Dharmapuri Aravind, the first-time BJP MP from Nizamabad, was the cynosure of all eyes soon after the April 11 Lok Sabha elections. He was hailed as a giant killer for defeating Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha in a constituency that was widely seen as a stronghold of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
However, little did he realise then that within few months of an impressive electoral debut the tide will turn against him. After riding on a wave of farmers’ fury to pull off a surprise victory, he is now at the receiving end of the wrath from the same farming community.
The turmeric farmers of the region, which accounts for the highest production of the commercial crop in the country, are on a warpath. Their key demand for setting up of the National Turmeric Board in Nizamabad has been hanging fire for decades. They have also been demanding remunerative price for their produce.
Promise on a bond paper
Before the elections, Aravind, who is the son of former Congress minister D Srinivas, had famously executed a bond, committing himself to the promise on a stamp paper.
During the election rallies, he had assured the farmers that if elected to the Parliament, he would get the central government’s approval for the turmeric board within a week. He had even vowed to quit the Lok Sabha seat if he failed in his mission.
Although several months have passed since the election and the NDA’s return to power at the Centre, the MP is yet to live up to his promises, say the agitating farmers. “What happened to his promise? We are still left in the lurch,” Linga Reddy, a turmeric farmer near Armoor, told The Federal.
Linga Reddy is among the thousands of farmers who are gearing up to intensify their agitation in support of their demand. They are joined by red jowar farmers who are also demanding remunerative price for their produce.
A Joint Action Committee (JAC) of turmeric and red jowar farmers has threatened to launch protests across the state and have issued an ultimatum to the MP to deliver on his promise. The ad-hoc committee, comprising 20 farmers each from Nizamabad and Jagityal districts, the turmeric hubs, was formed to chalk out the future course of their agitation.
“Our fight is against both the State and the Central governments. Both have been callous and indifferent to our plight,” JAC leader Anvesh Reddy said.
Facing flak from the opposition parties and the farmers’ organisations, MP Aravind has now exuded confidence that the Centre would do justice to the turmeric farmers. However, he had declined to give any timeframe for constituting the board.
“I am very happy with the way the Centre is moving towards ensuring benefits to the farmers. The government has declared Nizamabad and Karimnagar as export clusters,” he said. “There is also a growing demand worldwide for turmeric. We have been interacting with the farmers to see how best we can help for betterment of their future.”
However, the intensified agitation by the farmers has now become a cause of concern for both the BJP and the TRS. The pressure is going to be more on the saffron party and its MP since the power to constitute a turmeric board is vested with the Centre.
En masse nominations
Prior to the elections, the turmeric farmers had attracted national attention after they filed nominations en masse from the Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency. As many as 178 farmers had filed papers to highlight their set of demands.
While the TRS had blamed the NDA government for dilly-dallying on the issue, the farmers sided with the BJP candidate in the hope that he would help resolve their problems using his clout at the Centre.
But, besides submitting a memorandum to the Union agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal, the BJP MP has done nothing significant to push the farmers’ case.
“We feel let down by our MP. These memoranda and meetings are a mere eyewash,” said another farmer, Santosh Kumar, in Ankapur village.
Demand for remunerative price
The farmers have also been seeking a Minimum Support Price (MSP) of ₹15,000 to ₹20,000 per quintal for turmeric and ₹3,500 per quintal for red jowar. The turmeric rates in the wholesale market this year have seen a fall to ₹4,000-5,000 per quintal as compared to a record high of ₹12,000 in 2014.
Turmeric is grown over an extent of 40,000 hectares spread across Nizamabad, Jagityal and Nirmal districts, with the region accounting for 70 per cent of the country’s turmeric production.
Though the crop is traded through electronic national agriculture market (e-NAM) to avoid the intervention of middlemen, the farmers and their associations alleged that the price is being rigged in favour of middlemen and traders by forming a cartel. They further alleged that the authorities are hand in glove with the traders.
The curcumin percentage in the turmeric decides the market value of the produce. Curcumin, a compound present in processed turmeric, is used in the pharmaceutical industry. It gives turmeric its distinct colour and flavour. It is also known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect. However, at present, there is no facility in Nizamabad to determine the curcumin content of the crop, nor are there any cold storage facilities for the produce.
The officials said that the turmeric variety grown in Nizamabad region does not have high curcumin content. Turmeric with higher percentage of the compound fetches about ₹15,000 per quintal in the open market. It is also argued that since turmeric is a commercial crop, it is not included in the MSP list.
“There is no minimum support price for the crop. Authorities seem to be helpless in this matter,” said A Devender Reddy, chairman, village development committee, Ankapur.
While speaking about the issue, former MP Kavitha had said that despite being the world’s largest producer of turmeric, India exports only six per cent of its production. “This is because special zones to promote exports have not been created,” she said, adding that Telangana needs supply of high yielding and high curcumin content varieties.
The curcumin percentage in Telangana is low as compared to the crop grown in the northeast. Agricultural experts have suggested that the State must consider setting up farmer producers companies to aggregate turmeric to help increase price realisation for farmers.
On an average, about 1.5 lakh tonnes of cured turmeric is produced in India annually, of which 92-95 percent is consumed within the country, and the remaining is exported.