Hyderabad, Jan 3 : At a time when thousands of farmers are protesting on the Delhi borders against three new central farm laws, anger is brewing among the farming community in Telangana as well against the state's move not to purchase agricultural produce in their villages.
Farmers' groups and opposition parties are gearing up for statewide protests against the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government's decision not to set up procurement centres in villages to purchase various crops.
Interestingly, the government cited new farm laws while announcing the move last week, prompting farmer organisations and non-BJP opposition to slam it for its "U-turn on farm legislations".
The government, which had opened procurement centres in villages to purchase crops during Covid-19 lockdown, declared that it was not possible to go in for similar procurement again.
"The new farm laws allow farmers to sell their crops anywhere. Hence, the state government need not set up purchase centres in villages," the Chief Minister's Office stated after Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao held a review meeting with Ministers and top officials.
"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government had set up purchase centres in villages and bouhght crops on humanitarian grounds so that farmers don't suffer losses.
It is not possible to do it every time. The government is not a business organisation or trader. It is not a rice miller or a dal miller. Sale and purchase is not the responsibility of the government," the CMO quoted participants in the meeting as saying.
The TRS government also cited heavy losses incurred due to purchase of crops during the last six years for the decision.
It incurred Rs 7,500 crore loss due to purchase of paddy, sorghum, maize, red gram, Bengal gram and sunflower.
Though the government had purchased agricultural produce by paying the Minimum Support Price (MSP), it had to sell the same at lower prices in the market, as there was no demand for these crops.
The decision evoked sharp reaction from farmer groups and opposition parties. They were baffled over the U-turn by TRS, which had not only opposed the new farm laws in Parliament but also joined the nationwide shutdown called by farmer groups on December 8.
In September, the TRS chief had conveyed strict instruction to his party MPs to vote against the farm laws in Parliament.
He alleged that the new legislations would harm the interests of the farmers and enable corporate lobbies to exploit them.
The issue of procurement centres was raised by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) during 'chalo Hyderabad' organised by it last week to intensify the agitation against farm laws.
The AIKSCC leaders wondered how the Chief Minister changed his stance on the farm laws. "Has Rao made a deal with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi to support the Acts?" they asked.
Rao's 'U-turn' came a week after he visited Delhi and called on Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The visit came after the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, wherein the BJP did remarkably well to emerge as the second largest party.
A roundtable meeting organised by CPI-M in Khammam two days ago warned of an intensive agitation on the lines of the ongoing protest by farmers on the Delhi borders if the state failed to drop its move to close the procurement centres in the state.
The roundtable attended by leaders of several farmer organisations decided to organise mandal-level hunger strike for five days in protest against the Centre's new farm laws and other "anti-farmer" policies.
Leaders of the farmers' wings of the CPI-M, the CPI and CPI-ML-ND warned of an agitation if the state government failed to drop its "anti-farmer" move.
Though the Telangana government announced withdrawal of regulated farming to strike a balance, the farmer organisations and opposition parties demanded that it continue procurement in villages to save farmers from losses.
The TRS government declared that farmers will be free to grow any crop, going by local agro-climatic and market conditions.
The government will not issue any guidelines on crops to be cultivated by farmers.
The government's inability to provide bonus to superfine rice cultivators due to Food Corporation of India (FCI) norms could be a reason for scrapping regulated cropping, which was implemented for two seasons last year.
However, barring the BJP, all opposition parties took the ruling TRS to task for its U-turn on farm laws.
"Suddenly, KCR went to Delhi, met with Modi and Shah and took a U-turn by saying that farm laws are good and that he will support these laws," said Congress leader Ponnam Prabhakar.
On the other hand, BJP leaders welcomed the change in KCR's stance. The party's OBC Morcha President Dr K Laxman remarked that KCR has finally opened his eyes.
BJP state President Bandi Sanjay demanded a public apology from KCR to farmers for bringing in regulated cropping in the first place.
The BJP leader, however, sensed a 'conspiracy' and said that any attempt to blame the central government for the farmers' woes in Telangana using this as a ruse will be strongly opposed on Monday.
"We will appreciate if KCR really believes in the farm Acts but if there is a selfish motive, we will take the fight to his farmhouse.
He is saying that procurement centres will be removed on the ground that there is no such provision in any Act.
In fact, we have been demanding that the government increase the number of procurement centres," Sanjay said.
State Congress chief N Uttam Kumar Reddy said that the party would organise protests at all district headquarters across the state on January 11 against the decision to close down procurement centres.
He warned that the agitation would be intensified if the government did not withdraw its decision.
Alleging that KCR is "friendly" with the BJP, the Congress leader said that he was trying to "fool people" by putting up a show of a fight with the BJP.
Condemning the decision to wind up all procurement centres, the Congress said that KCR has no moral to continue as Chief Minister.
Congress leader Uttam Kumar Reddy said that a majority of population in Telangana was dependent on agriculture and that the people do not need a government that is ignoring the farm sector.
He claimed that the previous Congress government had established procurement centres in all villages in 2004.