Deadlock between Centre, Punjab unions leaves wheat tillers in limbo at sowing time

Urea and di-ammonium phosphate are in extremely short supply in the state as both sides slug it out

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Friday 20 November 2020

Wheat farmers in Punjab are suffering as a result of goods trains having stopped deliveries of supplies to the state amid the ongoing agitation by farmer unions against three recently-passed agriculture laws.

The non-resumption of goods trains to Punjab has led to the problem of shortage of urea as well as expensive purchase of Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) by the farmers.

The bitter farmers want early resumption of urea supplies as this is the most crucial period when it is required for the sowing of wheat. The recent spell of rains has further added to the woes of tillers in many areas where the showers were heavy.

Experts say that the area under wheat cultivation in Punjab is expected to be more than 30 million hectares this year.

There was a need to analyse the cumulative impact of the recent developments whose fallout had compelled farmers to procure DAP at a premium, with urea likely to follow, according to Patiala-based expert in agriculture economics, Gian Singh.

“The government must come out with a long-term solution that is in the interest of the farmers in the state as well as the country,” Singh told this reporter.

“It is evident that the cost of sowing and production will go up with the farmers paying a premium for DAP and urea. This will lead to an increase in debt that will result in more poverty. It is a cycle as more poverty can result in more farmer suicides and hence more social and political problems,” Singh added.

He stated that the entire economic burden would be borne by the farmer. This is because the procurement would be on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that would not take into account the extra costs the farmer had incurred for sowing and cultivating wheat.

Farmer leaders in the state claimed that almost 95 per cent of wheat had been sowed by now. They claimed that farmers were able to procure DAP by paying 10-15 per cent extra.

They further pointed that the crop was now in the initial phase of 21-31 days, where it had to be administered water along with one-fourth of the total urea requirement.

“We are looking at a scenario where multinational companies are ready to flood the market with their brands of urea that will perish after a few months. But the farmers must get the supplies from their traditional suppliers such as co-operatives like KRIBHCO and IFFCO,” Jagmohan Singh Patiala of Bharatiya Kisan Union-Ekta (Dakonda), told this reporter.

He added that the Union government should at least allow urea supplies to reach the border between Punjab and Haryana.

“Suppose the supplies come by trains to Ambala. That would mean an extra journey of a mere 22 km from the Punjab border for the farmers, one which they would undertake,” Singh said.

“Secondly, the farmers must be given their supplies from the national fertiliser plants at Bathinda and Nangal. This can be done if these plants do not send their produce over and above Punjab’s quota outside the state,” he said.

Jagmohan Singh agreed that there was panic among Punjab’s farmers on the issue of urea.

Deadlock situation

Punjab’s agitating farmers had lifted their rail blockade earlier this month, calling upon the Union government to facilitate the operation of freight trains.

But the centre put a condition that this would be possible only when passenger trains were also allowed to ply simultaneously, according to farmer leaders.

“This is nothing but politicising the whole issue. There were 176 goods trains that were put into service November 6 and 7 when the centre stopped their movement again. This never happened even during the last four decades when the country saw militant activities in different parts,” Jagmohan said.

“Even during militancy in Punjab during the 1980s, freight trains were allowed to operate while passenger trains remained suspended for a long period. During and after the novel coronavirus disease lockdown period, the majority of passenger trains have remained suspended, particularly the trains catering to general sections of society,” he added.

Representatives of the 30 agitating farmer unions of Punjab and those from the Union government held another round of parleys November 18 where the farmers once again asked the government to make a beginning by first running the freight trains.

A statement issued by the farmer organisations said the Union government should first create a conducive environment by operating freight trains.

Only then the organisations would also take a positive decision on passenger trains immediately. The farmers also announced their decision to take the protest to the national capital November 26 and 27.

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh expressed disappointment over the adamant refusal of the farmer organisations to completely lift their rail blockade.

He said the farmers should realise that things could not continue like this ad infinitum and if rail transportation continued to remain suspended any longer, the state would plunge into an irreversible crisis, a situation no government could afford.

He said the bills brought in the state assembly by his government were a major step towards negating the impact of the central laws.

Amarinder Singh said industry alone had already suffered losses to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore (and still counting) while agriculture also continued to suffer.

He said 60,000 gunny bags were stuck in Delhi and Rajpura, thus impacting the lifting of paddy crop from the grain markets.

The suspension of train services had also prevented the supply of 40 lakh metric tonnes of parboiled rice from Punjab to Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh for the public distribution system, causing the central government to pick up the grain from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

“What if the central government makes this the norm? What will happen to Punjab’s rice then? What will happen to our farmers?” Singh noted.

He added that while the implementation of the farm laws passed by the centre had to be checked at all costs, to which his government was also committed, it could not be at the cost of Punjab’s future.

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