81 arrested for Byadgi dry chilli market violence; traders, officials deny ‘drastic price drop’ claim

Authorities said those arrested include individuals not only from Karnataka but also neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Mar 12, 2024 | 9:51 PMUpdatedMar 12, 2024 | 9:51 PM

Karnataka Haveri Guntur Byadgi Dry Chilly APMC Farmers Protest

In the aftermath of violent protests at the Byadgi International Market in the Haveri district of Karnataka, the Byadgi police have taken swift action, arresting a staggering 81 individuals allegedly linked to the incident on Tuesday, 12 March.

The protests erupted amidst tensions over a perceived crash in the price of dry chillies, leading to chaos that resulted in significant damage to public property, including the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) office and several vehicles on Monday.

The arrests come following intense scrutiny of CCTV footage and other electronic evidence, with authorities indicating that those detained include individuals from neighbouring states such as Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Meanwhile, APMC officials and traders denied any drastic drop in dry chilli prices. They said lower prices were quoted due to the poor quality of the produce.

After the incident, Deputy Commissioner Raghunandan Murthy submitted a primary report to the government on the incident.

He also ordered the resumption of trading at the Byadgi mandi from Tuesday. The market was shut down after the violent protests by farmers a day earlier.

A case was registered at Byadgi Police Station on Monday.

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AMPC officials blame unofficial, small traders

Byadgi’s APMC officials claimed news outlets published false reports on the price crash of dry chillies.

Byadgi APMC Assistant Secretary Nagaraj Poter told South First: “The mainstream media is misleading the public by broadcasting false news on the price crash of dry chillies. We completely deny and condemn it.”

He added: “We maintain records of price charts every day. The price of dry chillies plummeted by a mere ₹500-1,000,”

He also said: “Those farmers who sprinkled water on dry chillies will get a lower price, considering their quality. The dry chillies are priced based on their quality.”

He also pointed out: “This incident allegedly occurred due to provocation by the unofficial/small traders to farmers. These traders provoke farmers when they suffer loss for consecutive days over a slight price drop.”

Poter added: “This act is not only committed by the farmers but also by these so-called traders. In the incident, the APMC reported a loss of around ₹2 crore as the farmers reportedly set the APMC office and several vehicles on fire.”

He also said: “Importantly, in this incident, all the government records pertaining to the APMC market in Byadgi were reduced to ashes. These records were not digitised as the process was underway. These were important records — papers about land records and other official documents.”

On whether the government had brought any policy restricting the export of dry chillies, Poter said: “There are no such restrictions on export. Traders can export dry chillies as per the rules of the government. There are no policies putting caps either on the sale or production of dry chillies. The Byadgi APMC market reports anywhere around ₹2,000-2,500 crore turnover annually.”

He also expressed anguish over farmers taking the law into their hands and clashing with the police during the violence.

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The motive behind the protest

Haveri DC Raghunandan Murthy told South First: “Prima facie, the protest turned violent while the auctioning process for dry chillies was underway at the APMC market in Byadgi.”

He added: “The dry chilli marketing season began in January and will culminate in mid-April. The price of a couple of varieties plummeted around ₹2,000 per quintal.”

The DC noted: “Around 40-80 varieties of dry chillies arrive at the Byadgi mandi. Traders quote for the dry chillies based on their quality. The quality was poor when compared to the earlier stock. This led to the drop in price, leading to protests by farmers.”

He continued: “If the farmers are unhappy with the rates during the auction, they can appear for the auction on the next day and sell their produce at a better price. Farmers have the option to sell their produce at a good price.”

He also noted: “The police are probing the incident and arresting people behind this violence.”

He added that the situation was under control, and that a primary report had been submitted to the government on the incident.

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The arrests

Meanwhile, the police were yet to disclose the identity of the 81 people who had been arrested in connection with the Monday’s violence.

Several vehicles — including a fire-tender and the local APMC office — were set on fire, leading to a ₹2 crore loss to public property.

Confirming the arrests, Superintendent of Police (SP) Anshu Kumar told South First: “The situation has been under control since last night.”

He added: “We have increased police deployment in and around the APMC market. We are probing the incident from all the possible angles.”

Several police personnel and firefighters were said to have been injured in the violence as the farmers allegedly also attacked them.

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The traders’ viewpoint

Denying the allegations of a drastic price drop in dry chillies, the traders pointed out that the price is fixed based on their quality.

According to traders: “The average price of the first-grade dry chillies stands at ₹30,000 per quintal. The price of the second and third quality varies, from ₹10,000 to ₹15,000 per quintal.”

Merchants Association Byadgi honorary secretary Raju Morigeri explained to South First: “We are almost in mid-March, which is near the end of the ongoing dry chilli season. Now, the second and third cuttings (crops) are arriving at the market, which have poorer colour, are smaller in size, and unripe as well.”

He continued: “The first-cutting dry chillies have good taste, colour, size, and ripeness. The price is fixed based on the quality, which has been practised for ages in the mandi. The Byadgi International Market is the biggest market [for dry chillies] after Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur market in India.”

On the quality, he pointed out: “This season, farmers have delayed harvesting dry chillies in Ballari and the surrounding areas for various reasons, including festivals. They have prolonged harvesting by 10-15 days. With soaring temperatures, these dry chillies have been affected by the sun because of delayed harvesting. If they sprinkle more water, then diseases such as fungus develop, where chillies turn black.”

He added: “When the dry chillies appear or turn black, traders quote a lower price, considering its quality. If the chillies are found wet during the auction, the traders don’t even hesitate to quote a zero price. This system is the practice not only in Byadgi but also in Guntur.”

As for the protest turning violent, he said: “This was not done by the farmers but it appears that someone is involved in the incident. The protesters were seen with petrol bombs within minutes of the violence breaking out. It clearly shows this was pre-planned.”

He added: “The CCTV footage showed hardly any farmer was involved in the incident. The police have arrested several farmers, where we ensured that innocent people were not punished in the incident.”

Morigeri also noted: “The price of the first-grade quality of dry chillies stands around ₹30,000-35,000 per quintal for the last few days. The price of the first grade has remained high for the last few years. It is only the second and third grade dry chillies have been quoted as per the market standards. We observe Guntur and other markets before kick-starting our trading business in Byadgi.”

He also said that excess production was one of the reasons for what he said was a slight price drop. “This year the produce has been good, considering the poor rainfall. The demand is high as dry chillies are being exported not only to other states but also foreign countries.”

He added: “The government has not imposed any restriction on dry chillies export. Farmers prefer the Byadgi mandi to sell their dry chillies because of the e-tender system in place. However, the government has to upgrade the mandi.”

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)