India. Farmers' union demands rollback of decision to scrap wheat import duty

22.12.2016

A leading farmers' union in northern India on Tuesday demanded that the centre reinstate the wheat import duty and raise it to 40%, on fears that cheaper imports may hurt domestic growers who have already planted the winter crop.

Farmers are under severe stress due to demonetisation and are resorting to distress sale of perishable produce like vegetable, leaders of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) told reporters, adding, non-functional cooperative banks have pushed farmers out ovf the formal banking system during the crucial winter sowing season.

BKU is a leading farm union active in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Both states are among top growers of wheat and are headed for state elections early next year. On 8 December, the centre abolished the 10% wheatimport duty in a bid to tame rising retail prices.

"The decision to abolish import duty has come as a shock for farmers who have already completed planting of wheat," said Ajmer Singh Lakhoval, president of BKU's Punjab unit. "Cheaper imports will benefit traders and countries such as Australia which provide massive subsidies and social security benefits to their farmers while Indian farmers are forced to sell at a fraction of their costs," he added.

In a statement, BKU pointed out that lower import duties on oilseeds and pulses directly impacted domestic production. "Unhindered import of palm and soya oil since 1994 destroyed livelihoods of small farmers and turned India import dependent," it said.

On the centre's move to demonetise high value currency on 8 November leading to a cash crunch in rural areas, Yudhvir Singh, general secretary of BKU said that "farmers have been forced to undertake distress sale of their perishable produce like vegetables."

He added that halted work at cooperative banks after demonetisation has pushed farmers out of the formal banking network, who are facing a hard time arranging cash to pay for inputs and wages to farm labour. "Wage labourers are the worst hit and even a square meal a day has become a challenge for them."

Singh further said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shunned farmer organizations in the past two-and-a-half years, despite repeated letters to him highlighting problems faced by farmers.

"We are struggling to sell the harvested basmati rice as prices have collapsed. Potato prices have crashed so much it makes no sense to harvest the crop," said Narendra Singh, a farmer and BKU member from Ambala in Haryana.





Hindustantimes

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