The unrest among Punjab farmers: Paradox of prosperity and protests : The Tribune India

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The unrest among Punjab farmers: Paradox of prosperity and protests

The unrest among Punjab farmers: Paradox of prosperity and protests

Farmers hold a protest against PM Narendra Modi near his rally venue in Jalandhar. File photo



Tribune News Service

Neeraj Mohan

New Delhi, June 2

Once celebrated as the most prosperous agricultural state in India, Punjab, the epicentre of the Green Revolution, is now a hotbed of farmer unrest. Despite having maximum beneficiaries of the Maximum Support Price (MSP) scheme and boasting the highest farmer incomes and productivity in the wheat-paddy cropping system, the state has become fertile ground for protests against the ruling BJP and its leadership. Ground reports reveal that these protests are driven by a combination of unmet promises, economic pressures, rising unemployment and strategic political dynamics giving a voice against the BJP and the union government.

Women joined the farmers’ dharna in large numbers to mark the completion of 100 days of ‘Dilli Chalo March’, at Shambhu in Patiala district. File photo

The roots of discontent

The unrest in Punjab is not solely about economic grievances but also part of a broader ideological battle. Farmers’ association leaders perceive BJP’s policies as threats to their livelihoods and autonomy. The memory of the year-long protests against the farm laws has left a lasting impact, with many farmers feeling betrayed by the government’s handling of the situation. The ideological and economic dimensions of these protests underscore a profound sense of mistrust and dissatisfaction that has taken root in what was once India’s most fertile and prosperous agricultural region. Farmer leaders behind the demand of guaranteed and hiked Minimum Support Price argue that despite the MSP, many promises made during the 2020-21 protests remain unmet. They highlight ongoing challenges such as rising input costs, inadequate storage facilities, and inconsistent market access. Most farmer unions, united under the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and SKM (non-political), have called for a legal guarantee for MSPs, debt relief, and pension schemes for elderly farmers. These demands echo the grievances from the 2020-2021 protests against the now-repealed farm laws, indicating deep-seated issues that remain unresolved.

Voices from the ground

Former Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and then Home Minister Anil Vij further fuelled the anger against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections by using police force to suppress the farmers’ unrest in February this year, resulting in the death of a 22-year-old farmer Shubhkaran Singh from Bathinda and injuring hundreds. Thousands of farmers are still camping on the Shambhu and Khanori borders, the entry points from Punjab to Haryana.

“Not only in Punjab, the anger can also be seen across the entire farming community of the country, especially in Haryana and parts of Punjab and Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and even in Tamil Nadu,” said a farmer leader Abhimanyu Kohar. “In a symbolic act of defiance, farmers in Punjab and Haryana have imposed entry bans on BJP candidates in their villages. This move is seen as retribution for the Modi-led government’s previous ban on farmers entering New Delhi during the historic protests against the three controversial farm laws,” he said, adding that the farmers are not going to end the ongoing agitation until the government enact a law to guarantee the MSP at C2+50%, besides a comprehensive loan waiver, and the repeal of the electricity bill and compensation for land acquisition should be done as per the Land Acquisition Act of 2013.

Expert insights

Satbir Singh Gosal, Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, identifies several reasons behind the farmers’ distress in Punjab. “Besides the increasing rate of land lease (theka), there are several reasons behind the farmers’ distress in Punjab. Key among them are rising input costs, including seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, implements, and tractors,” he stated. He further said, “Moreover, farmers are also struggling with several other issues such as depleting groundwater and higher labour charges.”

Devinder Sharma, an economist and agriculture expert, emphasised Punjab’s unique position: “Punjab is the most fertile land for agitations because the farmers of Punjab and Haryana have the capability to lead the farmers of the country and raise a voice against the wrong policies of the government.” He added, “The farmers of Punjab receive the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and understand its importance, whereas the farmers in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh do not receive the MSP and therefore do not realize its significance.”

Dr Virender Lather, Former Principal Scientist at ICAR-IARI New Delhi, citing a study by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Ludhiana, pointed out that, “Over nine thousand farmers committed suicide between 2000 and 2018 in just six districts of Punjab. The primary reason for these suicides is heavy debt, mostly incurred from non-institutional sources. Small and marginal farmers, who own less than two hectares of land, were the chief victims.” He explained that the rice-wheat or cotton-wheat cropping system predominantly adopted in Punjab and Haryana involves high cultivation costs. Although these crops are fully covered under the MSP guarantee purchase regimes of the Central Government, the profitability at the A2+FL formula is very low, leading to farmers’ indebtedness. Dr Lather suggested that declaring MSP based on the C2 cost and ensuring a legal MSP guarantee could alleviate farmers’ distress and reduce suicides.

Agricultural Contributions

Despite covering only 1.53% of the country’s area, Punjab significantly contributes to India’s food security. The state produces approximately 18% of the country’s wheat, 11% of its rice, 4% of its cotton, 10% of its milk, 20% of its honey, and 48% of its mushrooms. Punjab covers an area of 50.33 lakh hectares, of which approximately 41.27 lakh hectares are used for farming. Irrigation is provided to 40.74 lakh hectares, representing 98.9% of the agricultural land, and the state’s crop intensity is over 189%.

Multiple factors

Besides the increasing rate of land lease (theka), there are several reasons behind the farmers’ distress in Punjab. Key among them are rising input costs, including seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, implements, and tractors. Moreover, farmers are also struggling with several other issues such as depleting groundwater and higher labour charges.— Satbir Singh Gosal, PAU VC

Anger across nation

Not only in Punjab, the anger can also be seen across the entire farming community of the country. In a symbolic act of defiance, farmers in Punjab and Haryana have imposed entry bans on Bharatiya Janata Party candidates in their villages. This move is seen as retribution for the Modi-led government’s previous ban on farmers entering New Delhi. — Abhimanyu Kohar, farmer leader

About The Author

The Tribune News Service brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune News Service for a wide-ranging coverage of events as they unfold, with perspective and clarity.


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