(Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP)
(Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP)

Mumbai: Sanjay Sathe, the onion farmer from Niphad tehsil, Nashik, who created a ripple by sending his paltry harvest earnings to the Prime Minister’s Office last November, now wants to meet PM Narendra Modi, who is expected to visit Nashik on April 22. He has alleged, onions are being sold to retail markets at much higher prices even as farmers continue to await the settlement of their dues. He has blamed the government for giving them false assurances and their fraud policies.
Meanwhile, the district authority of Nashik has accused Sathe of having political affiliations and trying to provoke the opposition. In his defence, Sathe says he is only speaking the truth. “I have no political links and I am standing up for my brethren. It is easy for the authorities to cover up the issue by giving it a political twist,” said Sathe. He now claims he wants to meet the PM directly and urge him to find a permanent solution for their problems. He also wants to urge Modi to implement pro-farmer policies, which would enable them to fix the price of their produce directly and get rid of the middlemen, a world free-market concept.

He said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had used the sentiments of farmers as a “trump card” for their political campaigns.  “The only difference between this government and the previous one is, earlier, we were not given fake promises of a better life. Now, they are playing with our emotions as well,” lamented Sathe. Sathe cultivates onion and grapes in his two-acre land and is one of the few farmers who was selected by the ministry of agriculture to meet and interact with the then president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, in 2010.

Sathe’s story: In November 2018, Sanjay Sathe received a meagre amount of Rs 1,064 after selling 750 kilograms of his onion harvest — Rs 1.40 per kg. The buyer was Lasalgaon agricultural produce market committee (APMC) in Nashik, the largest onion market in Asia. Sathe’s total investment for the crop was Rs 75,000. He was initially offered Re 1 per kilo but he negotiated and managed to increase the amount by 40 paise. Left feeling insulted and traumatised by the entire process, he sent a money order for this amount to the Prime Minister’s Office to register his protest, saying he did not want it and urging that it go towards the disaster relief fund.

After the Prime Minister’s Office took cognisance of his money order, the Nashik district administration swung into action, initiating investigations into Sathe’s political affiliations. He later said he was appalled that instead of probing the cause for farmers’ distress and the falling onion prices, they would investigate his political links and question his family and friends. He had sent the money order to the PM to draw his attention to the problems faced by onion farmers are facing, he explained.

However, the district administration denied Sathe’s allegations and said it had forwarded the report of the district deputy registrar on the matter to the state government. The report claimed Sathe got a lower price for his produce because the onions he brought to the market were “substandard”. This claim was refuted by the authorities of the Lasalgaon APMC, who said the report submitted to the state government was “false”. Further, they said, no official of the district deputy registrar office had met the APMC authorities in connection with the farmer’s case.