In an unfortunate development earlier this week, five farmers were killed at a protest site in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, during clashes with the police, marking an escalation of violence as a rural strike demanding farm loan waivers spread. Since last week, farmers have been on strike in the state, preventing delivery trucks carrying essential food and vegetables from reaching city markets, while demanding crores in farm loan waivers and better prices for their produce.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday announced a compensation of Rs 1 crore each to the victims' families and ordered a judicial probe to investigate the death of five farmers, even though earlier in the week he had alleged that those protesting were not farmers but anti-social elements. Even though a judicial probe is yet to reach its conclusion, ministers in the State government have blamed "anti-social elements" for the firing in Mandsaur. In fact, the home minister rejected the notion that the police had fired on the protesting farmers.
One should at least wait for the conclusion of a judicial probe before pointing fingers. The State government under Shivraj Singh Chouhan has always prided itself on being "pro-farmer", although recent incidents suggest that the agitating farmers may not necessarily feel this way. Of the 13 demands placed by farmer unions before the State government, 11 have found acceptance. However, there are still serious differences on the question of remunerative prices for farm produce and loan waivers up to Rs 39,000 crore for indebted farmers.
Farmer agitations have spread across Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh in recent weeks, making similar demands of their respective elected representative. Maharashtra has decided to waive farm loans worth Rs 30,500 crore, while the Tamil Nadu government has so far waived Rs 5,482 crore. The agrarian distress in this country is real, and both the Centre and respective State governments must face up to this reality and deal with farmer concerns at the earliest.