THOUSANDS OF FARMERS from over 12 states across the country marched to Ramlila Maidan, Delhi, on Thursday, 29 November 2018.

Banded under the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which claims to be an umbrella body of 207 organisations of farmers and agricultural workers, many farmers arrived in the city on Thursday, on trains, buses and other modes of transport, PTI reported. The AIKSCC was formed under the aegis of All India Kisan Sabha and other Left-affiliated farmers' bodies in June 2017, following protests by farmers in states such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for debt relief and remunerative prices.

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They camped overnight in the open cold at Ramlila Maidan, preparing to march towards Parliament Street on Friday. Their demands include the discussion and passing of two bills introduced in the Lok Sabha session of 2017, addressing loan waivers and increased remuneration.

Also read: Farmers on their way home from Delhi speak of anger, hope, and bleak futures

After a cultural programme and a round of speeches by the AIKSCC's leaders, the farmers settled down to rest before their big day. Some of the more nocturnal protestors were restless, engaged in thought about what the morning would bring.

Read the latest updates on the farmers' protest in Delhi here.

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(Above) Suman Halla, from Tapadwada Village, Gujarat stressed the importance of implementation of land reforms, to curb harassment by forest officials and preventing the sale of land — which he and his family have farmed for decades — to private corporations. He says “We have been tilling forest land to farm our produce for years. But now, we are expected to pay rent to the forest department or private corporations just because we don’t have ownership proof on paper. Instead of the forest department laying claim on our ancestral land and the government then selling it to private companies, leaving us to then obtain loans and pay rent, the government should provide an official minimum land allotment to farmers.”

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Satbir Kanpur from Barielly district is here with farmers from his zilla to ensure the implementation of policies suggested in the Swaminathan Report 2006, that have still not been fully recognised in practice, like loan waivers and increased minimum support price for their produce. He also stressed that “the ceiling limit for ownership of land should be reduced to 10 acres per farmer, so that surplus land can be allotted to landless farmer”.

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Bumavva from Siddhipet village in Telangana poses with a “Farmers Deserve Freedom From Debt" sign, while village companions around her rest. She says, “Farmers in Telangana are specifically protesting against the Telangana Rashtra Samithi which had promised a loan waiver of Rs 1 lakh in its manifesto before coming into power, but later backtracked on the promise by adding a time cap on the waiver, limiting it to only loans taken between 2013-2014.”

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Gurmej Singh, an elder from Paryanideep Village, Haryana, on his way back to the tent after a stopover at the chai stall, spoke about problems that are specific to his region. He said, “The wildlife, for example wild boars and monkeys, destroy our crops regularly, but we cannot afford fencing. We request the forest department to intervene to make necessary provisions. The prices of seeds and oil is increasing rapidly, making it difficult to manage the production and our basic food needs. The ration of bare necessities that is provided to us is also usually lesser by 8 kg (than the stipulated measure), with some of the rice and spices missing.”

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Daulat Hussain Atram, who has travelled from one of the driest regions in Yavatmal district (close to Vidarbha) in Maharashtra, raised the issue of irregular rains and drought haunting the farmers in rural Maharashtra. Hailing from a region with a high incidence of farmer suicides, and having had friends who ended their lives, Atram said, “Our crops depend on the rain, due to lack of irrigation machinery. Most years we don’t manage to produce enough to recover our costs or for the cattle. This is leading to a slow collection of debts that we would like waived as promised, to reduce the rate of suicides, and also provide some mental and emotional stability to the farmers' community in our region."

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Nandu Darji, from Manasiya Village, Madhya Pradesh, brought to light two suggestions of the Swaminathan Report that are yet to be implemented. He stressed that, “According to the government’s promise, we are to officially get 1.5 times higher returns on our production costs. However, because of the corruption surrounding the distribution of money, we only get those returns on the rent of crops [crop share rent], land and labour cost. But this is only applied to the labour cost and rent for crops, and not to the rent on the land or the loans we take. Even if the loan isn’t fully waived, at least the interest rate should come down as the Swaminathan Report has suggested.”

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Savitri Devi, an agricultural labourer, from Bhavanipur village in Maharasthra, has travelled to Delhi with an all-women group from Dhenuki Zilla. Addressing the shift in the agricultural economy, with men leaving for big cities to find work and farming left to the women, children and elders, she stressed the importance of helping women acquire land via a smoother process, as well has getting rid of gender-based discrimination in wages.

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Rabri Devi from Meghol Village, Bihar, elaborated on the irregular distribution of land, cost of production not reaching its basic remunerative limit, and other similar issues. She also added that all farmers' protests (in her experience) in the rural regions are treated very violently.

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Kapoorchand from Mullakarchahri in Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh, pointed out the increasing fertiliser rates and irregular water supply that affect the crops grown in Kangra Valley, and hoped the bill would also address these issues, apart from the overall implementation of loan waivers and the recommendations of the Swaminathan Report.

— All photos by Sahil Jagasia

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