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Maharashtra farmers' protest: Devendra Fadnavis says govt held talks with agitators before march; key farmer leader denies claims

Protesting farmers in Maharashtra have hit national headlines in the past three days, and as they took their agitation to Mumbai, the issue raised political temperatures. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, had said that when the protest march was about to begin, water resources minister Girish Mahajan had held discussions with the farmers. However, CPM MLA and farmer leader Jiva Pandu Gavit has refuted Fadnavis' claim, and suggests that the state government did not heed the protests in time.

Gavit, the lone CPM MLA in Maharashtra from Kalvan constituency, has been elected to the state's Legislative Assembly seven times. He has also been at the forefront of the farmers' protest. The CPM-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha has organised the protests.

Speaking to Firstpost, he said, "I got a call from Girish Mahajan on Friday (9 March), when he asked me to join him in a meeting with the chief minister to discuss the issue. The chief minister asked us what our demands are, and asked us not to take the protest march to Mumbai. This was on account of the class ten examinations which are going on. However, by then, the march was already very much on its way."

Gavit met the chief minister on 9 March, at which time he submitted a letter encapsulating the farmers' demands. It was only after this that the administration swung into action, and the chief minister's office on the same day issued a directive to the Collectors of Thane, Palghar, Ahmednagar and Nashik districts to attend a meeting at Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai on 12 March. Firstpost has accessed documents in this regard.

Left: the letter from farmer leaders to the chief ministers dated 9 March; Right: the letter dated the same day from the CMO to Collectors. Sanjay Sawant/Firstpost

Left: the letter from farmer leaders to the chief ministers dated 9 March; Right: the letter dated the same day from the CMO to Collectors. Sanjay Sawant/Firstpost

The protest, which has been called by the Kisan Morcha, began its journey from Nashik — about 170 kilometres from Mumbai — on Tuesday, 6 March.

"The All India Kisan Sabha had stated earlier that it would organise a march which would start on 6 March. However, the government at that time did not listen to our demands, or attempt to get in touch with us. It was only on Friday, after the issue of agitating farmers became viral on social media, that the government asked us what our demands were," he said.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar said, "The BJP never had a soft corner for farmers and lacks humanity in this regard, as is evident from the implementation of the loan waiver. Why is it that the government agreed to discuss the demands of the farmers only after they walked all the way from Nashik to Mumbai?"

When the march left from Nashik, it comprised of about 30,000 people. However, as it passed through the towns of Kasara, Shahpur, Bhiwandi and Thane, the numbers swelled to about 50,000. Many of them have not received the benefit of schemes intended to relieve agrarian distress, as they owned no land. Further, even if the government intends to pass a law for transfer of forest land to tillers, this law may not come through soon.

Farmer leaders Gavit, Ajit Navale and Ashok Dhawale did not want a repeat of the sequence of events of June 2017 — when they were called for a meeting at the chief minister's residence 'Varsha' and an announcement about an agreement being reached was made at about 5 o'clock in the morning.

The last time Maharashtra saw a vociferous protest by farmers was in the summer of 2017. The protest was followed by the Maharashtra government's announcement of a historic farm loan waiver scheme. The waiver was expected to cost the exchequer Rs Rs 34,022 crore and benefit 89 lakh farmers. However, as Firstpost has extensively reported, the farm loan waiver scheme has been plagued by mismatches of data of beneficiaries and delays.

The protest has now drawn to a close, as farmers have received a written assurance from Fadnavis and the government agreed to look into some of their requests, while promising time-bound action on some of them. The chief minister has assured them that the issue of implementation of the Forest Rights Act will be expedited and that pending suits and appeals under the law will be disposed of within six months.

The government has also modified the farm loan waiver scheme to include farmers who had taken loans in the year 2008. Presently, the benefits of the scheme extend to farmers who had taken loans in or after 2009.

The protesters have sought a complete and unconditional loan waiver, ensure implementation of minimum support price and implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and the Forest Rights Act 2006.


Updated Date: Mar 13, 2018 08:39 AM

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