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What’s the sunflower MSP dispute that has Haryana farmers on warpath against Khattar govt

Chandigarh: A day after the Haryana Police lathi-charged agitating farmers in Kurukshetra district and arrested nine of their leaders, the farmers Wednesday blocked highways and sat on dharnas at toll plazas in several cities to protest Manohar Lal Khattar government’s decision to not buy sunflower seeds at minimum support price (MSP).

The farmers are also planning to hold a larger agitation in the capital. “We will hold a big agitation on MSP in Delhi. We will announce the contours of this agitation in Kurukshetra,” farmer leader Rakesh Tikait told the media in Karnal.

The farmers have been demanding that the state government procure their sunflower crop at an MSP of Rs 6,400 per quintal, as announced for the crop by the central government for 2022-23.

Tikait had rushed to Kurukshetra’s Shahabad Wednesday, where farmers had blocked the Chandigarh-Delhi highway over the issue the previous day.

The highway was blocked at noon for more than six hours. The police initially diverted traffic to alternate routes but when the farmers refused to relent despite appeals, the police resorted to cane-charge. Nine farmers, including Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) chief Gurnam Singh Charuni, were arrested.

“This is the first time in history that the police have cane-charged farmers for demanding the MSP announced by the government,” said Tikait.

Farmers Wednesday sat on dharnas at toll plazas in Hisar, Sirsa, Rohtak, Karnal, Ambala and Kurukshetra.

A farmer in Sirsa told ThePrint over the phone: “We are waiting for a call from our leaders. If the farmers arrested by the police are not released, we will block roads and shut toll plazas.”

In Rohtak, the farmers blocked National Highway-9 (NH-9) and clashes were reported with the police who also allegedly took two farmers into custody. Reports of blockades and protests also came from Kaithal, Uchana, Kurukshetra, Karnal and Ambala.

The arrested farmers were Wednesday produced before a local court in Shahbad, where they reportedly refused to apply for bail and were sent to judicial custody for 14 days.

The national council of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) met Wednesday in Delhi and discussed a slew of issues relating to farmers, including the Haryana Police lathi-charge in Kurukshetra.

“The SKM strongly condemns the barbaric lathi-charge and large-scale arrest of farmers at Haryana’s Kurukshetra on 6 June. SKM warns the Haryana government to immediately stop this repression, release all arrested persons, withdraw all false cases, pay compensation to all injured protesters and ensure all farmers get MSP for sunflower seeds immediately, failing which SKM shall launch a larger struggle till all demands are met,” a statement by the morcha said.

However, a senior official from the Haryana food and supplies department told ThePrint that the state government “hadn’t announced that it would procure sunflower seeds on MSP for 2022-2023”.

He explained that the central government announces MSP for 22-23 crops, including 14 Kharif crops, for the entire country and it is up to the states to decide which crops they want to give the MSP on to farmers.

“Once a state government decides to procure a particular crop on MSP, it becomes the government’s duty to ensure that the farmers get a minimum price equivalent to MSP. If farmers get remunerative prices in the open market, the government doesn’t intervene. However, if the prices fall below the MSP, the state government is bound to procure the farmers’ crop on MSP — provided it meets quality parameters,” the official told ThePrint.

ThePrint reached the Kurukshetra Police spokesperson via calls. This report will be updated if and when a response is received.

Also Read: Can India actually afford MSP for farmers? It’s a question of political will

Farmers’ grievances vs govt stand

MSP — a guaranteed remunerative rate at which the government will purchase crops from farmers — are announced by the central government at the beginning of the sowing season for certain crops.

Haryana farmers allege that the state government “isn’t procuring sunflower seeds on MSP (Rs 6,400), forcing farmers to sell their crop for Rs 4,000 to Rs 4,800 to private buyers”.

They also say that refusing MSP on sunflower will not only cause them financial loss but also demotivate them from diversifying from paddy cultivation.

“It is quite surprising that the Centre announced MSP of Rs 6,400 per quintal for sunflower for the current year, but the Khattar government doesn’t want to give the price to its farmers,” Prahlad Singh Bharukhera, president of Haryana Kisan Manch, told ThePrint over the phone Wednesday.

The central government Wednesday announced an increase in MSP from Rs 6,400 to Rs 6,760 for sunflower for the 2023-24 season.

The Haryana government had earlier this year announced inclusion of sunflower crop in its Bhavantar Bharpai Yojana (BBY), under which the government pays a fixed compensation against produce sold below MSP.

An interim support of Rs 1,000 a quintal was announced for sunflower under the scheme.

Narhari Singh Banger, Director, Haryana’s Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, told ThePrint Wednesday that the state had included the sunflower crop under BBY and “the government is paying Rs 1,000 per quintal as interim compensation to the farmers”.

But the farmers say that they would still be at a loss as private players “are offering Rs 4,000 to 4,200 a quintal for the crop”. On the other hand, procurement by the government at MSP would get them Rs 6,400 per quintal.

The farmers also point out that the Haryana government did not stick to the announcement made by CM Khattar in 2018 that the “state would permanently procure the sunflower crop on MSP”.

In July 2018, the Khattar government had organised the “Surajmukhi (Sunflower) Dhan Kisan Dhanyawad Rally” in Kurukshetra, celebrating the increase in cultivation of sunflower crop in the state.

“Processing units will be established in Haryana to use every grain of sunflower purchased in the state on MSP. Assured sunflower purchase will continue in the state,” the CM was quoted as saying in a report by The Tribune.

Sunflower cultivation on rise

In Haryana, the sunflower is grown in the districts of Kurukshetra, Yamunanagar, Karnal and Ambala.

According to data maintained by the state agriculture department, area under sunflower cultivation has been on the rise since 2018-19, when the crop was sown on 9,440 hectares. This increased to 12,290 hectares in 2020-21; 13,020 hectares in 2021-22; and 14,160 hectares in 2022-23.

For 2022-23, the state government had set the target of sowing the crop on 15,000 hectares. With an average crop yield of 20 quintals per hectare, production target was set at 3 lakh quintals. But the crop was actually sown on 14,160 hectares in 2022-23, the data showed.

“The government estimate on sowing is at odds with the data uploaded on sunflowers by farmers on ‘Meri Fasal, Mera Byora’ portal,” Banger told ThePrint. “The crop has been shown to have been sown on 50,000 acres, though the government is verifying the figure.”

Farmers say that the Haryana government’s endeavours to diversify from other crops prompted many of them to adopt sunflower cultivation over the past five years.

“I started growing sunflowers over the past five years only due to assured procurement announced by the Khattar government in 2018. The government motivated farmers to grow sunflower crops to diversify from the routine wheat-paddy crop cycle. The government told the farmers that diversification would improve the water situation,” Roshan Lal, a farmer from Ladwa in Kurukshetra, told ThePrint over phone Wednesday.

Opposition cries foul

The police action against Haryana’s agitating farmers has attracted wide condemnation from the state’s opposition parties.

Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader and former CM Om Prakash Chautala, INLD’s Abhay Singh Chautala, Congress general secretaries Randeep Singh Surjewala and Kumari Selja and Rajya Sabha MP Deepender Hooda were united in condemning the police action, demanding release of the arrested farmers and procurement of farmers’ crop on MSP.

The police action has also apparently widened the chasm between the BJP and its alliance partner in Haryana, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP).

On Wednesday, during a press conference by state Cooperation Minister Banwari Lal in Chandigarh, JJP’s Shahabad MLA Ram Karan Kala, who is also the chairman of the Haryana State Federation of Cooperative Sugar Mills, had threatened to resign from the post unless the arrested farmers were released, and criticised the police lathi-charge on them. He has since resigned.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also Read: Why the farmers’ movement is no longer what the Modi govt thinks it is

Source: The Print

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