Farmers' march: Maharashtra govt's 'lukewarm' response cause for repeated protests; drought relief, MSP hike demands unmet

Demanding compensation for drought and the transfer of forest rights to tribals, thousands of farmers and tribals began a two-day march from Thane to Mumbai on Wednesday, eight months after holding a similar protest from Nashik.

The Lok Sangharsh Morcha (LSM) is leading the protest, at which Swaraj Abhiyan chief Yogendra Yadav as well as conservationist and Magsaysay Award-winner Dr Rajendra Singh are also at the forefront.

Over 20,000 farmers started walking on Wednesday afternoon and will halt at the Somaiyya Ground in Mumbai's Sion area for the night. They will reach Azad Maidan in South Mumbai early on Thursday and will try to hold a demonstration near Vidhan Bhawan, where the Winter Session of the Legislative Assembly is underway, a leader of the march said, adding that the participants are mostly from the Thane, Bhusawal and Marathwada regions.

 Farmers march: Maharashtra govts lukewarm response cause for repeated protests; drought relief, MSP hike demands unmet

Thousands of farmers and tribals participate in a two-day protest march from Thane to Mumbai. PTI

What the farmers want from the state

The farmers are demanding that the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee report be implemented. It had recommended giving farmers assured access and control over resources such as land and water, establishing a National Land Use Advisory Service, affordable health insurance at primary health centres in rural areas, extending the National Rural Health Mission to suicide-prone areas and securing grazing rights.

Struggling to cope with the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra, the protesting farmers are also demanding proper implementation of the loan waiver package the BJP-led government in the state had announced last year, land rights for farmers and compensation for farm labourers.

Additionally, they are rallying for an increase in the state's Minimum Support Price (MSP) — the price at which the government purchases crops from farmers — and a judicial system to ensure its implementation.

Most important among their demands is monetary compensation for the drought that has been plaguing the state. The Maharashtra government, on 23 October, had declared 180 tehsils in the state drought-hit. Several of them received rainfall 23 percent less than the normal for the year.

A threat of drought also looms over 17 districts in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra due to deficient rainfall and excess use of water for sugarcane cultivation. Most parts of Marathwada received average rainfall this monsoon, and the water stock in the region stands at just 28.81 percent, according to the Maharashtra Water Resources Department.

Fadnavis govt fails to deliver

Wednesday's rally is not the first time farmers in Maharashtra have voiced their demands. A similar protest was held in March outside Mumbai's Legislative Assembly, where thousands of farmers, led by the Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha, held a 180-kilometre-long march from Nashik to Mumbai to press for their demands.

The farmers had demanded fair remuneration and a loan waiver then, as well. They had also asked the government for compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre for the crops destroyed by hail and pink bollworm, allocation of forest land under cultivation to farmers and, implementation of the Forest Rights Act.

The rally, however, was called off after the farmers received a written reassurance from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The government had agreed to sincerely look into their requests, while promising time-bound action into some of them.

The Fadnavis-led government had also assured the farmers that it would ensure better implementation of social welfare schemes and promised to issue new BPL ration cards to the farmers and tribals as they had not been renewed in years. The chief minister ha dalso announced that the state would set up a ministerial committee to review and process the farmers' demands. The committee includes Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil, Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, Cooperation Minister Subhash Deshmukh, Public Undertakings Minister Eknath Shinde and Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Savra.

However, it appears that no real steps were taken to improve the situation. "We have been consistently asking the state government to fulfil our long-standing demands, but the response has been lukewarm. We were forced to launch this agitation," Pratibha Shinde, general secretary of the Lok Sangharsh Morcha, said during Wednesday's rally. "We are taking maximum care to ensure that the citizens of Mumbai are not inconvenienced."

Avik Saha, leader of the Jai Kisan Andolan, was quoted as saying by NDTV: "Two bills to ensure that all these rights were drafted by the All India Sangharsh Coordination Committee and placed in Parliament, but both bills have been languishing. More than 60 percent of the voters in India are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. The ruling party and Opposition will now understand the gravity of this problem."

Farmers across India dissatisfied

The farmers' march in Maharashtra also comes amid many similar rallies held in other parts of the country, including the 'Kisan Kranti Yatra' on 23 September from Haridwar to Delhi, and the protest led by the Congress' farmers' cell at Parliament Street in New Delhi a month later.

Many more farmers' rallies will be held to support the farmers' agitation. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) —  coalition of about 200 farmers' organisations from across India — will organise a farmers; march to Delhi from 28 to 30 November.

Their demands include Parliament approval for the two Kisan Mukti Bills, which propose guaranteed remunerative prices, and for freedom from indebtedness. The AIKSCC will also be releasing a "Farmers' Charter" describing the farmers' vision and demands.

In the south, the BJP will hold a rally in Karnataka's Belagavi on 10 December in protest against the "government's failure" to ensure that sugarcane farmers dues are paid and its failure in drought relief measures. At the farmers' protest rally, the BJP will also raise other issues, including farm loan waiver and lack of drought relief, The Hindu reported.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Nov 21, 2018 18:57:44 IST