Elections 2021

Potatoes will decide the winner in a dozen UP seats

AM Jigeesh Etah/ Etawah/ Kannauj | Updated on April 22, 2019

Potato farmer Bhanu Pratap Singh at his home near Etah

Om Prakash Singh was not just another potato farmer. He, along with his father Bhanu Pratap Singh, led one of the largest farmers’ outfits in western Uttar Pradesh — Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu). But he committed suicide in January after suffering huge losses from potato cultivation.

He was the State president of BKU (Bhanu) then. “I decided not to grow potatoes since then. I sold some of my land and agricultural equipment to repay the loans on my son,” Bhanu Pratap Singh told BusinessLine.

Sitting at his home near Jalesar in Etah, Singh said it costs at least ₹1,000 to grow 50 kg of potatoes. “And what we are offered is just above ₹400 for one quintal. We kept sending petitions after petitions to the governments. The loan waivers offered by Yogi Adityanath government were a farce,” Singh said.

The BKU held a Maha Panchayat of farmers in February and had demanded the State government to constitute a farmers’ commission. The panchayat also demanded the government to increase the MSP (minimum support price) for potatoes. “Seventy-two years after independence, farmers are still under distress. Democracy will fail if the governments turn a blind eye towards farmers’ distress,” Singh said. There are about 12 constituencies in central Uttar Pradesh where potato is the main topic of political debate. The BJP is approaching the potato farmers by showing one of the first decisions of the Yogi Cabinet to fix a MSP for potatoes at the rate of ₹487 per quintal. The government had also announced a plan to procure one lakh tonnes of potatoes using various State agencies.

“The government had directed cold storages to reduce interest rate for stocking potatoes,” said Pradeep Gupta Bhamashah, Nagar Nigam President of BJP in Etah. He also claims that there were no farmer suicides in the area. “Bhanu Pratap Singh’s son committed suicide due to some domestic issues,” Bhamashah said.

Cold storages charge ₹100-125 for a box of 50 kg of potatoes for four months. Based on the stock they have, cold storages get credit from banks. Once their stock is sold, they start paying the farmers.

“The government had promised that there will be a proper marketing and procurement system for potatoes. They also promised a loan waiver. But both the farmers and the cold storages are under stress as the market has been volatile and the demand was low,” said SP MLC and spokesperson Udayveer Singh, who owns a cold storage near Agra.

“Farmers have to give more than ₹487, the MSP, to the cold storages. Cold storages find it difficult to clear the stocks. Often, potatoes perish there. So both the farmers and traders are under stress. There have been suicides in the area due to the crisis and Bhanu Pratap Singh’s family too suffered such a loss,” Singh said.

Constituencies between Agra and Kanpur are considered as the hotbed of potato politics. The SP has a considerable presence in the area. In their campaign speeches, BSP supremo Mayawati and SP President Akhilesh Yadav have been highlighting the problems of potato farmers.

Published on April 22, 2019

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