Western U.P. farmers facing more than just COVID-19

Shortage of labour, ‘forced social distancing’, pending dues add to their woes amid lockdown

April 14, 2020 11:24 pm | Updated April 15, 2020 07:52 am IST - Ghaziabad

Farmers harvesting potatoes on a field at Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. File photo.

Farmers harvesting potatoes on a field at Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. File photo.

Despite repeated government assurances, farmers in western Uttar Pradesh are struggling to come to terms with the nationwide lockdown. Some are short of labour, some are waiting for the government to buy their produce and others are grappling with “forced social distancing”.

In Rampur Moti village in Meerut, Prakushal Chaudhary has to make do with only two labourers to harvest wheat crop spread over 12 bighas. “Usually it requires at least six labourers but this year we have a shortage because of the fear of coronavirus. Also, Muslim labourers from nearby villages are not being allowed because two-three people have been found infected. There is no discord, but why take a chance,” he said, adding many farmers are cutting the crops themselves.

In Chaudhary Lakhpath Singh village near Pilakhwa town of Hapur district, Dinesh Kumar shared a different experience. “We are getting cheap labour this year because construction workers have returned home in large numbers and they have nothing to do. Their wives used to work on the farm, but this year they are also helping them out. The barter has come down from 50 kg wheat for harvesting a bigha to 35 kg to 40 kg.”

He said the concern was that many farmers in the region hadn’t received payment for their sugarcane crop. “Three mills in the region, including the Simbhaoli sugar mill, haven’t paid the dues to farmers. It would have helped us at this time to buy diesel and transport the wheat crop to mandis.”

MGNREGA workers

Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Dharmendra Malik said the government should allow the MGNREGA workers to help in harvesting to overcome the paucity of labour. “The government could pay its part, the rest could be compensated by the farmer. Also, the process should be eased out in places which are not hotspots. You can’t expect the farmer to access his field after taking permission from a sub-divisional magistrate. Right now, the district administration is making big announcements but the constable on the ground is using his own mind. The supply chain of the spare parts of combines should be maintained,” said Mr. Malik.

He further said it would be hard to explain the impact of the disease on the farmers as the health infrastructure at the rural level was already poor. “Recently, a pregnant woman in a village in Muzaffarnagar had to wait for four hours for an ambulance. When Paswanji [ Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilas Paswan] makes a statement that the godowns have stock for nine months, the government should also respect and protect those who have made it possible.”

In the Mathura region, the wheat crop has already been harvested and is lying at homes of farmers. “We are waiting for the government mandis to open and start registration. What is happening is private players are trying to buy wheat at ₹1,750 to ₹1,800 a quintal, when the government rate is ₹1,925 a quintal. The delay will force farmers who need money to sell their crop at a lower price,” said Mohd. Ehtesham from Sahar village. “We used combines to cut the crop and have to pay its rent. The administration said the process would start from April 15 but the scenario suggests that there would be a delay,” he said.

Also, farmers in the region are waiting for the compensation of the crop they lost because of hailstorm in February and March. “The compensation had started coming but was suddenly stopped when this coronavirus started spreading,” he said.

Mr. Ehtesham, who worked in a private bank, resigned after the recent Delhi riots. “As I was in a marketing job, it was becoming difficult to continue. The communal virus is much more widespread in cities because of social media and a section of news channels. I came home to help my father and brothers but got stuck because of coronavirus.”

He observed the mischief mongers were growing in villages too. “One of our relatives who is into fish farming was prevented from looking after the fish pond by 15-20 people. but then the locals came to his support,” he said.

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