SWABI - Tobacco growers belonging to various areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Saturday set on fire bundles of the tobacco leaves as a protest against the federal government and purchasing companies.

The angry growers earlier held a protest meeting outside the Yar Hussain depot of Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC). Leaders of the various growers’ unions belonging to Charsadda, Peshawar, Mardan and Malakand division participated in the meeting. The call for the protest was given by Kashthkar Coordination Council (KCC).

On this occasion, the farmers presented a charter of demands, under which they asked the federal government to devolve the subject of tobacco cess and other matters regarding the crop to the KP government as per provisions of the 18th Constitutional Amendment. They said that it was against the spirit of provincial autonomy that various departments had been handed over to the provincial governments but the tobacco was withheld.

They also asked the federal government to grant special status to the tobacco crop, as granted to the cotton crop. They said that because the later crop grew in Punjab, therefore; the government had given it the special status. Instead, the tobacco growers are deprived of their rights and pushed into financial bankruptcy, they deplored.

The growers complained that during the current year, the purchasing companies had been violating the MLO-487, law governing tobacco marketing.

They also urged the ministry of commerce to constitute a special team to assess the losses so far incurred by the tobacco growers. “We want the government to fine the companies for violating the tobacco marketing law and compensate the poor growers with the sums collected through the fines,” said Samad Safi, provincial general secretary of Kisan Board.

Naghmat Shah, provincial vice-president of Anjumane-e-Kashthkaran, said that the maximum price was finalised as Rs178 per kilogram but the companies purchased tobacco from them at Rs150/160 per kg.

Another point included in the charter of demand was that the federal government should withdraw imposition of the tax on tobacco, which they said was passed on to the growers. They said that the federal government had earned Rs135 billion through different taxes on the crop in 2016 and in the current year, the amount was expected to be increased further.

“We unanimously demand that 10 per cent of the Rs135 billion should be given to KP government which should be spent on welfare of the growers in tobacco cultivating district,” said Liaqat Yousafzai, general secretary of Tobacco Growers Association of Pakistan.

The cost of production, they said, should not be determined by a few officials of the companies and growers only. They said that the genuine growers should be included in the process. They said that the main demand of the companies had to be flue-cured Virginia (FCV), saying the companies should not reduce demand for the specific tobacco.

They said that in 2014, the total tobacco need of the companies was 78.66 million kilograms, in which, they said, 74.41 million kilograms was FCV; in 2015, total requirement was 69.04 million kilograms and the FCV quota was 65.28 million kilograms; in 2016, the total demand was 54.03 million kilograms, in which 51.425 million kilograms was FCV and in the current year, the FCV requirement is 46.215 million kilograms and total demand is 46.706 million kilograms, they said.

They unanimously demanded of the companies to increase the quota of FCV tobacco, otherwise, the growers would be faced with huge losses.