Odisha farmers’ strike hits life

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Bhubaneswar, Feb 21 (PTI) Odisha Thursday witnessed a dawn-to-dusk strike called by a leading farmers’ body and backed by the Congress as well the BJP to protest the state government’s alleged lack of concern towards their demands.
Though the strike organised by Navnirman Krushak Sangathan (NNKS) remained peaceful, the police picked up around 300 protesters from different parts of the state, including over 75 from the capital.
Normal life was affected as educational institutions, shops and business establishments were closed and vehicles remained off the roads during the 12-hour statewide strike.
The strike by farmers in Odisha ahead of the elections of the Lok Sabha and the state Assembly is considered politically significant, particularly keeping in view recent poll results in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where the ruling BJP paid a heavy price mostly due to anger of the farming community.
“The strike was total and peaceful. The people have joined the strike spontaneously on their own and supported the cause of farmers,” said NNKS convenor Akshay Kumar.
The BJP and the Congress also claimed that the strike was successful and a warning to the ruling BJD.
Coming down heavily on the BJD government in Odisha, Kumar said the farmers from across the state had earlier tried to hold convention in Bhubaneswar at least twice in a peaceful and democratic manner to express their grievances.
However, the state government used brute force and stopped farmers who were proceeding for the proposed meets, he said.
“Today’s farmers’ strike is just a trailer, full movie will be released during Assembly elections with the ouster of the BJD,” OPCC President Niranjan Patnaik said in a statement.
BJP leader Lekhashree Samantsinghar said the strike was a reflection of the growing anger among the farmers community towards the BJD government.
Even as there was heavy force deployment in different places to maintain law and order, agitators hit the streets holding placards and raising anti-government slogans.
The agitating farmers blocked roads in the city as well on the national highways, prompting police to undertake preventive arrest of the farmers.
“We have made elaborate security arrangements to maintain law and order in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack,” Commissioner of Police Satyajit Mohanty told reporters.
Government offices continued to function with adequate attendance, but educational institutions, major shops and business establishments remained closed and public transport vehicles were off the roads.
Situation in Ganjam, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Angul, Jajpur, Kandhamal, Koraput and other districts remained by and large peaceful.
Kumar said the farmers were forced to go for the strike as the state government did not pay any heed to their demands of price, pension and prestige to cultivators.
He said farmers in the state demand minium support price (MSP) over their produces, social security allowance of Rs 5,000 per month and proper prestige in the society.
“While the farmers in neighburing Chhattisgarh get Rs 2500 per quintal of paddy as MSP, we in Odisha get Rs 1400 per quintal,” pointed out one of the agitators holding the state government responsible for their plight.
The farmers’ body has also rejected state government’s KALIA scheme and instead demanded hike in MSP rate on paddy and other agricultural produces.
“We have been demanding price, pension and prestige for eight years and the government has attempted to mislead the peasants by announcing KALIA scheme which is not to end farmers woes,” Kumar said.
While the farmers across the state staged the stir, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik addressed a function, marking the distribution of financial assistance under KALIA scheme for the farming community, in the western Odisha town of Bargarh.
“Though some people are observing bandh today, no one can stop the KALIA scheme,” Patnaik said.
Odisha’s Agriculture and Finance Minister S B Behera, however, termed the agitation as “unfortunate”.
“It is unfortunate that the NNKS observed the strike despite repeated appeal from the government. The timing is very wrong as it is being observed a day before the annual high school examinations…
“The strike has put mental pressure on the students. It’s even more saddening that two national political parties the BJP and the Congress have extended their support to the bandh,” Behera said.
Earlier, the state government had requested the NNKS to defer their strke saying it will affect dispatch and movement of question papers to the centres for the HSC examinations beginning Friday.
However, Kumar termed the ground shown by government as frivolous and said there would be no problem in sending question papers as the authorities have decided that question papers should reach in the morning of the day of the examination itself.
The authorities of Utkal University and Shree Jagannath Sanskrit University said they postponed examinations scheduled for Thursday.

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