that 24-hour power supply was a bogus claim made by the Rao regime. When Congress leaders visited substations and exposed this, Rao ordered seizure of log books in July 2023 and shifted the records to the power utilities head office in Hyderabad to prevent anyone from inspecting them.

Rao is now accusing the Congress government of not giving 24-hour free power to farmers and calling for protests across the country.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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