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Showing posts with label Agriculture NEWS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Agriculture NEWS. Show all posts

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

'Waving Garland in Front of Corporates Isn't Tapasya': A Conversation With Bhagat Singh's Nephew

 

Professor Jagmohan Singh has been a quiet but significant presence at Delhi's borders during the farmers' protest, and is not one to sugarcoat the government's failings.

 


New Delhi: Professor Jagmohan Singh is a quiet and unassuming man. He does not strive to be the center of attention. In fact, it wasn’t until someone at Tikri border told me who he was that I realised I had just had channa bhaturas with the gentleman whose uncle was Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

Having spent a long, dusty, but inspiring day with tens of thousands of farmers at Tikri  commemorating the first anniversary of their protest, I was on my way back home when I decided to stop for a bit at the Trolley Times tent. I am glad I did. 

Jagmohan, I learnt, had spent the better part of the day at Singhu border, and had just arrived at Tikri to spend a bit of time with the farmers here as well. As we chatted, I learnt that long decades ago, his mother (Bhagat Singh’s younger sister, Bibi Amar Kaur) had entrusted him with the responsibility of helping people everywhere understand the freedom fighter better.

The 77-year old professor has devoted his life to keeping the memory and message of his uncle alive ever since, and is currently the director of  the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Creativity Centre in Ludhiana. He also happens to be an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, and retired as the Head of Computer Sciences at Punjab Agricultural University.

Despite having had a long day, Jagmohan was kind enough to answer my questions about the farmers’ protest: 

How do you see the farmers’ protest? What, according to you, is its significance? 

Three things come to mind. The first is that history has repeated itself after 113 years. Bhagat Singh’s uncle, Ajit Singh, along with Sufi Amba Prasad, had led the Pagdi Sambhaal Jatta movement in 1907.

That was also a huge, peaceful farmers’ movement much like this one, incidentally also against three three exploitative farm laws that the British were forced to repeal. That movement succeeded in getting the government to take back their farm laws in nine months, just like this movement has, in 12. 

Next, I am reminded of how Guru Gobind Singh exhorted his followers not to make decisions individually, but in groups of five, because if five people make a decision, then it will be a good, well-rounded one. In this movement, there are 475 leaders making decisions together!

This shift from the cult of individual leadership to a more democratic broad-based form of functioning is truly historic. This is even influencing how our villages are functioning and making decisions.  

And finally, this protest has helped women in villages find their voice and talk about the agrarian distress they are facing. 

How do you feel about the government’s response?  

Modi has made grand statements about his ’tapasya’. But waving a garland in front of the corporates is not tapasya. The real tapasya has been done by our farmer brothers and sisters. I was discussing with P. Sainath today how this movement is going to bring about a great societal shift in India, and how it has challenged corporate capitalist culture in a very big way.   


I must also commend young people on the way they have come forward in this protest. It has reminded me of what Bhagat Singh said in 1924 at 17 years of age, that, to deal with a crisis requires youth power.

But the foundation of a youth movement, he said, should consist of three things – a) freedom from religious fundamentalism and superstition, b) freedom from the curse of casteism, and c) rationality and scientific temper.

You can only fix the problems once you understand why the problems are there. 

Bhagat Singh was also quite clear that the real battle was not just to get freedom from the British, it was also to end inequality amongst Indians, considering the vast differences that exist between the top 1% who are extremely wealthy and the other 99% who are not. The French economist Thomas Piketty recently said that the inequality that existed in the 20th century in India continues to exist in 2016. That means we are still dealing with the same crisis, and the only rational way to solve it is with socialism.

This farmers’ movement has laid the foundation for a genuine victory of democracy and the people in 2024 [when the term of this current government ends].

Interestingly, something else happened in India around the time of Bhagat Singh in the 1920s. The RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], a religion-based organisation, also took birth. Bhagat Singh warned in an article about the pull of Sadhu Vaswani’s ideas on the youth of his day. Bhagat Singh vehemently disagreed with Vaswani’s claim that all knowledge and wisdom began and ended with the Vedas.

While he was acutely aware of the power of religious zeal to attract youth, he was also very clear that reason and rationality, not religion, solve problems.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

How do you see the repeal of the farm laws? 

I call the repeal of the farm laws a zero-sum game. It is the corporates who wanted these laws, not the farmers. The actual agrarian crisis in India, which is the real cause of the farmers’ distress, still needs to be addressed.  

Interestingly, the OECD countries (some the richest in the world) came up with a report called ‘Agriculture in India’ in which they observed that India gives much less Minimum Support Price to its farmers than other countries give to theirs. According to them, this makes Indian agriculture profitable in the world market.

The only two ’hindrances’ the OECD countries saw were the Essential Commodities Bill and the presence of APMCs

, [both of which the Central farm laws sought to remove]. If India removed these, they said, agriculture would become ’profitable’. 

There is now talk of setting up a committee to address the farmers’ issues. But committees set up by the government have lobbyists in them who work for the benefit of the corporates, not the masses. Instead, there needs to be a farmers’ commission made up of those that the farmers trust. 

The other lie being peddled is that Minimum Support Price given to farmers will empty out the government’s coffers. This is simply not true. If anything, more money given to the farmers will boost consumer demand. This will help the economy to grow. But what does the government do, instead, to ’boost the economy’? They reduce taxes for industrialists and capitalists. 

What do you see as the way forward?   

Villagers need to learn to become self-reliant. There is a very interesting story about Bhagat Singh’s great grandfather, who built a house in 1858. We have preserved this as his ancestral house, incidentally. When people asked him why he had built it, he said, “So that people can get together and identify and discuss their problems, because once they can do that, they will be able to find solutions.” So the villagers asked him why he didn’t just use his own large haveli for this purpose, to which the elder said, “Because if people sit in my house, then they will look to me in their decision making. I will have the last word. They will not think for themselves. In a separate house, however, everyone will be independent and equal.”

He created the first republic in that village. He said that governments will come and go, and they will ignore you. So you should able to talk about your problems and help find solutions.

Look at the women of Punjab. They set the agenda for the last two elections – the issue of substance abuse. Regardless of who it is that takes drugs, be it the son, the husband, the father or the brother, it is the woman who suffers. She is the hub of society. And today, she has realised this.

Lastly, we need to remember how the various movements in India built on each other. The Pagdi Sambhal Jatta movement of 1907 led to the rise of the Ghadar Party. That in turn led to the unity at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 where Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs decided to celebrate Ram Navami together. Each movement lays the foundation for the next one. This farmers’ movement has also laid a strong foundation. As farmers, you could say we have readied the soil for seeds of real change. 

The government wants this protest to lose momentum. They have tried every trick in the book, and failed.

I was in Lakhimpur recently and I told the protesting farmers how when you are fighting for the truth and the right, the universe will help you. Those who ran the farmers over wanted to ’hit and run’ but an oncoming bus suddenly appeared in their way and foiled their plans of escaping, and their dastardly attempt was exposed. The universe intervened.

Our farmer leaders have learned how to make wise decisions. I am sure they will continue to do so and and will decide how to keep the pressure on the powers that be. Along with that, it is also very important that the villages continue to be strengthened. 

A video of this interview can be found here.

source ; the wire
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Centre Invites Five Farmer Leaders To Be Part of Panel To Discuss MSP, Other Issues

 

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha said it has not decided who will be recommended to be part of the committee and a decision will be taken at its meeting on December 4.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Why the Farmers' Demand to Legalise MSP is Justified

 

While the farmers' demand for legalising MSP is being questioned for the allegedly hefty expenditure the government would have to incur, the potential sundry benefits it would have for the agricultural sector in general outweigh the costs.

Vivek Gupta

Chandigarh: Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement accepting the protesting farmers’ key demand – repeal of the three farm laws – farmers’ unions have said their protest will continue until their six remaining demands, including the legal mandate for minimum support prices (MSP), are met.

“It (MSP) is important because all farmers are assured at least the minimum price for their produce,” said the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) in its recent open letter to the PM.

As the name suggests, MSP is the minimum price a farmer must be paid for their food grains as guaranteed by the government. The big problem with the MSP system, however, has been that it was never backed by a parliamentary act and therefore, could never be legally enforced across India.

“It was introduced in an executive order in the 1960s, basically as an incentive to farmers in areas like Punjab and Haryana, which were zeroed in on by the then Union government to grow mainly wheat and paddy in order to overcome the food shortage; an event later tagged as the ‘green revolution’,” said economist Lakhwinder Singh.

Over the years, the Union government went on to announce MSPs for as many as 23 crops, but the actual procurement by the government remained confined to mainly wheat and paddy, that too in the northern states, which became the cradle of the green revolution and continue to serve the nation with the same vigour, Singh added.

In this light, Singh continued, the farmers’ demand to legalise MSP is justified since they can’t be left at the mercy of market forces; something the now-repealed farm laws were supposed to achieve but were sunk due to the exemplary struggle by the farmers.

Ever since the Modi government decided to repeal the laws and the major focus of the movement shifted to the legalisation of the MSP regime, several voices have emerged, both in academia and the mainstream media listing out the consequences of legalising MSP.


Of the 23 crops that the government currently announces MSPs for every year, there are seven cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, bajra, jowar, ragi and barley), five pulses (chana, arhar, moong, urad and masur), seven oilseeds (groundnut, soybean, rapeseed-mustard, sesame, sunflower, niger seed and safflower) and four commercial crops (sugarcane, cotton, copra and jute.)

Legalising MSP would put the government under a legal obligation to buy every grain of the crops for which MSPs are announced. For this, the Union government will have to spend Rs 17 lakh crore, according to the rough estimate from government officials which was shared during the talks between the government and farm unions last year.

Representative image: While the government currently announces 

MSPs for 23 crops, it largely only procures wheat and paddy. 

Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

Apart from expenditure required to procure the crops, the government will have to spend a huge amount of money to create the facilities required to store the procured grain.

Another argument against the farmers’ demand is that if the Union government makes MSP a legal mandate to ensure that private players or government agencies buy the crops at least at the fixed price anywhere in the country, there will be a price rise and increased inflation in general.

Anil Ghanwat, a member of the Supreme Court panel to study the farm laws, has been quoted by various media outlets as saying that the demand to legally guarantee MSP for all 23 crops would make whoever procures the crops, Union or state governments, bankrupt.

 “All the revenue will be diverted toward this and there will be no money left with the government to develop and maintain essential things like roads, bridges and so on. If MSP is made legal for the 23 crops, soon, other farmers will also come up with the demand for their crops such as fruits and vegetables,” he said.

“Due to the existing MSP regime, the government procures 110 lakh tonnes of wheat and paddy, even though it has a buffer stock norm of just 41 lakh tonnes. The rate of procurement and the stock is also bulging up in the case of all other crops among the 23 MSP ones,” Ghanwat added.

However Sukhpal Singh, principal economist of the Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, told The Wire that the Rs 17 lakh crore procurement estimate for the 23 crops at current MSPs is faulty.

“My estimate suggests that the government does not need more than Rs 9 Lakh crore to procure every grain of the 23 crops currently under the MSP regime,” he said.

“Further, we have to keep in mind that the entire produce of the farmers does not come to the mandis. The farmers hold back part of their produce for their own personal consumption as well as for seed and cattle purposes,” he said

“For instance, not more than 74% of the total wheat production enters the market for sale. It is 90% in case of paddy. The figure varies for other crops as well. Hence, the total procurement value of all 23 crops that actually enter the market is not more than Rs 7 Lakh crore,” he added. “Whatever the cost factor, public investment cannot just be seen as mere expenditure. It generates employment, raises incomes and drives the economy. The industrial sector is too mechanised to absorb people uprooted from rural India. It is, therefore, vital that more and more people are not displaced from agriculture.”

“MSP is, therefore, not a government sop. It is the bare minimum for saving the peasantry from devastation and destitution. It is an insurance against the anarchy of the future,” Sukhpal Singh said.


‘$5-trillion economy not possible without the welfare of farmers’

Backing the farmers’ demand for legalised MSP, Chaudhary Birender Singh, senior BJP leader and grandson of iconic farm leader Sir Chottu Ram, told The Wire that India can’t achieve a $5-trillion economy by ignoring its farmers. He said that a few months ago, a farmer leader from the SKM had also agreed to the fact that it was difficult for any government to buy every grain at MSP.

“The issue here is to prevent the distress sales of the farmer and to give him an adequate return on his crops. The best way to deal with it is to make MSP a yardstick or a benchmark below which no one, be it the government or the private sector, should be allowed to procure the farmers’ produce,” he said.

BJP leader Chaudhary Birender Singh. Photo: PTI.

Ever since the process of liberalisation began in India in the 1990s, he continued, the income of the farmers has been affected massively for various reasons.  Therefore, it is very important to make sure that their welfare is taken care of in a proper manner and a mechanism is developed to increase their incomes and make agriculture reasonably profitable.

Birender Singh said that for a country like India where 55% of the population is dependent on the agricultural sector, economic growth can’t be centred on industry and trade. More than Rs 5 lakh crore worth of exports is linked with agriculture produce. But where is the participation of the farmer in this economic cycle? The farmers must be made to feel that they, too, have some right over the growing wealth of the country.


On the question of how open the Modi government is to the farmers’ demand of legalising MSP, Birender Singh said that the Prime Minister’s announcement to repeal the laws was the first step in bridging the growing rift between farmers and the government.

“As the government has already announced, it will form a committee of all stakeholders, including farmers’ representatives, ministers and government officers to discuss all pending issues, including legalising MSP,” he said. He sees the Union government as ready to enter into dialogue with the farmers while keeping an open-minded approach.

Legalising MSP is not the only issue here. What the role of the farmers and agriculture at large should be in the national economy is the main issue and it should be the main focus, Birender Singh said. The country is poised to have a $5 trillion economy but big factories or corporate houses can not be allowed to take the lion’s share of that.

Birender Singh also noted that after China, India is the world’s largest producer of food grains. It is a leading economy in milk production as well as poultry farming, however, despite all this, the farmers who actually produce these foodstuffs are in distress. This throws light on some very important issues: there are some vital gaps in the equitable distribution of the wealth, for which corrective measures are must.

That is why the farmers’ protests against the farm laws were valid and justified; so are their other demands,” he added.

On the question of whether or not cases against the protesting farmers should be withdrawn, Birender Singh said that it is a state issue. “I am sure that all these cases will be over once the farm laws are officially scrapped. Even the question of compensation will be settled amicably.”

“Punjab is leading in this because there are elections due in the state. The Congress government there is doing everything to lure the voters,” he added.


Yogendra Yadav counters growing propaganda against legalising MSP

Meanwhile, Yoginder Yadav, one of the SKM’s key leaders recently wrote a piece for ThePrint in which he countered the apprehensions against legalising MSP being raised by a section of people.

Yogendra Yadav. Credit: PTI

Yogendra Yadav. Photo: PTI

Yadav said the apprehension that MSP will distort the market is unwarranted.

“As for the fear of food prices going up, the way to control it is to offer subsidised food to the poor, not to deny a fair price to the producer. The fact is that the ‘free market’ is and must be regulated all over the world to meet overall societal objectives. Farmers are offered subsidies and price support all over the world. If price assurance is a bad idea, why declare MSP in the first place,” he wrote in his article.

He further wrote, “There are multiple methods of ensuring MSP to all farmers. The government can procure more than it does today, especially in pulses, coarse grains and oilseeds. “

“For the rest, the governments need not purchase. The farmer can be given a deficit payment for the gap between the MSP and market price, as was done by the Haryana government this year for bajra,” he added


‘Legalising MSP will ensure crop diversification too’

Lakhwinder Singh said that one of the main reasons for monoculture farming in India’s Northern states, where the focus is only on water-guzzling paddy and wheat, is also rooted in the limited implementation of MSP.

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are forced to grow paddy despite its ecological consequences because of the government assurance that it will buy their whole produce at MSP.

If MSP as a bench mark is ensured, the state government can really push farmers out of the wheat-paddy cycle and the focus can be shifted to growing maize, pulses and other crops, Lakhwinder Singh said.

Legalising MSPs for 23 crops may reduce instances of stubble burning, 

which is mainly done to paddy. Photo: PTI

Further, he laid out multiple results of this. “First, the problem of dwindling underground water would be addressed. Second, soil health would be improved. Third, issues like stubble burning, mostly associated with the paddy crop, would be brought under control. Fourth, the farmers’ incomes would be increased and fifth, the economy of the country would be diversified with chances of agriculture becoming the backbone of the national economy,” he said.

Lakhwinder Singh stressed that the corporatisation of agriculture is not the best way forward, no matter how much pressure free market forces try to assert.

As far as the apprehension that legalising MSP will lead to inflation and price rise goes, Lakhwinder Singh said that it is uncalled for since the role of the government is to regulate the functioning of the economy and to make sure that no one mints unreasonable profits, as is the case at present.

“Indian food grain producers in states like Bihar are forced to do labour jobs despite having huge landholdings because they are unable to get proper remuneration for the produce,” he said.
 
source ; the wire
 
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Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Lucknow Mahapanchayat Shows Farmers' Problems Are Far From Over

 

There were farmers and agricultural workers from various districts and each of them had their own issues to share.

Indra Shekhar Singh

Lucknow: It was a bright and sunny day and the winter winds had not reached Lucknow yet.

Buoyed by their latest victory and fully aware of the road ahead, hundreds of farmers and agricultural labourers gathered for the Adhikar Mahapanchayat organised by Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) on Monday, November 22, at Lucknow’s stony Eco-Garden.

Those in attendance knew very well that the meeting was not just about the celebration after the rollback of three farm laws, which they had been opposing for over a year, but also to re-energise themselves for the unfinished agenda: winning legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP), ensuring compensation for the kin of those who passed away during the last one year of protests and making sure that justice is served in the case of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

While there were a host of leaders from SKM at the meeting – a sizeable number of them had turned up at the venue to hear their “favourite” leader Rakesh Tikait, who has been one of the the key faces of the farmers’ protest for nearly a year now.

Thirty-year-old Nazim Alam travelled overnight to reach Lucknow from Sisauli in western Uttar Pradesh. “For both the youth and the elderly, Rakesh Tikait is our leader. The repeal of the farm laws is a victory for farmers, and Tikait has had a major role to play in this,” he said.

Nazim was among hundreds from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana who had responded to the Lucknow rally call given by farmers’ unions and travelled to celebrate the farmers’ victory. But they knew very well that the Lucknow rally was more than a celebration.


As for Amarjeet Singh, a sugarcane farmer from Tikonia in Lakhimpur Kheri, travelling to the state capital had a purpose. His is the same village where eight people died after four of them, all farmers, were allegedly mowed down by vehicles in a convoy belonging Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son, Ashish.

“The farmers who had died in Lakhimpur Kheri were our brothers. We had grown up with them. Their deaths have awakened our area. Culprits need to be punished. We won’t rest until then. And the farmers’ leaders have to ensure that their families get compensation and justice,” he said.

BKU leader Joginder Ugrahan at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari/The Wire

Farmers’ leaders Joginder Singh Ugrahan, Yogendra Yadav and Jagjit Singh Dalewal left a simple and succinct message to the crowd: “Without a law on MSP, farmers aren’t leaving Delhi.”

Bimla Devi from Varanasi explained this further: “As farmers have fought for one year and won the repeal of laws, it’s time to use this moment to finish agrarian distress. Without legal guarantee on MSP, our fight is meaningless.”

There were many women carrying red flags and most of them were agricultural workers in great distress. “When compensation is given on land, it goes to the landowner. Our situation is bad no matter which party is in the government. Rising prices mean we have to work extra hours,” said Sita Rani, an agriculture worker from Baraich, UP.

Naimish Singh, a farmer from Barabanki, had a different tale to tell. “Despite what the government says, in our area, farmers are forced to sell paddy to the local trader. At best we get Rs 10-12 per kg (Rs 1,000-1,200 per quintal). Our area also has other issues that have not been resolved for long. We have water problems as there are no canals,  and the water level is at 90-100 feet.”

‘People have lost faith in the Modi government’

As the meeting progressed, the crowds began to swell. New buses and processions made their way to the venue which was almost equally divided between those with green caps and red caps. There were people from various districts and each of them had their own grievances to share.

Farmers at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari

Multiple challenges in the form of flooding in the Terai regions, untimely rains, rising prices have been troubling Uttar Pradesh for some time now.

Masrool, a young farmer from Bijnor, wore a green turban to express his solidarity with fellow farmers. After taking a puff of his hookah, he said, “We have lost faith in the government because they show something and do something else. Today, we are in 2021, Modi had promised to double farmers’ incomes, where is he?”

Continuing further he said, with demonetisation, the failed promise of Rs 15 lakh to every citizen and a number of failed schemes, people have lost faith in the Modi government. “I can speak for 80% Bijnor residents. They will not vote for Modi, whether he repeals the law or not,” he said.


By then, families of those who had died during the year-long protest, had been called to the stage. “Raise your hands, if you commit to helping and supporting these families,” announced Dharmendra Mallik, one of the organisers. A number of hands went up offering to lend support to the bereaved families.

Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait and other leaders attend the Kisan Mahapanchayat organised by Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) at Ecogarden in Lucknow, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Photo: PTI.

At around 3 pm, Rakesh Tikait finally stood up and took to the podium. “Let the government know, we are not leaving. Our struggle will continue until there is a law on MSP. We will continue to agitate in a peaceful way for MSP, compensation for deceased farmers and justice for the victims of Lakhimpur Kheri,” he said.

Tikait also expressed his displeasure that the government had not been communicating with farmers.

“We will see how long they don’t talk with farmers. It is time to connect UP’s issues with our andolan. Sugarcane dues continue to destroy our farmers. UP farmers don’t get fair prices and are cheated at every step. Yet the government continues to lie about the prosperity here. We have to deal will all these issues and awaken UP and India,” he added.

The farmers’ leaders also announced that all other rallies will continue and there may be a rally in Varanasi soon.

As Tikait finished, many in the crowd jumped to get a selfie with him and media persons rushed in for bytes.

At this point, this reporter bumped into veteran farm leader and general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, Atul Anjaan, wearing a brown kurta and black Nehru jacket. The two spoke over the Dunkel draft, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Trade Organization and the ongoing farmers’ protest.

“The government is scared of this revolution and hence on the back foot. But this is not the end. As Kalraj Mishra has recently said, these laws can be brought back again. So farmers and our nation should be extremely careful. It’s not over yet,” said Anjaan.

source ; the wire

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Monday, 22 November 2021

In Photos: At Lucknow Mahapanchayat, Farmers Express Both Jubilation and Resolve

 

Protesting farmers have said that without a legal guarantee for the MSP and justice for the Lakhmipur Kheri incident, their struggle is not yet over.

Shekhar Tiwari

New Delhi: Three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Union government will be repealing the three contentious farm laws passed in September 2020, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha held a kisan mahapanchayat in Lucknow on Monday (November 22) on the protesting farmers’ remaining demands – including a legal guarantee for the minimum support price (MSP).

While farmers at the mahapanchayat celebrated the repeal of the laws, they maintained that this is not the end of the road for their protest. They also stated that a true celebration was possible only after the laws are officially repealed by parliament.

Earlier on Sunday, the SKM – an umbrella body of farmers’ organisations that has been at the forefront of the ongoing agitation over the last year and more – had written an open letter to the prime minister, spelling out their remaining demands.

Another important issue raised at the mahapanchayat in Lucknow was the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, where four protesting farmers were mowed down by a VIP convoy allegedly carrying Union minister and BJP leader Ajay Kumar Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra. While Ashish is currently in custody, protesting farmers have maintained that Ajay should be removed from his post in the cabinet, given the seriousness of the matters.

Another issue discussed was the matter of compensation to the families of those who lost their lives during the protest. Farmers’ unions estimate that more than 700 farmers have died during the last year of agitation.

The photos below reflect the mood of this mahapanchayat – of both jubilation and resolve.

Farmers at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari

Farmers at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari

Farmers at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari

BKU leader Joginder Ugrahan at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari

Rakesh Tikait with Joginder Ugrahan, Darshan Pal and others. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari

Farmers at the Lucknow mahapanchayat. Photo: Shekhar Tiwari 

source ; the wire

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Saturday, 20 November 2021

Compensate Families of Farmers Who Died Protesting, Make MSP Binding: Varun Gandhi Tells Modi

 

New Delhi: Striking a discordant note on the farmers’ protest again, BJP MP Varun Gandhi on Saturday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that the families of farmers who died during the protest should be given compensation of Rs 1 crore and the demand to provide minimum support price (MSP) should also be met.

Gandhi is one of the few BJP leaders who have spoken up for the farmers, especially so since the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. After Modi announced that the three contentious laws would be withdrawn, most BJP leaders went into a self-congratulatory mode, praising the prime minister. Gandhi too praised Modi’s “large-heartedness in announcing that these three laws will be repealed”, but pointed out that if the decision had been taken earlier, “more than 700 of our farmer brothers and sisters” would not have been lost.

“It is my humble request to you that while expressing condolences to the families of our farmer brothers and sisters who were martyred in the movement, a compensation of Rs 1 crore each be announced for them,” he said.

Opposition leaders have said that the prime minister’s decision to repeal the laws was not borne out of a change of heart, but a calculated move ahead of assembly elections due next year in several states where the protests have been intensive. This has been the case in eastern UP, where Gandhi’s constituency Pilibhit is located.

Gandhi also said that all “politically motivated false FIRs that have been registered as weapons of harassment against our farmers during this movement must immediately be quashed”.


He said the farmers, apart from demanding a rollback of the laws, have also sought to make MSP legally binding. “There are more than 85% small and marginal farmers in our country. For the empowerment of these farmers, we have to ensure that they get remunerative prices for their crops. This movement will not end without the resolution of this demand and there will be widespread anger amongst them, which will continue to emerge in one form or the other,” he said, adding that the Swaminathan commission’s formula for MSP Must be followed.

The BJP leader also took on his colleagues who made “provocative statements against our agitating
farmers.”, saying they were responsible for creating an “adversarial atmosphere”. This, he said, was responsible for the deaths of farmer brothers who were crushed by vehicles in Lakhimpur
Kheri on October 3, he said.

“This heartbreaking incident is a blemish on our democracy,” he said, adding that the prime minister must take “appropriately strict action” against Union Minister Ajay Mishra, whose son Ashish Mishra was allegedly in a car that ran over the farmers.

“Democracy runs on constitutionality, discourse and empathy. The farmers expect you to solve their problems in a sensitive and timely manner. I believe that by accepting the demands of the farmers according to the democratic and constitutional values of our nation, your respect shall further increase in the country. I hope you will take a concrete decision in this matter soon,” he said.

SOURCE ; THE WIRE

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Friday, 19 November 2021

India's Modi withdraws controversial farm laws after massive protests

 

The decision comes after year-long demonstrations that posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept polls for the second time in 2019.

Modi made the surprise announcement during a televised speech on Friday that was broadcast live.
Modi made the surprise announcement during a televised speech on Friday that was broadcast live. (AFP Archive)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to repeal three controversial farm laws against which farmers have protested for more than a year, a significant climbdown by the government.

"Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws," Modi said in an address to the nation on Friday.

"In the parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws."

The laws were to empower small farmers, but the government failed to convince some farmers who have been opposing the new laws, Modi said. 

The announcement came on the day of the Guru Purab festival, when Sikhism founder Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated, and ahead of key elections in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

The legislation the farmers object to, introduced in September last year, deregulates the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.

Small farmers say the changes make them vulnerable to competition from big business, and that they could eventually lose price support for staples such as wheat and rice.

The government says reform of the sector, which accounts for about 15 percent of the $2.7 trillion economy, means new opportunities and better prices for farmers.


 

Drawn-out demonstrations

Most of the protesters were Sikh farmers from Punjab.

The government had so far yielded very little to the drawn-out demonstrations that posed one of the biggest political challenges to Modi, who swept polls for the second time in 2019.

In November last year, the farmers escalated their movement by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped out for nearly a year, including through a harsh winter and a coronavirus surge that devastated India earlier this year.

While the farmers’ protest movement has been largely peaceful, demonstrators in January broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in the capital’s center. 

Clashes with police left one protester dead and hundreds injured.


Source: TRTWorld and agencies 

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Thursday, 11 November 2021

Ferozepur: Farmers Say SAD Vehicle 'Attacked' Them, Party Denies Allegation

 

Former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal blamed 'Congress goons' for attacking two SAD leaders.

salamander.ru

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

The Govt Has Spent Crores But Failed to Find a Viable Alternative to Stubble Burning in Punjab

 

In the last four years, a total of Rs 1,050.68 crore was given to Punjab, of which Rs 235 crore was released in the financial year 2021-22; however, the field fires are far from over in the state.

Vivek Gupta

Chandigarh: Despite the Union government spending over Rs 2,000 crore to tackle stubble burning over the last four years, the issue continues to smother north India, leading to severe dips in air quality in Delhi-NCR, Punjab and Haryana.

In the last four years, a total of Rs 1,050.68 crore was given to Punjab, of which Rs 235 crore was released in the financial year 2021-22; however, the field fires are far from over in the state.

Between November 1 and 7, nearly 22,000 stubble burning cases were reported from across the state, revealed data from Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB). The state had recorded 13,124 stubble burning cases till October 31 – 50% lower than the cases reported till that date last year, claimed state officials.

On November 6, the figure crossed the 35,000 mark with over 5,000 more cases per day.

According to PPCB officials, 62% of the total stubble burning cases in Punjab this year were reported in the last week (between November 1 and 7), leading to ‘poor to severe’ air quality in state.

Delhi too has turned into a gas chamber with air quality in the ‘severe’ category as stubble burning in the region, along with residents defying the Diwali fireworks ban, aggravated pollution levels in the city.

Krunesh Garg, member secretary of the PPCB, told The Wire that stubble burning in Punjab could not be blamed for the pollution levels in Delhi. But the Union Ministry of Earth Science’s air quality monitoring centre, System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), revealed on November 6 that stubble fires in Punjab and Haryana contributed to 41% of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution.

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Amid the claims and counter-claims, it is the common man who is suffering and breathing toxic air.

A latest study authored by researchers at The Energy Resources Institute (TERI), Delhi, found that stubble burning had a major health impact on farmers in Punjab. The study tracked 3,000 persons in six villages in Punjab and found that stubble burning significantly reduced lung function and was particularly harmful to women in rural Punjab.


Why is stubble burning not stopping in Punjab?

Lakhwinder Singh, former professor and head of department of Economics at Punjabi University, said that the solution to stubble burning – a problem that was born out of the mechanisation process – cannot be arrived at by subsiding crop residue machines.

The government is to be blamed for not finding a viable economic model and alternative ways to use stubble, which otherwise is being used as raw material in multiple industries worldwide, he added.

He further explained that the issue of stubble burning was never heard of before because harvesting was being done manually in Punjab. In Haryana, small and marginal farmers still do manual harvesting.

“That is why the number of stubble burning cases are quite less in Haryana than Punjab where all farmers use big harvesting combines to harvest their crops. This is where the problem emerges,” he added.

When harvesting is done manually, there is no issue of managing the stubble as the entire field is cleaned. However, when the crops are harvested with the help of combines, the harvester leaves behind straw. Farmers choose to burn it to prepare the fields for the next crop; disposing it off is a costly alternative for farmers.

A farmer burns wheat stubble in a field following the harvest season, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, on the outskirts of Amritsar, May 11, 2020. Photo: PTI

“This year, farmers were forced to buy the DAP fertiliser in the black market by spending Rs 200-300 per bag due to shortage. It is only adding to the distress of farmers and forcing them to burn stubble, even though they know very well the kind of health hazard the burning is causing to them as well as others,” he said.

Another farm economist Sucha Singh Gill told The Wire that the reduced time window between harvesting of the paddy crop and sowing of the next wheat crop too has amplified stubble burning cases.

Gill said earlier farmers had enough time to manage the stubble. The paddy was sown in May and harvesting was done in September or early October. Farmers had over a month to manage stubble before sowing the next wheat crop.

Later, the state government prohibited paddy sowing before mid-June in order to coincide the irrigation of paddy crops with monsoon so that farmers’ dependence on underground water could be reduced.

“Due to this, paddy harvesting has been extended to the end of October. The farmers then in haste to sow wheat crop, which is ideally sown by mid-November, found it easy to burn stubble in order to clear fields for the next crop,” added Gill.

This is also why farmers are not able to use a ‘bio-decomposer’ as a solution to the stubble burning problem in Punjab.

The bio-decomposer, developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, decomposes most of the stubble in the fields but it requires a minimum period of three to four weeks.

Many farmers in Punjab who recently used a decomposer in their fields returned to stubble burning because they could not wait longer as the season of wheat sowing had already begun.

‘Subsidised machines not able to solve the issue’ 

As per the data shared by Punjab agriculture department, in 2019-20, a subsidy to the tune of Rs 241 crore was given to farmers on purchase of 23,068 machines.

In the 2020-21 season, the subsidy went up to Rs 261 crore with which 25,811 farmers bought machines. This year 10,025 farmers have already booked subsidised machines for which a total subsidy of close to Rs 200 crore has been allotted.

The subsidy is 50% of the total machine cost if it is individually purchased; if purchased in a group, the subsidy is as high as 80%.

Manmohan Kalia, joint director at Punjab agriculture department, told The Wire that the stubble residue machines like a super-seeder or a happy seeder machine can plough standing paddy stubble in soil and sow wheat seeds simultaneously.

Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of BKU-Dakonda and also spokesperson of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, said that the fact that stubble burning has not stopped despite hundreds of crores of subsidy is a clear indication that the system of giving machines on subsidies has not worked as a universal solution in Punjab.


However, the big farmers with the help of agricultural officers and machine manufacturers enjoy all subsidies, who otherwise could afford the machines without subsidy, while the small and marginal farmers, who constitute 70% of the total farmers in Punjab, are left behind. Sometimes, they are not able to afford the machines even on subsidy.

“It can’t work because the majority of farmers in Punjab are marginal and small. Their financial condition is poor. They are not in a position to buy crop residue machines even on subsidy. Moreover, to run this machine, one needs a bigger tractor costing 7-8 lakh,” Jagmohan said.

He alleged that the companies manufacturing stubble residue machines have already inflated the cost of the machines. Therefore, most of the government subsidies went to these machine companies while farmers and the normal public continue to suffer due to heavy air pollution.

Jagmohan said that only cash incentives can help farmers to deal with the stubble.

The Supreme Court in 2019 directed the state governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to provide financial support to farmers so that they can manage crop residue and refrain from stubble burning. But the state governments focused more on promoting subsidised machines as a solution, which is clearly not working.

In the same year, the Punjab government also sought to incentivise farmers who own land of up to five acres with a cash reward of Rs 2,500 per acre to stop stubble burning.

“We strongly demand from both state and Centre that they devise a mechanism to give cash incentive to farmers below 10 acres so that the farmers can bear the cost of managing the stubble which they can’t do now because of the already higher cost of production,” he said.

On the other hand, the Punjab government has claimed that it has provided 10,000 crop residue machines to 3,500 cooperative societies through which small farmers can avail these machines rent-free.

Farmer Manjit Singh from Patiala told The Wire that it is difficult to avail themselves of machines on time. “Even if we get them through cooperative societies, there is still expenditure involved in hiring a tractor and labour for cutting stubble, bundling it and then loading and unloading,” he said.

“My input cost has already increased due to the DAP shortage and hike in labour charges. The cost of managing stubble is not less than Rs 2,500-3,000 per acre. I am not in a capacity to bear the cost. That is why I am forced to burn the stubble,” he added.

According to economist Lakhwinder Singh, a total of 20 million tonnes of stubble is generated alone from paddy crops. This residue can be used in multiple industries. For instance, in western countries, factories produce construction nets from paddy stubble to control dust. There are as many as 26 uses including producing organic manures. Unless the policymakers create adequate economic viability, this problem will not go away.

Other experts are also asking the government to promote the biogas industry that uses stubble as raw material.

A dozen biogas plants have already come up in Punjab. These plants are buying stubble from farmers at the rate of Rs 3,000 per tonne, but their total stubble consumption so far is not more than 10-12 lakh tonnes, that is not even 5% of the total production of stubble in Punjab.

SOURCE ; THE WIRE

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Sunday, 7 November 2021

Watch | Fertiliser Shortage: Farmers Stare at Economic Distress, Black Marketing

 

In this episode of 'The Wire Explains', we break down how the situation spiralled out of control.


A severe shortage of fertilisers has hit multiple states ahead of the Rabi harvesting season. Experts have pointed to the incompetence of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Uttar Pradesh government in tackling the crisis, as news comes in of five farmers losing their lives in the Bundelkhand region.

Farmers now have to stand in long lines for fertilisers and are on the precipice of huge agrarian distress. In this episode of The Wire Explains, we break down how the situation spiralled out of control and the harsh realities on the ground. 


SOURCE ; THE WIRE

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Tuesday, 2 November 2021

In Punjab and Haryana, Acres of Infestation Leave Cotton Farmers Devastated

 

The pink bollworm attack has left deaths by suicide in its wake. The authorities, farmers say, are late in even conducting preliminary surveys.

Prabhjit Singh

Mansa (Punjab)/Fatehabad (Haryana): There is silence in the cotton fields of Punjab and Haryana where farmers are uprooting plants after having sprayed multiple rounds of pesticides in vain.

The pink bollworm has ravaged cotton crops in the country’s north, mainly in the districts of Bathinda and Mansa in Punjab and Fatehabad, Sirsa and Hisar in Haryana.

In 2017, a similar devastation took place in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra that triggered the debate on the sustainability of genetically modified seeds for this ‘white gold’.

Many farmers have complained of up to 100% crop loss due to the pink bollworm attack. It has also furthered incidents of deaths by suicide among farmers in Punjab’s Malwa region (Mansa and Bathinda).

Gurpreet Singh, a 43-year-old farmer in Moosa village of Mansa district, on October 22 consumed pesticide tablets, commonly known as ‘sulphos’, after returning from his five-acre cotton field which was devastated by swarming armies of the pink worm. Apart from an institutional debt of Rs 3 lakh, he had taken a loan of Rs 4 lakh from moneylenders over the past several years to survive in farming as it is his family occupation.

Local newspapers reported two more incidents of deaths by suicide in the cotton belt on a single day on September 28, 2021 – Jaspal Singh, whose 2.5-acre land was notified for public auction as he had defaulted on bank loans of up to Rs 15 lakh in Chatthewala village and Gurmeet Singh, a farm labourer who had taken a chunk of land for contract farming in Cheema village.

“The incidents of deaths by suicide among farmers go up in November-December, when officials from banks and moneylenders make rounds through all the houses of defaulters after the harvest (of Kharif crops cotton and paddy),” social activist Kiranjeet Kaur Jhunir told The Wire.

“If we look at the official survey conducted by three universities in the three districts of Mansa, Bathinda and Sangrur, from 2002 to 2015, there were 16,606 deaths by suicides, which means at least three suicides took place a day,” she pointed out.

At Mansa’s Bhamma Khurd village, Jarnail Singh had flattened two acres of his destroyed cotton field. Leaves then became fodder for the cattle.

A farmer shows a pink bollworm inside the peeled off 

boll at Bhamma Khurd village of Mansa district in Punjab. Photo: Prabhjit Singh

Jarnail’s co-farmer Harinder Singh said the signs of devastation were visible in the last week of July with the small bolls leaving black spots as possible entry points for the caterpillar-like animal. “We noticed the pink bollworm inside the bolls more than a month back, and the panic spread, but it was too late to react to the situation,” he said. “Even after two months of much hue and cry, the authorities are silent, and the seed suppliers said they were helpless; it is no fault of theirs.”

Expressing his disappointment over government measures to tackle crop failure, Jasbir Singh of Talwandi Akkali village said, “We were supplied bad seeds, it is clear, and this could be intentional, to weaken farmers,” he said. He was lucky to sow paddy on nine acres. The two acres on which he cultivated cotton are devastated.


In Danewala village of Mansa, Rashpinder Singh (26), a cotton grower, also ate pesticide tablets after returning from his 11-acre field which was entirely affected. His bereaved brother Jaspreet Singh said that they had sprayed six rounds of pesticides in a span of 45 days to save the crop but the pink worm had done its job by then.

“We took another Rs 50,000 from a moneylender to purchase pesticides after the two initial rounds of spray didn’t work at all,” he explained, adding that they already have a Rs 4.6 lakh bank loan to pay off.

Singh took his life on October 3.

Jaspreet Singh along with his mother hold the photo of 26-year-old Rashpinder Singh who died by suicide in Danewala village of Mansa district in Punjab. Photo: Prabhjit Singh

On October 7, in Kalanwali village of Muktsar district, another cotton grower, Ranjit Singh, also died by suicide. He had only 1.5 acres of land. Similarly, another farmer, Darshan Singh of Ghudduwala village in Mansa, died by suicide on October 6.

Panchayat member of Bhamma Khurd village, Raj Singh, said the farmers suffered 100% crop loss due to the pink worm attack. “We do not know whether the seed is faulty or if the Bt seed is actually under attack by a worm we are seeing for the first time in our life,” he said, adding that the attack was abrupt, which happened for the first time ever since the Bt seed was sown for the first time in 2004 in the area.

“The officers from the department came here in July-end when we raised an alarm after seeing spots on the boll, but they said the spots were minor, only 10%,” he said, adding that they all were taken aback when the cotton partially bloomed during the first harvest.

“We could take out only 10% of cotton in this first picking, and you can see now that there is no cotton for the second pick,” he explained. The farmers ideally go through three phases of picking the Bt cotton crop that begins to bloom in the second fortnight of September. “Nobody here crossed 120 kg, that is a mere 10% of the ideal yield in the first pick and that too from plants that were partially rotten and infested with the pest,” Singh said.


What the preliminary official report says

“A combination of predisposing weather conditions which were favourable for the pest and unfavourable for control measures led to sudden, heavy infestation in the final stages of crop despite all possible measures, rendering the losses unrecoverable through any crop-based intervention,” stated an official preliminary report of the experts committee. The Punjab government notified this report on September 30.

“In many cases, in districts of Bathinda and Mansa, losses were above 75%”. The report, however, was silent on the minimum losses the farmers suffered at various places.

The experts panel from the state department of agriculture and the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) ruled out any flaw in the Bt seed and concluded: “Varietal differences, or mixing of Bt seed with non-Bt seed (within a seed packet as per guidelines) did not affect pink bollworm incidence level.” This statement, however, contradicted the earlier version of PAU’s Bathinda regional centre director, Paramjit Singh, who stated that the “pest larvae are reaching the state with cotton seed consignments from south-west states, including Maharashtra and Karnataka”.

Navtej Singh Bains, one of the team members and plant breeder scientists at PAU, said there is no possibility of a Bollguard-3 seed that could resist the pink bollworm for at least next two years. The pink worm was detected at the fag end of the cotton belt in some villages last year. “It was at Jodhour Mana and Gurusar villages of Bathinda district where the pink worm attacked the crop in the third phase of picking, and we had then tested the seed and found it was indeed Bt,” he replied when asked about farmers’ doubts regarding the genuineness of the Bt seed since the attack.

“The pink worm outbreak on Bt had come up much earlier, in 2014, and the worm attack first arrived on a large scale in southern states like Maharashtra in 2017 and 2018,” he said.

“Monsanto’s trials for the Bollguard-3 seed to resist pink bollworm at the PAU continued till 2015 and then wound up midway due to an issue of patenting,” he informed.

Delayed government action

A mere 40 kilometres away from the Haryana Agriculture University at Hisar, Kailash Godara, a farmer in Sulikhera village of Fatehabad district, stood lost in despair in the thick of the dry shrubs of his devastated cotton field. The 55-year-old farmer said he has seen such a “caterpillar attack” on the Bt cotton for the first time in his life. He too expressed doubts that this was the Bt seed, and said that when he complained to the dealer about the worm attack, the dealer said could not do anything about it.

“This never ever happened before, the ‘sundi’ (caterpillar) never earlier attacked the Bt crop,” he said.

Kailash sprayed seven rounds of pesticides, spending about Rs 10,000 in addition to his input costs. He has spent “Rs 20,000-22,000 per acre” on the crop so far.

Kailash plucked a dry and dead boll from a branch, peeled it off and

 showed the rotten brownish stuff inside as damaged by the pink worm. Photo: Prabhjit Singh

In an adjoining field in Sulokheri, a young farmer, Rajiv Sinchar, also expressed anger with the agriculture department, and asked whether the seed they used was Bt or not.

“We observed the worm attack in the second week of September, and we found it was a pink worm inside the boll. Panic gripped farmers,” he said. He alleged that the department of agriculture knew in August about the boll worm attack but that “officials kept quiet about it”.

“We were told we got Bt seeds, and even our elders in the field have never seen such a worm attack on Bt cotton. We went in groups to the district agriculture officer but they were silent on the issue,” Rajiv said.

“There is now a survey taking place. But how would the department assess the losses if the officials arrive here so late?” Kailash asked, pointing out that there wouldn’t be any sign of the cotton devastation as farmers would soon be clearing their fields to sow wheat in the first week of November.

Kailash narrated his financial situation – a farm loan of Rs 2.5 lakh from a bank and a debt of about Rs 60,000 from private moneylenders. “I had great hopes from the cotton yield this time but I am ruined now with no money for the heavy loans,” he said.

Rajiv asked, “The Hisar Agriculture University is hardly 40 kms away from this place but can someone tell us how that university has benefitted us so far?” He said there was no regulation of seed distribution either. “Had there been any accountability of such universities or the (agriculture) department, then we wouldn’t have been dependent on private seeds suppliers.”

Several farmers also complained about insurance companies refusing to pay for crop loss in the past. “I pay Rs 1,680 per acre after every six months for crop insurance, but nobody turned up even after a month of my claim submission against this crop loss,” Rajiv further said.

Dilip Kumar, another farmer in Fatehabad who also suffered heavy crop loss, said he approached the local patwari (a village registrar) four times this month for a girdwari (official survey to assess the losses) for his crop insurance claim but nobody has turned up so far.

The Haryana agriculture department officially declared the outbreak in mid-September, but no official response has come up so far in terms of compensation for the crop loss to the farmers.

If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers they can call to speak in confidence. Icall, a counselling service run by TISS, has maintained a crowdsourced list of therapists across the country. You could also take them to the nearest hospital. 

SOURCE ; THE WIRE


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