Groundxero | 13 June, 2023
After the Kurukshetra Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police assured a fair price for the procurement of sunflower seeds to the farmers on late Tuesday evening, the farmers announced to lift the blockade of the NH-44 near Pipli, which connects Delhi with Chandigarh. The farmers in Haryana had blocked the important highway, which connects Delhi with Chandigarh, since Monday afternoon, demanding minimum support price (MSP) for sunflower seeds.
Earlier, multiple discussions with the district administration since Monday have failed. As the deadlock persisted, farmers had set up tents on the highway to shield themselves from intense summer heat. The farmers were firm in their resolve to not lift their dharna and demanded that the government either fulfill their demands or forcibly arrest and send them to jail. The agitated farmers demanding MSP for sunflower seeds and also release of their leaders, who were arrested from Shahabad during the earlier protest on 7 June, slept overnight on the highway, and the blockade continued till late into Tuesday evening. It was lifted only after the state administration gave an assurance on fulfilling their demands.
“From tomorrow it [Sunflower seeds] will be purchased at Rs 5,000 per quintal and an internal relief of Rs 1,000 is already being given by the state government under Bhavantar Bharpai Yojana. This will ensure a fair price to the farmers,” said the DC while addressing the protesting farmers. About the second demand of releasing arrested farmers and withdrawal of cases, SP Bhoria said the investigation was underway, and they will be released following the due process of law. When asked if the Haryana government will increase the ‘Bhavantar’ or give the MSP of Rs 6,400 per quintal for sunflower, Rakesh Tikait, who led the negotiation with the administration, said ”in whichever way they give, the farmers will get the MSP”.
Haryana is the second-biggest grower of sunflower, after Karnataka. The crop area for sunflower is on the rise ever since the BJP government at the state assured farmers of full procurement of sunflower at MSP as part of its crop diversification plan in 2018. As a result, sunflower which in 2018-19 was sown on 9,440 hectares increased to 14,160 hectares in the 2022-23 crop year, as per government data. However this year state agencies did not come for procurement, and so the prices of sunflower seeds have come down sharply, and they are being sold at nearly Rs 4,000 in the open market. The farmers are demanding that the state government procure sunflower seeds at an MSP of Rs 6,400 per quintal announced by Centre in 2022-23.
The state government has announced that under the Bhavantar Bharpai Yojana — it will compensate the farmers by giving them Rs 1,000 per quintal as interim support for sunflower crop which is sold below MSP. The government had on Saturday even released Rs 29.13 crore as interim compensation to 8,528 farmers. However, farmers claimed that despite the state government’s compensation, the overall realisation of the price was still way below the MSP which made them take to the street to seek full MSP for their crop.
Last week too, on June 6, the Charuni group held a massive protest demanding MSP for Sunflower seeds. The Kurukshetra police had used water cannons and lathi-charged farmers when they tried to block the highway. Several protestors were injured and nine BKU (Charuni) leaders, including its president, were arrested over various charges, including rioting and unlawful assembly. Gurnam Singh Charuni was assaulted by Haryana state police, his turban was removed and he was severely beaten with sticks.
The farmers’ union took the decision of indefinite blockade of the highway at a ‘Mahapanchayat’ held in Kurukshetra district’s Pipli village on Monday. The Mahapanchayat was called by Bharatiya Kisan Union (Charuni) faction in the wake of the earlier police assault on their ongoing agitation to press state authorities for procurement of sunflower seeds at MSP. The ‘MSP Dilao, Kisan Bachao’ (Provide MSP to save farmers) Mahapanchayat on 12 June at Pipli grain market was attended by various khaps, farmers’ unions from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. The farmers at the Mahapanchayat revived their demand for a law on guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for their crops and decided to indefinitely block the highway till the government accepted their demand.
Although the protest this time was centered on the issue of sunflower MSP, many farmer leaders at the Mahapanchayat have raised the demand for a law for guaranteed MSP. The farmer unions had raised the demand for this law during the year-long protests against the three farm laws too. The union government had promised SKM to constitute a committee to consider this demand but so far it has done nothing. The agitation at Pipli was spearheaded by leaders of the farm laws protests and there was a possibility that the current agitation does not remain confined to the sunflower MSP and turns into a larger protest over the guaranteed MSP law issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to apologise to the farmers and take back the farm laws when the long-drawn protest started turning violent. With several state elections coming up this year and the Lok Sabha elections next year, the BJP government didn’t want to let the protests draw on and under pressure give in to the farmers’ demands.
Soon after the agreement was reached, the protesting farmers celebrated their victory, burst crackers and the blockade was lifted.