Lockdown hits farmers on India-Nepal border hard

City COVID-19 National

They are forced to sell produce in their own villages

Sitamarhi: Residents of Sonbarsa village, near the India-Nepal border, have been adversely affected economically after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown and closed the border. 

The lockdown across the border restricted Indian farmers from selling their produce in Nepal. The main economic occupation in Sonbarsa is farming, with rice, pulses, and wheat being the major crops.

Road connectivity between Sonbarsa and Sitamarhi town is in shambles; it takes about three hours to cover the 30-km distance.
Ashok Kumar, a farmer, informed The Observer: “I have no other source of income and my family of five depends on land produce. Since the lockdown was imposed, I am unable to get even daily wage jobs.”

In 2006, Bihar abolished the APMC mandi system and set up local bodies to buy farm produce. These bodies charge 1% from farmers and buyers.

Bhola Gupta, a daily-wages worker, said: “Finding work in towns is more difficult now, and we are paid less for the same work we did before.” Job schemes like MGNREGA are stalled, and no construction work is happening either in the village or in towns. A neighbouring sugar plant has been closed for almost two years now as farmers have not been paid their dues.

Every year, Sonbarsa faces the wrath of monsoon, and flooding hampers road connectivity for almost four months. Massive traffic jams during the day discourage the farmers from traveling to the town. Bad roads affect farmers and the general public alike.
Keshav Kumar, a resident of the village, shared: “To avail of better medical facilities, we have to depend on Sitamarhi town. Last year, a man died of a snake bite as he could not reach a hospital in time.”

Sunita Devi, sarpanch, said: “The blockade in 2015 imposed by the Indian government for months has hurt the local community the most. Their long-standing demand for cold storage for the area has been pending with the state government for years.” In Sitamarhi town, where five cold storages have been sanctioned, only one is functioning. As a result, farmers are forced to sell perishable items like vegetables in villages or consume them.

Kamala Devi, block development officer, said that since Sitamarhi district comes under a flood-prone area, there is hardly anything that the government can do. Asked about potholes on the village roads, she claimed that roads are not damaged regularly. But she acknowledged that local bodies take time to buy rice and pulses, and delay disbursement of money to farmers. This is why the farmers prefer to sell their produce in Nepal. “Land for a cold storage has been purchased, and the construction work will begin shortly,” she added.

With Nepal blaming India for a rise in its Covid-19 cases, firing along the border, and Nepal claiming Indian territory as their own, there is no respite for the farmers. Though Unlock 5.0 has been initiated, there is still no official statement regarding the opening of the border.

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