Hundreds of farmers in Madhya Pradesh's Betul district, who had entered a contract for drumstick farming in 2018, are now fighting to get a case registered against a company that disappeared after allegedly cheating them.
The issue of contract farming has been the point of contention amid the ongoing farmers' protest against the centre's three farm laws. The farmers had expressed apprehension that farm laws would remove them from their land if they failed to accept contracts with a company permitted in the farm sector. The government, however, claims contract farming can pull out farmers from distress.
A 30-year-old farmer from village Bhaisdehi in Madhya Pradesh's Betul district said that the company identified as UWEGO Agri Solutions Private Limited was introduced to the farmers by the state horticultural department.
"I signed a contract with the company in September 2018 on recommendations of the state horticulture department for drumstick farming. As part of the contract, I was to pay Rs 20,000 per acre for saplings at the time of signing. I registered two acres of my land and deposited Rs 40,000. The company was to initially provide saplings and technical knowhow and an assured purchase of the produce. I did not get the saplings and reported the matter to the district collector for the first time on September 17, 2019. After that, I have made several complaints but nothing has happened," Nadeem Khan said.
Apart from Nadeem, at least 200 other farmers who signed the contract for drumstick farming in Betul did not receive the plant saplings or were given plants that could not survive.
"The question of assured purchase did not arise as most farmers did not get the saplings while those that were supplied did not survive," another farmer told India Today TV.
The Betul district administration has directed the agriculture department to initiate an enquiry, however, no concrete conclusion came out of the investigation.
"The farmers had approached the district collector. We are conducting our enquiry on his directions. We have got a list of 97 farmers and the company has been summoned," KP Bhagat, Deputy Director Agricultural Office in Betul district said.
As per the agriculture department, the company had signed contracts for drumstick cultivation on 125 acres of land and mopped up Rs 20,000 per acre from the farmers.
The farmers allege that the company officials stopped taking their calls and the letters sent to the company's registered office in Indore have returned without delivery. Upon investigation, it was found that the company had shut shop some months ago.
The incident has also triggered reactions from the Opposition with the Congress demanding registration of a criminal case into the matter.