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Red hot chillies spice up poll battle in Guntur

By Shine Jacob
May 13, 2024 15:14 IST
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‘It is a fiercely fought battle, like our fiery chillies in Guntur.’

IMAGE: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy holds a fan, the election symbol of YSR Congress Party, during a rally in Guntur, May 11, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Locals call it a city with a fiery underbelly. It is the pungency of the spice that welcomes an outsider to Guntur, a city situated around 35 kilometres from Vijayawada.

As one moves to the Sitaramanagar locality, home to the Guntur Mirchi Yard, Asia’s largest dried red chilli market, it appears as if the entire yard is painted in red. While workers are battling heat and chillies, a fiery political battle is underway in today’s Lok Sabha polls.

Guntur constituency is home to one of the richest candidates in the country -- Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP’s) Chandra Sekhar Pemmasani -- who is fighting against K Venkata Rosaiah of YSR Congress Party.


The politics of chillies also contribute to the elections as lakhs of people are dependent on this trade.

India contributes around 43 per cent or 1.98 million tonnes of chilli production in the world, of which around 15-20 per cent comes from the Guntur district, according to the Chillies Export Merchants Association.

As the constituency votes for Lok Sabha and assembly polls, the concerns of chilli farmers and traders top the platter of politicians. The industry is seeking relief on 1 per cent export market fees levied by the state government. In addition, the dip in the prices over the past two years is also a cause for concern.

"Prices have dropped from Rs 250 per kg two years back to Rs 140-180 per kg now for the Teja variety. If it goes down further, the business will become unviable for traders and farmers. However, the 1 per cent fees on the purchase for exports is hurting us,” says Jugraj Bhandari, president of the Chillies Export Merchants Association. The other varieties sold in the region include DD, 334, Super 10 and Saarc Teja.

“Guntur chilli market is Asia’s largest single commodity market yard. In the season every day around 150,000 to 200,000 bags arrive in the market. The present market yard space is not sufficient for managing these huge arrivals. Farmers are facing problems in drying chilli. There is usually sun drying in their lands. It leads to contamination by huge pesticides and also sudden fall of rains leads to damage of chilli. To overcome these issues, the government should provide chilli dryers in each agriculture market yard,” says Thota Rama Krishna, managing director of Satya Impex, a chilli exporter and a member of the National Chilli Task Force.

Krishna adds that in the wake of Indian masala products facing heat abroad, the government should ensure that farmers are not using any pesticides.

“There is also a need to remove GST on dry red chilli like other necessary products. There is a spice park too in Guntur but we don’t have any proper infrastructure there,” he adds.

IMAGE: Jana Sena supporters take part in an election rally of party chief Pawan Kalyan at Ponnur, Guntur, May 5, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

On Monday the state is set to elect 175 members to the Andhra Pradesh assembly and 25 Lok Sabha constituencies from the state. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) had won 22 of the 25 seats.

During that wave as well, Guntur stayed with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). This time, Reddy and his team are betting big on social sector schemes initiated by the state government to woo voters.

According to an official source, through 40 social sector schemes, the Reddy government has reached out to 131.9 million people, distributing around Rs 4.56 trillion.

This includes Rs 2.71 trillion through 29 direct benefit transfer schemes and Rs 1.84 trillion in non-DBT schemes, including loans, scholarships, house sites, PDS rice, power subsidy and distribution of tabs to students. The key schemes by the Reddy government include “Amma Vodi” for mothers who send their children to schools, “Rythu Bharosa” for farmers, “Vidya Deevena” giving fee reimbursement and YSR Sunna Vaddi scheme for women self-help groups.

"The reach of these schemes may help the YSRCP in coming back to power. These schemes improved the image of the government on the ground,” the source said.

People on the ground believe it is a close battle with the TDP. “It is a fiercely fought battle, like our fiery chillies in Guntur,” adds Mastan Vali, a 49-year-old resident.

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Shine Jacob in Guntur
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024