POTATO growers in West Bengal are enraged, with strings of protests and blockades sweeping through the state. The crisis of the peasants has accentuated as the prices of potato have come down to an all-time low, both in wholesale and retail market. Distress sale has become the order of the day. And, though it is continuing for months, no intervention has been evident from the state government.
Potato, along with paddy, is one of the most important agricultural produce in West Bengal. Tens of thousands of farmers are dependent on this produce. And like paddy growers, they are reeling under the crisis of increasing production costs and declining prices of produces.
According to potato growers, potato farming in one bigha needs at least Rs 20,000. This includes costs of seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, water, excluding the labour. Translated into cost per kilogram, it is at least Rs 6. For the last two months, variants of potatoes are fetching Rs 130 to 200 per quintal. According to farmers, it is unworthy of bringing potato from the fields to market. Many have stored their produces in cold storage and are now unwilling to release it after paying storage rent. There are reports from various districts of suicide and selling of lands under duress. Agricultural workers have suffered the burnt too as they have been denied of payment or have become jobless for the next season.
Main potato growing areas in Hooghly, Burdwan and Howrah have witnessed a general negative effect on the local economy too. Protests have gathered storm. In the last few weeks almost every day, peasants are coming out onto the streets and held protests in various forms. Some have dumped their produces on the road itself. Protest demonstrations took place in front of local BDO or SDO offices.
One of the main reasons of this crisis is the restrictions imposed on the West Bengal potato growers that they cannot send their produces to other states. This strange decision was taken by Mamata Banerjee government two years back when the price of potatoes escalated in the domestic market. Usually potatoes from West Bengal are sold in neighbouring states and in Bangladesh too. The TMC government has stopped all vehicles with potatoes from going outside the state. This, on the other hand, elicited counter reactions from Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar in 2014-2015. The residents of those states suffered from West Bengal government’s decisions too. The cycle of preposterous decisions of the Mamata government have landed farmers into such a suffering now.
AIKS has taken up the issue throughout the state. Peasants have organised road blockade including on national highways. AIKS has demanded that the government should intervene and declare minimum market price for potatoes. They have argued that if the same government can fix a ceiling on prices why not the minimum price be fixed when the peasantry is in such a distress.