Gujarat polls 2017: Decoding the challenges BJP faces in rural belt

Party on overdrive to allay concerns of farmers

Gujarat-Election-2017Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017Lakshman Dobariya of Jasdan in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat has seen his realisation drop from Rs 1,200 per 20 kg of groundnut to Rs 600 per 20 kg in the past five years. Although the state government announced a minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 900 per 20 kg right before the Assembly elections in the state, Dobariya is forced to sell his produce at market prices of Rs 500-600 per 20 kg. The queues at government procurement centres are unending.

“My costs have risen from Rs 5,000 per bigha to Rs 8,000 while realisations have fallen from Rs 1,000-1,200 per 20 kg to Rs 500-600. This is accentuated by rising pest infestation and an erratic monsoon,” says Dobariya.

Dobariya’s experience shows how farm distress is brewing discontent among Gujarat’s rural electorate. The state government has pulled out all the stops to assuage the rural voter in the run-up to a crucial election. Among other things, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced a support price of Rs 900 per 20 kg of groundnut (or Rs 4,500 per quintal) last month, after market prices had crashed to Rs 3,250 per quintal.

The state government also unveiled a Rs 500-crore Budget for procuring groundnut. Sagar Rabari, convenor of Jamin Adhikar Andolan Gujarat that works with farmers, says with that kind of Budget, the government will be able to procure 110,000 tonnes of groundnut this season. The output was 2.96 million tonnes last year, and estimates suggest production this year will be 3.2 million tonnes. The majority of Gujarat’s groundnut farmers will be left in the lurch.

“The government cannot procure all the stock because it also has to sell in the open market where prices are low. The roots of the problem lie elsewhere, in the lack of market and support infrastructure,” says Rabari. But Chimanbhai Shaparia, Gujarat’s agriculture minister, says the government has increased the collection centres to 215 this year from last year’s 87. “We are trying to reach where the farmers are,” he adds.

Dobariya’s woes do not end with low prices for his produce. Add loan repayments and crop insurance, and Dobariya’s profits shrink drastically.

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