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Mainstream, VOL LX No 35 New Delhi, August 20, 2022

Controversy over Adverse Impact of Big Business on Farms Revived in Himachal | Bharat Dogra

Friday 19 August 2022, by Bharat Dogra

During the prolonged agitation of farmers which continued for almost a year in 2020-21, the adverse impact of big business houses on farmers and marketing of farm produce had emerged as perhaps the biggest issue. Now this issue is making waves in Himachal Pradesh in the context of its apple economy.

Himachal Pradesh has a border with all the three foremost states/regions of the farmers’ movement—Punjab, Haryana and Western UP. So some impact of the movement had also reached this Himalayan state then also but this was not a very big impact. The visit of Rakesh Tikait, a prominent leader of farmers from Western UP, had helped to bring this movement to Himachal Pradesh but this was only a small beginning.

More recently 27 farmer organizations in Himachal, with a prominent role of apple growers, had mobilized to raise several demands relating to apple orchards in particular. This Sanyukta Kisan Manch (SKM) had organized a big protest on August 5, presenting several demands and said that a bigger protest movement will start after about ten days ( after August 15) if these demands are not met. Just before this, things have heated up with complaints about the role of big business houses.

The recently voiced complaints of SKM and apple growers are actually not very different from the complaints voiced last year too at the time of the apple harvesting season by several apple growers and their representatives. However at that time the apple growers were not so well mobilized and so the complaint had not attracted so much attention.

The state government in the BJP ruled state has propagated the growing role of big business houses in apple purchase in a very positive light and had claimed credit for speeding up the process of giving NOCs so that big business houses could enter the trade and purchase system which the government said will result in the apple growers receiving a higher price. However at the ground level things took a different turn and apple-growers started complaining about a lower opening price and arbitrary gradation of apples to deny them a fair price.

Similar complaints are being made more forcefully now. On August 14 Sanjay Chauhan, co-convener of SKM, said—New opening prices announced now have made it clear that the government is working under pressure from Adani and other companies.

Gaurav Bisht reported in The Hindustan Times on August 15 in a report titled ‘Apple growers dissatisfied with Adani Agri Fresh’s opening prices’—“ Adani Agri Fresh is one of the biggest corporate buyers of apples in Himachal. It owns three controlled atmospheric pressure stores in Himachal Pradesh, including one in Sainj and another in Rohru. The markets had crashed drastically last year after Adani Agri Fresh opened its price.”

Providing more details this report states, “ Last yesr, the Rs. 5,500 crore apple business, which mostly runs on the fee market model, was dealt a major setback right at the beginning of the season when the Adani group announced its opening price for A-grade premium quality apples at just Rs. 72 per kg. , much lower than the Rs. 88 per kg. it offered in 2020.”

With this year’s opening being around Rs. 76 for premium A-grade apples, the apple growers are angry that despite the all-round rise in production and packaging costs during the last two years as well as several adverse weather conditions, they may have to sell at prices lower than in 2020. They are also upset that the assurances given to them regarding a committee, also including their representatives, having a major say in determining price is not being honored in the right spirit.

This is election year in Himachal Pradesh and the three main opposition parties—the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the CPM are all extending their support to apple-growers. They and the SKM also realize that now may be the most favorable time to convince or compel the government to accept most of their demands. Several other farmers are also agitated because of big losses from adverse weather conditions not being compensated adequately and lack of proper rehabilitation and compensation for those whose land has been taken over for various development projects, particularly four lane roads. Hence it appears quite likely that the protest actions of apple growers and other farmers will escalate in the coming days till their demands are substantially met.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Man over Machine and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.)

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