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Himachal CM Invites Protesting Fruit Farmers to Discuss Their Demands on July 28

The Himachal Pradesh government has invited the protesting fruit growers to discuss their demands on July 28.

Chintu Das
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has called Sanyukt Kisan Manch, the umbrella group made up of 24 farmer unions, for a talk on July 28 following the cabinet meeting in an effort to appease protesting farmers in the electorally significant apple belt.

One year after submitting a charter of demands to the state government that included a higher minimum support price, the repeal of the goods and services tax (GST) on apple cartons, and the restoration of agricultural subsidies for chemical sprays, the farm unions have been invited for consultations.

Notably, on August 5, the Sanyukt Kisan Manch convened in Shimla and issued a call to "gherao" (surround) the state secretariat.

"The government did not pay any attention to our demands until farmers took to the streets to protest the government's attitude that we have been invited for negotiations for a year. We have further developed our plan for conducting the agitation," said Harish Chauhan, convener of the Sanyukt Kisan Manch.

List of Demands

Farmers had agreed to mobilise one member from each family of an apple grower to take part in the protest during the earlier union meeting. Former Shimla mayor co-convener Sanjay Chauhan stated that the major demands were to roll back the GST, fully implement the Marketing Intervention Scheme (MIS) along the lines of that in Kashmir, and fixed support prices of Rs 60, Rs 44, and Rs 24 for grades A, B, and C, respectively. He also stated that negotiations with the government would only be focused on a 20-point charter of demands.

Major topics to be discussed included payments of arrears on apples collected by HPMC and Himfed, a ban on the import of foreign apples and the exclusion of the crop from the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), strict implementation of the Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee (APMC) law should, and open bidding in mandis.

"Farmers should be paid right away by the arthiyas and buyers, and under the terms of the APMC Act, payment to farmers in the mandis should be guaranteed on the same day that their produce is sold. The buyers and arthiyas who have not made payments should face harsh legal consequences, according to Deepak Singha, president of the Plum Growers Association.

Apple Belts is Roiled by Protests

The legislative boundaries of the former Himachal Pradesh have been significantly shaped by the apple-growing regions, which make up almost 17 assembly segments in Kinnaur, Kullu, Mandi, and Shimla. Virbhadra Singh and Thakur Ram Lal, two chief ministers, came from the belt.

Apple boasts a Rs 6,000 crore economy and generates 13.5% of the GDP of the top states. The demand from growers includes an increase in MSP comparable to that in Kashmir, the reinstatement of subsidies for fungicides, insecticides, and other chemical fertilisers, a drop in the GST on packaging materials, and a ban on apples from other countries.

The opposition Congress has also increased its agitation, with Shimla rural legislator Vikramaditya Singh leading two protests, one in Rampur and one in Rohru, against the rising cost of packaging material. Sanyukt Kisan Manch has held two protests on July 11 and on July 20 across the apple-growing regions.

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