On November 19, political activist Ramandeep Singh Mann tweeted that farmers in Ambala City in Punjab celebrated the day as “Fateh Divas” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew the farm reform laws the same day in 2021. Fateh Divas is actually celebrated during March 21-22 to commemorate the capture of the Red Fort by Sikh forces from the Mughals in 1783.

Mann was one of those who strongly opposed farm reforms, especially allowing the sale of agricultural produce outside the agriculture produce marketing committee (APMC) yards, and was part of the agitation against the laws that allowed growers to sell outside agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) yards and enter into contract farming. 

But, a week ago, Mann was again on the micro-blogging site seeking direct buyers outside APMC yards’ purview for red and green chilli from Ferozepur farmers in Punjab. He asked those interested to message him directly. 

₹1/kg for capsicum

Mann’s plea on social media was on the heels of farmers in Punjab being unable to sell their chillies and capsicum at a remunerative price. Reports from growing areas said some farmers dumped the capsicum they grew on the roads as they got a meagre ₹1 per kg. Punjab growers are upset with Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann who had persuaded them to switching over to capsicum from other crops.

“We are growing these produce only now. Therefore, we are not getting buyers. This is why we demand minimum support price (MSP) for all crops,” said Gurvinder Singh Gill, a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union that was at the forefront of the protests. 

Gill said had the Centre fixed ₹15/kg MSP for capsicum, sales below that price would have been considered illegal. He, however, refused to comment on Mann’s tweet. (Mann could not be reached as he has blocked this writer on social media.)

“Farmers in Punjab and Haryana made a big blunder and are facing the consequences,” said Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sanghatana, an organisation that takes up farmers’ cause in Maharashtra. 

Helpless inside APMC

Ghanwat was one of the three persons appointed by the Supreme Court to study the farm reform laws. The panel report said “repeal of farm laws would be unfair to the silent majority”. 

“Contract farming could have helped these growers. Inside APMC yards, people are helpless,” said Sunil Singh Chauhan, General Manager of a private food company in Amritsar.

“Traders dictate terms in APMC yards. We can’t do anything,” said Gill.

“Punjab and Haryana farmers are victims of their own act,” said a Delhi-based trade analyst. “Farmers got provoked by some of the opposition parties despite knowing that MSP cannot be justified under World Trade Organisation norms. We are facing the heat already in WTO,” he said. 

“Individually, farmers will look at their own welfare. They opposed farm reforms as the issue got politicised,” said Bhagwan Das, Secretary-General of Young Farmers Association Punjab. 

“Haryana and Punjab farmers are reaping the consequences over the last 12 months or so. The ban on wheat or rice exports would not have been imposed had the reforms been allowed,” said Ghanwat. 

The problem is not confined only to capsicum and chilli. “We have seen similar incidents with regard to tomatoes and potatoes, too,” he said. 

Gill said shortage of cold storage, too, affected farmers. Ghanwat said farm reforms would have brought in all these infrastructure, besides processing firms that could have put the vegetables dumped on road to better use.

With inputs from KS Badri Narayanan, Chennai