Maharashtra farmers strike: Cities feel the pinch as farm growers unite against poor profit, govt apathy

The rush in market committees has substantially gone down. The road to agricultural produce market committee (APMC), which used to experience traffic jams due to the queues of vehicles bringing market produce, is now seeing normal traffic. Meanwhile, the prices of vegetables and fruits have started to go up slowly. Earlier on Thursday, milk containers were emptied on highways while vegetables were dumped on the roads. Few vehicles were also trashed to ensure no agriculture produce reached the market in the city. Thursday was the first day of the farmers' strike and the people have already started experiencing the impact.

For the first time, farmers from 15 districts of the state of Maharashtra went on an indefinite strike on Thursday to ensure their demands are met. All attempts and rounds of talks by the government have failed. Meanwhile, farmers are also busy trying to convince others to join the strike. The idea is to ensure no produce reaches the cities.

Navi Mumbai APMC vegetable market bears a deserted look on Thursday. PTI

Navi Mumbai APMC vegetable market bears a deserted look on Thursday. PTI

ting the idea of farmers going on a strike.

"We suffered a lot due to drought for four consecutive years. Last year, we got good rainfall and hence the produce was also good. We were hoping that we will get a good price. But forget profit, we couldn't even recover the money we had spent. I had sown onion in my farm. I had to spend Rs 35,000 approximately per acre. But when I sold it in the market, I barely got Rs 25,000. If I have to suffer losses of this amount how am I expected to survive?" Dhananjay Dhorde Patil, a farmer from Puntamba who is leading the strike said.

"We discussed the idea of going on a strike with the villagers and got a huge response. When we conducted the gramsabha to pass the resolution of the strike, villagers from nearly 50 villages were present. The resolution of the strike was a notice to the government. But they did not act. This has resulted in a statewide strike today (1 June)," he added.

Once the strike was announced in Puntamba, the protesters started gathering support from various other organisations and farmers. It was decided to form a core committee and call for a statewide strike. The committee met on 6 May in Pune and on 10 May in Aurangabad. They started campaigning across the state and almost 1,700 villages joined. Apart from the farmers, they gathered support from other organisations as well."

Today, prayers are being chanted at the place where milk was sold every day in Puntamba. People are preparing sweetened condensed milk in their homes instead of selling the milk to the dairies. The vegetables produced in the field are sold only to villagers.

This situation is not much different in other parts of the state either. At Pune APMC, business has gone down by almost 40 percent with the farmers avoiding to bring their produce. A similar situation was seen in Nashik APMC where police had to resort to lathi-charge to bring the situation under control. Though the vegetables bought on Wednesday have reached markets across the cities on Thursday, the situation is expected to become difficult from Friday.

But was this a sudden reaction?

"Farmers have been in distress for quite a long time now," said Ramesh Hande, a farmer from Junnar in the Pune district. "I had cultivated coriander in my farm as we get good prices during summer. I had to spend almost Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 for sowing, labour cost and transport. But I had to throw it away after reaching the APMC as I was getting a negligible amount (for the produce). All my efforts were gone in vain. We take loans for farming but are barely able to repay them as we are not getting good prices. To support farming we started cattle grazing at our home. My wife looks after the cows and buffaloes we bought. She has to work hard to milk them. But we barely get Rs 22 to Rs 23 per litre. This milk is sold at double the price in the market. What's the use?" he asked.

"Many times, there's no electricity through the day. In nights, it's risky to go out as there are a lot of leopards in the surroundings. But we have to put our lives at risk," he added.

Asha Garud too had a similar story to share. She visited the APMC to sell the beans from her farm. I sold them at Rs 50 per kilogramme. The production cost is barely recovered," she said, adding, "This is why the strike is needed. Otherwise, the farmers will not get anything."

The political scenario
Farmers issues have been in focus for the last few months in the state. The Opposition marched across the state by organising a "Sangharsha Yatra" during the Budget Session of the state Assembly. But the yatra turned into a political war of words with the ruling parties mocking the Opposition leaders for travelling in air-conditioned cars. Recently, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetty, who is an ally of the BJP government walked from Pune to Mumbai to press for the farmers' demands. "We met the governer, and he said he will forward our demands to the government. But the (Maharashtra) government is not serious about the issues that farmers are facing (in the state). They don't want to understand the problems. So, we are supporting the farmers strike," he said. Interestingly, his former close aide and now a minister, Sadabhau Khot lead the talks with the farmers seeking an alternate solution to the strike.

Despite disrupting the Assembly, leaders from the ruling party did not pay heed to the demands raised by the Opposition.

"The ruling parties knew this was coming. Now, they have to deal with it. You cannot blame the protestors for the situation. A loan waiver is an immediate solution and relief that the government can provide. Providing appropriate remunerative prices for the produce will be next," NCP chief Sharad Pawar said while announcing his support for the strike.

But the farmers seem to have lost faith in all political parties. "If the opposition parties were with us truly, this situation might not have arisen in the first place," said Patil, who is leading the strike, reacting to statements from the political leaders.

What went wrong?

According to Milind Murugkar, a policy maker and economist, the strike is the manifestation of the unrest in farmers from the last three years. "Agriculture growth was 3.6 percent when the BJP government came to power. It has come down to 1.7 percent now. Though drought was one of the reasons behind the decrease in growth rate, it's not the only reason. Government policies are responsible too. Industrial job creation is also low. The government has announced many policies and projects for farmers, but the benefits are not reaching the masses. Only 24 percent farmers are covered under Pradhanmantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY). The government announced 22 irrigation projects but none of them have been completed. Demonetisation has had a large impact. Prices of agricultural produce fell after demonitisation. The government also failed to curb the prices of the pesticides. And above all, the government has also lost credibility as they did not meet their promises. We also saw the pulses crisis recently. The unrest is a representation of all of this. This is an emotional reaction and the government should not ignore this. This (the crisis) has built solidarity amongst farmers. Now, the government should take steps and protect minimum support price (MSP). This will provide some relief," he said.

Loan waiver, implementation of MS Swaminathan committees recommendations, better procurement prices and pension are some of the prime demands of the farmers. The government is not ready to waive the farmers' loans saying that this is not a sustainable solution. It tried to approach the farmers through a "Samwad Yatra" to tell them about the policies implemented for them. But it failed to console the farmers in Maharashtra, a state where the number of farmers committing suicide continues to rise. Talks with the protestors have also failed. The situation is expected to turn grim with the fall in supply of vegetables, milk and fruits. It's time for the government to take action. Better late than never, say the farmers.

Updated Date: Jun 01, 2017 18:52 PM

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