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Published on: Nov. 7, 2022, 4:31 p.m.
Small state, big lobbies
  • Apple growers are up in arms against the government

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

Himachal Pradesh is a small state which sends just four MPs to the Lok Sabha and matters little when it comes to the formation of the government at the Centre. However, the state assembly election has seen the emergence of powerful lobbies raising demands which impinge on the Centre’s domain. Add to this inflation and joblessness, which have emerged as top issues in the election and you have the Modi government’s double engine – model come into question.

The over 200,000 strong government employees lobby, which has been demanding the restoration of the old pension scheme (OPS), which has been replaced by the New Pension Scheme (NPS) offering lesser returns. As the government employees have not been paid the arrears of the revised pay under the Seventh Pay Commission, there is a lot of angst, which is denting the BJP’s double-engine claim.

While Priyanka Gandhi, campaigning for the Congress, has announced that the party will make the restoration of OPS its priority if it comes to power, Anurag Thakur, Union I&B minister, has hinted that the party will address the concerns of government employees.

Another lobby that is flexing its muscles is the apple growers lobby. The annual apple crop accounts for Rs5,000 crore (over 13.5 per cent of the state’s economy). The lobby wields influence across 20-25 seats. 

Their profits are shrinking due to rising cost of inputs, including cartons. In 1990, the state saw one of the fiercest agitations by apple growers. The demand by the protestors from the then BJP government headed by Shanta Kumar was to fix a minimum support price for the apple crop. In Kotgarh, where hundreds of protestors got together, the police fired shots, leaving three farmers dead and many injured.

The agitation changed the political climate and the Congress with Virbhadra Singh won 60 of the state’s 68 seats, while Shanta Kumar lost in both seats he had contested. Eventually, the Virbhadra government introduced the Mandi Intervention Scheme (MIS) to fix a minimum price for the crop.

Rising costs, dwindling profits

Last year, apple growers in the state came back on to the streets with a set of demands faced with rising costs and dwindling profits. Prominent among these demands was the rollback of the increase in the GST on apple boxes from, which went up from 12 per cent to 18 per cent.

Besides, apple growers were also angry about pending procurement payments under the MIS scheme, and the rollback of scheme for distribution of sprays, insecticides, and fungicides on subsidised rates. Another complaint by the growers was the conditions and procurement price fixed by Adani Agri Fresh, which farmers said was too less and in turn, was affecting the open market. 

  • Ex-servicemen form another important lobby. There are over 50,000 active soldiers, and more than 1.5 lakh ex-servicemen in Himachal Pradesh

Ex-servicemen form another important lobby. There are over 50,000 active soldiers, and more than 1.5 lakh ex-servicemen in Himachal Pradesh. The bone of contention is the Agniveer recruitment youngsters introduced by the Modi government for those youngsters wanting to join the armed forces. 

While some ex-servicemen have welcomed it, others are decrying it as a threat to the entire structure of the armed forces. That the new scheme is rankling youngsters aspiring for a career in the forces was evident when Major (retired) Vijai Singh Mankotia, an erstwhile Congress leader, who switched over to the BJP last month, said he would take up the issue with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Then there is the green lobby, which has taken up cudgels against the state government’s decision to ease rules for transportation of mined minerals, like sand, stones and gravel. Green activists allege that tweaking of rules in the name of speeding up infrastructure work will only encourage illegalities in the mining sector and lead to irreversible damages to the fragile ecology of the state.

A number of landslide incidents, as also flash floods, often attributed to unscientific and illegal mining practices and haphazard construction activities, have been reported from Himachal Pradesh in the recent past.

Through a separate notification, the government has also introduced provisions whereby digging up to 1.5 metres on private land for the purpose of excavating clay (which can then be sold to brick kilns) will not be categorised as a mining activity. “Ecological disasters in Himachal Pradesh are being entirely attributed to climate change,” says Manshi Asher of the Himdhara, Environment Research and Action Collective. “However, it is also arbitrary changes of land use in ecologically fragile areas, deforestation and haphazard infrastructure development activities that are destabilising the ecology”.

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