Farmers across Maharashtra have decided to go ahead with a state-wide indefinite strike from Thursday after their talks with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on various issues, including the long-pending demand of a loan waiver, collapsed.
The farmers took to streets in cities like Mumbai and Pune as stray incidents of violence were reported from some parts including Nashik, Satara, Kolhapur and Pune. Aggressive farmers reportedly emptied at least two tankers with several tonnes of fresh milk being transported to the cities, destroyed stocks of fresh vegetables, tomatoes, onions, being taken to markets, according to Hindustan Times.
In another incident near Satara, the driver of a milk tanker was manhandled by some farmers and prevented from proceeding to his destination to transport the commodity, while stones were pelted at some vegetable and police vehicles near Nashik, IANS reported.
The strike has elicited "good response" from farmers all over the state, except from agriculturists in the coastal Konkan, who are not part of the agitation. Movement of agricultural goods has been restricted since midnight.
Most Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) markets wore a desolate look as farmers, traders, head-loaders, transporters and other officials virtually kept off. The striking farmers have warned they would not indulge in any farming activity, including sowing for the upcoming kharif season.
On the outskirts of Nashik and Ahmednagar, small groups of farmers set up 'check-posts' to verify if goods carriers were transporting fruits, vegetables, milk, etc. before permitting passage. This is probably the first time farmers have resorted to a strike in the state.
A group of farmers, including Jayaji Suryavanshi, Vijay Kakade-Patil, Dhananjay Dhorde among other had met Fadnavis at his official residence late on Tuesday night, however, the talks failed to achieve a breakthrough, according to DNA.
A farmer leader from Pune said that the government was trying to tell them why they can't waive off their loans while the desperate farmers sought immediate relief, according to The Times of India.
Distressed after repeated years of drought and falling market prices, the farmers seek free electricity, appropriate remunerative prices for their produce, grant for irrigation and higher price for milk and implementation of the MS Swaminathan Committee recommendations.
Meanwhile, the farmers' strike is likely to spell trouble for cities like Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Nashik, Nagpur as people could face shortages of essentials fruits, vegetables, milk and food grains in the coming days. The Times of India report quoted earlier states that the supplies in market would only last for three to four days at the most.
Authorities also fear a steep rise in prices of essential commodities, which will not only inconvenience the buyers but will impose a financial burden on thousands of small vendors. The farmers have decided to cut supplies to the neighbouring state of Gujarat as well, even though it would not be as badly hit as Maharashtra. The state consumes 60 to 70 percent of its daily produces, and only a small percentage is sold in Gujarat.
Government hopeful of solution, has a plan B ready
The government, however, said that it is still hopeful of working out a solution while hinting the strike could have been incited by elements of 'certain ideology' — apparently alluding to the local communist leaders.
BJP national vice president Vinay Sahastrabuddhe had said, "A certain ideology is forcing farmers to go on strike. It is very sad....I think the farmers will not succumb strike call."
Maharashtra agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar, on Wednesday, expressed confidence that a solution will be worked out as the strike would result in huge losses for the farmers.
"Vegetables and milk are perishable items. Farmers cannot not bear losses (by refusing to sell them). Farmers spend substantial amount of money and time on producing vegetables," the BJP leader said.
Of some 1.5 lakh farmers in Ahmednagar and neighbouring Nashik districts, not more than 10,000 would take part in the strike, he claimed.
The minister also claimed that Fadnavis will have a `plan B' ready, in case the situation arises where farmers stop sending vegetables and milk to Mumbai," Fundkar said.
BJP national vice president Vinay Sahastrabuddhe also said here that farmers would face heavy financial loss due to the strike.
Meanwhile, Shivajirao Suryawanshi, the farmers' leader who has called for the strike and who met Fadnavis on Wednesday night, told reporters that he objected to presence of minister of state for agriculture Sadabhau Khot at the meeting.
"Khot did nothing for farmers despite representing them in the state cabinet....Hence I opposed Khot's presence in the meeting and left it midway through," said Suryawanshi. Fundkar, who was not present at the meeting, however claimed that Suryawanshi wanted the Chief Minister to announce loan waiver for farmers on the spot, and left the meeting after two and a half hours of discussion.
A group of around 200 farmers of Puntamba village in Ahmednagar district were the first to announce the strike from 1 June and many others followed suit.
The Fadnavis government had been under severe fire from not only the opposition parties — Congress and NCP — but also its own allies —the Shiv Sena and the said Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader and MP Raju Shetti.
In a massive show of strength on Tuesday, Shetti completed his 'atonement march' and met Maharashtra governor CV Rao to apprise him of the serious situation involving farmers. The march was held from Pune to Mumbai on 22 May, to ‘atone for the blunder of allying with the BJP and supporting Narendra Modi’, according to Mint. “Farmers believed Modi and the promises that he made during the 2014 election campaign. But he has betrayed our faith and we have launched this protest to atone for our mistake of believing him,” Shetty had said at the launch of the march, which coincided with the Modi government completing three years in power.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2017 12:46:30 IST