Telangana farmers didn’t join protests because MSP is already below costs: GV Ramanjaneyulu

17 January 2021
Courtesy GV Ramanjaneyulu
Courtesy GV Ramanjaneyulu

For over a month, lakhs of farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been camped on Delhi’s borders in one of the largest agrarian protests in India’s history, while talks with the government on withdrawing three farm laws that deregulate the sector persist. At the other end of the country, over the past six years, the agrarian system in Telangana has seen major systemic shifts, after the formation of the state under chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao.

A major change KCR introduced was a direct income subsidy for farmers, called Rythu Bandhu. Alongside, his government greatly increased water availability for farming through the building of several large dams. The government also directed farmers to grow fine rice varieties and other water and fertiliser intensive crops. Contrary to KCR’s projections, this reduced the income of farmers as the new glut in fine rice varieties struggle to find a viable and remunerative market.

GV Ramanjaneyulu is an agricultural scientist who has researched and written extensively on public-policy issues impacting food systems and farmers livelihoods. Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, spoke to Ramanjaneyulu, the executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture—an independent agriculture research organisation based in Hyderabad—about the results of KCR’s agricultural policy. They discussed how the three farm laws would impact farmers in Telangana who are going through a marketing crisis, and the distinct lack of farmers’ protests in the state.

Tushar Dhara: Can you give a brief overview of how agricultural policy in Telangana has evolved over the last six years?
GV Ramanjaneyulu: The main focus since the state came into existence in 2014 was to increase the water supply to agriculture. The assumption was that if the area under irrigation can be increased then you will have better cropping patterns. The government acquired land to build dams, despite the fact that Telangana is located on the Deccan plateau, so you cannot have gravity dams. You need lift-irrigation dams, which have huge energy requirements to lift water and supply it. Lift irrigation dams also displace people. A lot of farmland was acquired for irrigation projects. Today we have the Kaleshwaram dam being built in Telangana. This was the first problem, the assumption that by increasing irrigation, all problems in agriculture can be solved. The energy cost and environmental impact of holding so much water was not calculated.

Secondly, when some water became available, the state encouraged paddy cultivation. That is the second big mistake the government made. The assumption is that paddy is an easy crop to grow and there is procurement, in terms of the central government’s minimum support price. The state also probably wanted to recreate the lush green paddy belt of coastal Andhra in Telangana. All this pushed the government to increase the area under paddy, and to a lesser extent, cotton.

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

Keywords: farm laws 2020 Telangana agriculture