In a potentially embarrassing incident for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, around 150 farmers from four districts were cheated of nearly 2,600 quintals of crop worth more than Rs 5 crore.
Several of the farmers are from the home districts of Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan (Sehore) and Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel (Harda).
A group of 22 farmers marched to the office of the Sub Divisional Magistrate of Dewas on Monday to voice their anger at what is the latest in a series of such complaints since the state relaxed restrictions on selling outside mandis (price-controlled wholesale markets) - much like what the controversial farm laws passed by the centre in September propose.
The farmers who filed Monday's complaint claim traders bought the produce on the strength of an expired license apparently issued by a mandi in Dewas. After the cheques bounced, the farmers checked with the mandi and were told there was no record of those traders.
One of the farmers - Kanhaiyaa Patel from Harda - said: "We had given our produce as per rates decided but we haven't got the money till date. They cheated around 150 farmers from Sehore, Harda and Hoshangabad of Rs 5 crores."
"I appeal to the Chief Minister and the Agriculture Minister to arrest the trader and attach his property and get money to the farmers," Rahul Patel, another farmer, said.
In one of the biggest cases of farm fraud, farmers from MP Agriculture Minister @KamalPatelBJP & @ChouhanShivraj home districts Harda&Sehore, were allegedly cheated by traders #FarmersProtest allege they ran away with a farm crop worth more than Rs 5-6 crore #FarmersBillpic.twitter.com/zlY3fcv4g3— Anurag Dwary (@Anurag_Dwary) December 30, 2020
This is far from the only case of its kind in the state.
In Harda, which is Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel's home turf, eight such complaints have been filed. In Bamori, 18 farmers were cheated of coriander leaves worth Rs 20 lakh. In Gwalior, 24 farmers complained that a businessman who took produce worth Rs 10 lakh is now missing.
Across the state nearly 250 farmers have been allegedly cheated.
The farmers say some of the companies who have now cheated them used to purchase produce at the mandi, where there was a guarantee of payment. The state's new Model Mandi Act, they say, removes this guarantee.
Mr Patel says the government will crack down on such cases and that the farmers will get their money back. However, he also asked farmers to sell on cash basis only - which is a difficult, if not impossible, proposition given the large sums involved.
One of the farmers' biggest concern is that with little recourse to the courts, farmers will be left with no choice but to accept settlements awarded by a panel constituted by government officials.