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Home > India > News > Report

How Gujjars' stir led to Karnataka riots

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru | June 11, 2008 13:43 IST
Last Updated: June 11, 2008 14:25 IST

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It was baptism by fire for the two-week-old Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka. Though the protests over the shortage of fertilizers started a couple of days ago, the situation turned ugly on Tuesday after a farmer was shot dead in police firing.

As expected, the political parties have already begun the blame game. Curiously, the new government is sitting on the problem, leaving 75 per cent of the farming community in the state in real trouble -- they still wait to manure their fields.

Experts in the agriculture department say that the shortage of fertilizer has always been a problem and they have managed to wriggle out of the crisis every time.

But this year, most farmers sowed seeds early thanks to the monsoon. Usually in Karnataka, the sowing season commences in the third or fourth of June as the monsoon sets in only then. However, Karnataka this year witnessed rains in May-end.

Caught off-guard, the demand for fertilizers could not be met. The agriculture department says every year at least 80 per cent of the fertilizer stock is being imported, but this year the shipping was affected due to many factors.  

Union fertilizer secretary J S Anand says the protest by Gujjars - there was little movement on the road-- led to a blockade of the shipping of the manure.  

Another reason for the scarcity of fertilizer is thanks to a fall-out of the production subsidy which was introduced to keep food prices low by reducing the production cost.

The Centre had promised to pay nearly 100 per cent subsidy to fertilizer companies, but there was a delay in disbursing this payment, citing cash crunch.

This, according to sources, has angered fertilizer companies,which in turn held back stocks.

Officials told there was a huge scarcity of DAP and NPK in the state. The farmers use a mix of DAP, NPK and Urea to manure the fields.

However, Karnataka does not face any shortage of urea as it is manufactured in the state. Statistics reveals that the farmers in Karnataka are falling short of 1.1 tonne of DAP and an equal amount of NPK.

Officials say the problem is not restricted to Karnataka alone. Protests have already started in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Kerala [Images], too, has stepped in urging the farmers to exercise restraint while using fertilizer as there is a demand-supply variation in the country. The problem is expected to spill over to the Northern part of the country once the monsoon sets in.

While all states and the Centre are working overtime to find a solution to the crisis, the fact remains that this problem will sure be tough to sail through. The prices of fertilizers in the international market have boomed and India has been badly hit as it is a major importer.

Prices of fertilizers saw an unreasonable rise in the last one year from $ 650 last year to $ 1200 in 2008.

The Centre says the demand for fertilizers has increased manifold thanks to the food crisis across the world. There is a need to produce more and automatically the prices of fertilizers too have gone up as there is more demand.

J S Sharma said at a press conference that the consumption of urea was increased by 25 per cent compared to last year while the demand for DAP went up by 25 per cent.

B S Yeddyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka, who will visit Haveri, the place where the farmer was shot dead, said he would meet the prime minister to discuss the issue.

Sources in the government say that the scarcity issue did not just pop up a week ago. The crisis was just waiting to explode. Unfortunately, there was no government in place to resolve the issue. Though the governor had written to the Centre in May regarding the issue, there was no one to lobby to get more fertilizer released, sources said.